HS2: The battle to save rare species
PUBLISHED: 10:49 16 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:33 20 February 2013
Environmental campaigners are building up their opposition to the proposed HS2 route. This month we learn about some 'stay-at-home' bats and the inhabitants of our meadows.
The beautiful hay meadows of Buckinghamshire are filled with colourful wild flowers and waving grasses in mid-summer. Bumblebees and butterflies flit across the fields, pausing only to drink from the nectar-rich flowers. And the threat of the high speed rail line thundering through this tranquil vista gets ever closer.
The Government hasnt properly considered the routes devastating impact on wildlife at all, which is astounding when you consider the scale of the HS2 development, says Philippa Lyons, chief executive of the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust. HS2 must be halted and a proper Strategic Environmental Assessment carried out before any decisions on the route are made. We are not convinced that the Government is taking its responsibilities for the environment and wildlife seriously.
No fewer than 51 designated wildlife sites in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire are likely to be directly affected by the proposed route. They include Grendon and Doddershall Meadows, and the nearby meadow at Finemere Wood nature reserve, which together form part of the old Bernwood Forest.
The North Bucks Bat Group is surveying ancient woodlands in this area, and discovered groups of the Bechsteins bats one of the UKs rarest mammals. Bechsteins bats have the highest possible level of statutory wildlife protection in the UK. This means that its against the law to damage, destroy or obstruct their habitats and roosts, says Philippa Lyons.
We have informed HS2 Ltd about the Bechsteins in Finemere Wood, and they are reported as saying they would establish if there would be any impact, and take the necessary avoidance measures.
But the simple fact is that the proposed HS2 route will go straight through Bernwood, which could have a severe impact on their ability to breed and might even lead to extinction of this local population.
The North Bucks Bat Group has found breeding colonies of Bechsteins bats, one of Britains rarest mammals, living in ancient woodlands on both sides of the proposed HS2 route. Matt Dodds from the Bat Group says: During May this year we found several females in breeding condition in Finemere Wood, which when taken together with the group of males in other nearby woods, makes the Bernwood area a Bechsteins bat hotspot of international importance.
We were very surprised to find male and female Bechsteins bats here last summer. They have never before been recorded this far north-east in England, he adds.
Bechsteins bats (pictured left) are stay-at-home animals, rarely travelling far, and not across open ground. They are very sensitive to adverse changes to their habitat, and live mostly in old woods. They glean their food, usually spiders and other insects, on leaves and in flight.
They are hard to find because they so rarely fly out of the dense woodland where they live. The North Bucks Bat Group is taking part in a four-year Bat Conservation Trust project to survey woods for Bechsteins bats. The Bat Group is licensed to use mist nets to capture and survey bats in the Bernwood area. This summer the group has found seven species of bat nearly half the total number of species in the UK.
Speak up for wildlife
Grendon and Doddershall Meadows are designated as a Local Wildlife Site, which means they are important within Buckinghamshire, because of the diverse range of meadow plants and flowers, some of them uncommon in the area.
Marbled white and common blue butterflies flit across the meadows in summer, swallows swoop over the ponds and ditches to catch insects. Many farmland birds such as skylark and yellowhammer breed here.
A field next to Finemere Wood was bought by the Wildlife Trust to recreate natural wetland meadow. Here common spotted orchids flower among the meadow grasses, and black hairstreak butterflies inhabit the hedgerows.
The existing railway line running alongside the meadow goes to Calvert waste management site. Construction work to widen the track for HS2 and install high steel gantries enabling trains to roar through at speeds of up to 225 mph, will take valuable meadow land and hedgerows, and break up the habitats for butterflies and bats.
The Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust is campaigning for a proper environmental assessment to be done, to take account of the risks to ancient woodlands, valuable wetland areas and the flower-filled meadows of Buckinghamshire before the HS2 projects proceeds. To make your voice heard go to www.bbowt.org.uk for more information about the impact of HS2 on our local wildlife, and then fill in the Department for Transport questionnaire.