HS2 Ltd has postponed work on eleven ancient woodlands which were due to be cut down in Autumn for the high-speed rail

The secretary of state for transport Grant Shapps ordered that removals of ancient woodlands for HS2 be stopped during the independent review into the project.

Shapps told HS2 Ltd to review its ancient woodlands clearance programme – and assess what removals can be halted until after the examination of HS2, led by Doug Oakervee.

He said: “There is no sense in hiding the challenges HS2 faces, or masking the difficult decisions that need to be taken.

“Having listened to the concerns of affected residents and Parliamentary colleagues, I have ordered HS2 Ltd to consider what works affecting ancient woodland clearances can be delayed for the duration of the review. This ensures we avoid irreversible decisions without major impacts on cost and schedule. HS2 may be a complex project overall, but I think this request is just common sense.”

Following this HS2 Ltd has assessed eleven ancient woodlands where work will now be deferred to Autumn or Winter 2020 on 5 of these sites, and to early 2020 on 6 of the sites. The company added that it would take measures to protect wildlife to ensure they are not affected when work begins in early 2020.

Commenting on the announcement, director of conservation and external affairs at the Woodland Trust, Abi Bunker, said: “This is the right decision but it has come very late in the day and only after much pressure from the Woodland Trust and many other organisations and individuals.

“We remain concerned about the fact that HS2 will still be carrying out some work at these sites. The richness of ancient woodland isn’t just about trees. It’s also the vegetation, the soils and the wildlife that makes ancient woodland a special irreplaceable habitat. Work that permanently affects these habitats like clearing vegetation and evicting bats and mammals must be stopped too while the review is completed.

“We will monitor the situation very closely.”

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