What’s going on here?

Last week, the UK prime minister announced that he was scrapping the second phase of HS2, which would have led from Birmingham to Manchester.

The new high-speed railway has always sparked concerns from an environmental perspective. Are the plans to axe half of it a good thing? Or is it too little, too late?

What does this mean?

Scrapping the second leg of HS2 will spare 32 ancient woodlands, waterways, and rare birds from destruction. The Wildlife Trusts in Derbyshire, Yorkshire, and Sheffield & Rotherham have all expressed their relief at the news.

HS2 claims to reduce car travel and flights between major cities. However, it is a net contributor to carbon emissions. And its construction bulldozes through ancient woodlands, wildlife reserves, and natural habitats.

The ongoing construction of the first phase, from London to Birmingham, has already resulted in damage to 25 ancient woodlands and other important wildlife spaces, such as Calvert Jubilee in Buckinghamshire.

Why should we care?

The environmental concerns surrounding HS2 prompted promises of mitigation, including a commitment to “no net loss” of biodiversity. However, the Wildlife Trusts released a worrying report revealing this has been underestimated, and they calculated the damage to be 7.9x more than promised. The Guardian reports further practical failings in their compensatory “rewilding” programs, such as new trees being planted dying from lack of watering and failed translocations of soil, hedges, and animals. The Warwickshire Wildlife Trust says that these environmental programs have the potential to create green corridors for wildlife: an opportunity that has been missed.

The budget from the last leg of HS2 will now instead be used to improve existing rail, road, and bus services across the country. Frustratingly, this is exactly what many campaigned for as an alternative to HS2 in the first place, as it makes more environmental and economic sense.

Be curious!

  • From the Curious Archives: read more about the environmental implications of HS2 here and here
  • Donate or volunteer to charities and organizations dedicated to protecting wildlife and natural habitats affected by projects like HS2, such as the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust
  • Check out Sustrans for more about sustainable travel.

Featured image by Ethan Wilkinson, via Unsplash.

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