At least 108 ancient woods in England are threatened by proposals to build a high speed train link (HS2) across the country, with phase one already underway.
These woods are crucial spots for biodiversity, because the trees are hundreds of years old and have therefore become important habitats for rare invertebrates, as well as bats and birds. The woodlands also absorb carbon from the atmosphere, playing a part in combating global warming. HS2 is currently under review as the government decides whether to continue the costly and environmentally destructive project – but work is still continuing on preparing its route.
Mark Keir, an organiser for Stop-HS2 said, “HS2 is ripping up a vast area of ancient woodland and there’s going to be such an incredible loss of biodiversity.
“We have 2,400 species in this area, we have otters, water voles, eels, glow worms, barn owls, tawny owls, little owls, kestrel, kite, buzzard, sparrowhawk, peregrines. There are 120 species of bird that nest in the trees and it’s the most biodiverse area of London; we can’t afford to lose it.
“It’s a meeting between middle England and Extinction Rebellion, what Extinction Rebellion has done really well is bring middle England into the fray. We’ve made middle England active and not before time.
“We are the lungs of London and the water supply of London, we can’t throw it away.
“Every ancient tree that gets cut down, a 900 year old tree has 900 years worth of biodiversity in it. If you plant a new tree now, it’ll take 900 years to get anywhere near that.”
Chris Packham, from BBC’s Springwatch programme, will be joining the protesters at a demonstration at Euston Station on 28th September.
A list of ancient woods in England can be found in Wikipedia:
Another demonstration, in the form of a march along the proposed HS2 route from the Birmingham end, took place in July 2020, with several protesters being arrested and taken to court.
An article in The Guardian on 17th August 2020 featured a 250-year old wild pear tree, which is due to be cut down to make way for the HS2 railway:
On a recent visit to see the Cubbington pear tree, Anne Langley was sad to see that the woods around it in Warwickshire had been blocked off to visitors and a sign erected warning against trespassing. “It’s tragic,” she says. “There were people patrolling the fence when I went, to keep people out.”
The wild tree on the outskirts of South Cubbington wood is a famous local landmark and was voted England’s tree of the year in 2015. Langley, 77, decided to visit after she heard about the accolade so that she could write about it for a Warwickshire community website. When she did, she was struck by its “astonishing” size. “I was walking up the footpath and there on the horizon was this tree, standing out from the edge of the woods,” she says. “It dominates the view.”
It is thought to be the second-largest wild pear tree in the country and estimated to be 250 years old. It still bears fruit every year. In the spring, Langley loves seeing the “blackcaps and chiffchaffs singing in the woods”, with “wood anemones and a carpet of bluebells” surrounding it. Despite its popularity, it is scheduled to be cut down to make way for the HS2 railway development. Once completed, the new line will link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
Langley, who is retired and lives near Rugby, is devastated by the plans, which will destroy much of the ancient woodland. “It’s upsetting,” she says. “It’s the loss of something irreplaceable.”
Until the area was closed off, Cubbington Action Group, which was set up to protest against HS2, had been leading walks to show people the tree. Students from Shuttleworth College in Bedfordshire have taken cuttings from it, so that descendants can be created for the local churchyard, schools and villages.
Save Cubbington Wood, another protest group, set up a camp last September in an effort to protect the trees from being felled by contractors, but they were evicted in March. An HS2 spokesperson told the BBC: “Seven million new trees and shrubs will be planted as part of the HS2 programme. The new native woodlands will cover over 9 sq km of land.”
Felling was stopped temporarily because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it is due to resume in September. “Sadly, the pear tree appears to be doomed,” says Langley. Nonetheless, she still hopes it will be saved. “To think that it stood there for 250 years, against all the odds. You could imagine when it was little that somebody might have thought: ‘Oh, I’ll dig that up and put it in my back garden.’ The fact that it endured so long … It’s a symbol of hope for the future.”