Hybrid Bills are rare and this is the first time that the Trust has had an opportunity at this level to give wildlife a voice in the region. These Bills are used by the government to secure powers to construct major infrastructure projects of national importance such as Crossrail in 2008 and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in 1996.
“We know that the development of HS2 Phase 2a will have significant long-term impacts on biodiversity which is of county importance in south Cheshire and that it will substantially increase the fragmentation of wildlife habitats in the Meres and Mosses Nature Improvement Area. We strongly believe there is a failure to address these impacts in the current Bill,” said Rachel Giles, Evidence and Planning Manager at Cheshire Wildlife Trust. “This is why we have taken every opportunity possible to raise awareness of our concerns – we really hope that the Committee will take our proposals on board and make improvements for wildlife in the Hybrid Bill.”
The Trust believes that the current proposal will result in the loss of the majority of a 105 hectare wildlife site - Randilow and Bunker Hill Local Wildlife Site - which forms an integral part of the Meres and Mosses Nature Improvement Area. This area received £568,470 from Defra between 2012 and 2015 to create joined up and resilient ecological networks on a large, landscape scale.
Much of the Local Wildlife Site is currently managed for the benefit of farmland birds under a 10 year Higher Level Environmental Stewardship agreement which is set to continue until 2021. As a result of pro-active management the site supports the most significant population of breeding birds along the entire Phase 2a route, with 41 species and 12 notable species including breeding red-listed yellow wagtails. The yellow wagtail is a rapidly declining species, and this one site represents one of just 12 known breeding sites in the county and possibly the only population in South East Cheshire.
This Local Wildlife Site also supports 7 species of bat which is considered remarkable for Cheshire including rare bats such as Nathusius’ pipistelle, serotine, noctule and Leisler’s.
“The Environmental Statement produced by HS2 Ltd concluded that the records of birds and bats at this site were of county value but there is a failure to include adequate measures in this Bill to mitigate or compensate for the loss of habitat for bats at this site and no measures to compensate for the loss of nesting, roosting and foraging habitat for farmland birds such as the yellow wagtail,” said Rachel Giles. “There is also a shortfall in compensatory habitat, including 12.55 hectares of native plantation woodland which is required to compensate for the loss of the mature woodland in the area.”
As the Bill stands HS2 Ltd have pledged to address shortfalls in local habitat provision at a route wide level in order to achieve ‘no net loss of biodiversity’. But the Trust believes that the current Bill will result in negative impacts on habitat for bats, birds and other species at a local level.
Cheshire Wildlife Trust have put forward a number of proposals to the Committee that would improve this Hybrid Bill for wildlife and make sure HS2 Ltd honour their environmental statement and pledges to wildlife in the region.
One of these proposals concerns a relocation of the borrow pit, which will be used during the scheme of work, to a less sensitive area as well as a promise to restore any borrow pits used to wildlife habitat suitable for farmland birds and bats. Like-for-like restoration over several years should include creating at least three large ponds and approximately three hectares of marshy grassland as well as planting several hedgerows as a minimum.
“Really we want HS2 Ltd to embrace the fact that this work will have a huge impact on the Local Wildlife Site as well as the wider area to the severe long-term detriment of many species – so we want to push them to not only replace like-for-like but to also add additional features that will benefit wildlife. These would include the creation of shallow scrapes and areas of reedbed, as well as extensive areas of species-rich and marshy grassland and the creation of further ponds. This would then help many of the impacted priority species such as reed buntings, yellowhammers, linnets and the grey partridge, as well as wintering birds and aquatic and land-based invertebrates,” said Rachel Giles.
If Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s petition is successful the next stage will be that the objections and proposals are considered in any adaptations of the Hybrid Bill and this could result in an opportunity for the Trust to air their views in front of the House of Commons Select Committee.