Last year (February 2018) the Trust submitted a petition against the Phase 2a (the line up to Crewe) Hybrid Bill, which is the first time that the Trust has had an opportunity of this scale 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.
In March 2018, the government deposited a further set of documents known as Additional Provision (AP1), proposing changes to the Bill. This year the government deposited a second Additional Provision (AP2) detailing further changes, and it’s those changes that Cheshire Wildlife Trust has petitioned against.
Our Evidence and Planning Manager, Rachel Giles who has been working with her team to create a response, travelled to Westminster last week to appear before the HS2 House of Commons Select Committee that is considering the Bill.
The Committee acts in a quasi-judicial capacity (i.e. like a court) and the Cheshire Wildlife Trust were invited to present their case and HS2 were invited to respond. This was followed by cross-examination by the Committee in order to help them come to a decision.
Rachel said: ‘’Our case was based on the fact that the changes in AP2 result in further substantial losses of wildlife-rich habitat but no new replacement habitat is being proposed. We think this is unacceptable. Particularly worrying is that the amended scheme will result in the loss of 1345 metres of water vole habitat which is home to an important population. The water course will also be permanently blocked by an inverted siphon which effectively acts like a big U-bend preventing the passage of water voles and other wildlife.’’
Water voles are the fastest disappearing mammal in the UK and are legally protected. They were once common and widespread throughout Cheshire, but a new study by Andrea Powell from Cheshire Wildlife Trust has concluded that the future of this species in Cheshire is currently hanging in the balance.
Andrea added: ‘’We fear that the population impacted by HS2 will not recover, putting the survival of water voles in this part of the county at imminent threat of extinction. We simply can’t afford to lose any more water voles from Cheshire.’’
HS2 have argued that water voles will recolonise this area once the scheme is complete. But Cheshire Wildlife Trusr point out that the rapid recent population declines indicate that this simply won’t happen as populations are contracting not expanding.
HS2 have the opportunity to help this situation by creating habitat for water voles next to the track. At the Select Committee hearing the Trust explained that new water vole habitat would need to be created next to existing areas to provide a refuge for the species during the construction process. Once work was complete the population could then expand back into their old habitat. The end result would be a net gain in habitat which could make the difference between survival or extinction of the species in south Cheshire.
Cheshire Wildlife Trust is in the process of developing a water vole recovery strategy and have invited HS2 to help them with this. ‘’Bolstering the population south of Crewe would be a major contribution to our plan to stabilise the water vole population in Cheshire. We are waiting to see if HS2 are willing to take us up on the offer, or if indeed the Select Committee will require them to do more to save this population.’’