High Speed Two

High Speed Two

A footpath at BBOWT's Calvert Jubilee nature reserve closed by HS2 workers in December 2019.

High Speed Two and Wildlife

The High Speed 2 (HS2) Ltd. project is a serious threat to precious wildlife and habitats, including some of our nature reserves. We have been campaigning against it since 2010.

The government’s announcement on 15 April 2020 that the construction of HS2 can begin once again shines a light on the devastating impact the works will have on our natural environment.

UPDATE 16 March 2021

The recent felling of the Leather Lane oak trees is another atrocious act that shows HS2 are taking completely the wrong approach. We have opposed HS2 from the beginning and it is heart breaking to repeatedly witness the project obliterating precious habitats. The Government needs to stop and rethink. It is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to damage active nests. Detailed surveys should be done before any felling activity takes place. If HS2 has not done this and active nests are damaged HS2 would be breaking the law and the matter should be reported to the police.

We have experienced first hand how HS2’s contractors operate and the level of incompetence they are capable of demonstrating. Rather than demonstrating best practice, they have often demonstrated the worst. Not only is the way they carry out their works inappropriate, and not only is the timing appalling, but the environmental commitments of the project as a whole are woefully inadequate. HS2 only committed to no net loss, which is far short of what we would expect at a time when nature is in crisis. Given the poor record HS2 has to date, we doubt they will even achieve their “ambition” of no net loss. The Government needs to think again.



The report published in January 2020 by The Wildlife Trusts, What’s the damage? Why HS2 will cost nature too much, shows the huge impact the project will have on protected wildlife sites, species and landscape restoration projects.

Nationally, HS2 will destroy or significantly impact 108 irreplaceable ancient woodlands, which have been around since the 1600s, 33 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), 693 Local Wildlife Sites and 21 Local Nature Reserves, among other precious habitats. Such damage would be unforgivable. If HS2 is allowed to continue in its current form, it will exacerbate the nature and climate emergency, the costs of which will be paid for by generations to come.

As currently planned, HS2 will be bad for wildlife, bad for the environment and will destroy precious, irreplaceable habitats.

Read the full report

Download the report

Water vole by Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Read the summary report

Download the summary

Willow tit by Harry Hogg

Greener Approach

With HS2 given the green light by government, in spite of our tireless campaigning and the thousands of people who signed our letter asking them to stop and rethink, a new greener approach is needed which contributes to nature’s recovery and leaves the natural world in a better condition than before.

We continue to urge the government to rethink its approach and put nature’s recovery at the heart of their plans. With the Environment Bill looking set to require biodiversity net gain for all developments, and nature recovery strategies for all parts of England, HS2 must not be the exception to the new rules, and must follow a greener approach, that restores rather than ruins nature.

Two BBOWT nature reserves – Calvert Jubilee and Finemere Wood - will be directly affected by HS2 Phase 1. The route of the railway cuts along the eastern side of Calvert Jubilee and the western side of Finemere Wood.

We have refused HS2 and its contractors access to Calvert Jubilee at every opportunity. In December 2019 we were outraged when HS2 carried out clearance works at our Calvert Jubilee nature reserve without advance warning. BBOWT only became aware after being contacted by a concerned member of the public.

As a result of our objections, and from us complaining to the government, HS2 quickly stopped and left the site. We have fought hard to ensure that any clearance works that we are not able to stop, at least do not happen during bird nesting season. To add insult to injury, we understand HS2 are preparing to carry out more clearance works during the summer of 2020, which will be a particularly damaging time for local wildlife.

We will keep our web pages for Calvert Jubilee and Finemere Wood up to date with information about contractors working on site, and we advise visitors to check these pages before going to the reserves. The negative impacts on both sites are also likely to be increased as a result of East West Rail (EWR2). The main railway route passes over HS2 at Calvert Jubilee, and the EWR2 spur to Aylesbury runs alongside HS2 at Finemere Wood.

Felled ash by HS2 at Calvert Jubilee

Felled ash by HS2 at Calvert Jubilee by Pete Bray

What we have done

Since the proposed route was published in 2010, BBOWT has worked tirelessly to reduce the impacts of HS2 on wildlife. BBOWT led the local campaign to speak up for wildlife, encouraged people to take part in public events, and called for a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the project.

A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is extremely important because it ensures that significant environmental effects are identified, assessed and mitigated at the very start of a programme or plan development. It would also require an assessment of reasonable alternatives, and would have included a public consultation which would have highlighted key impacts of the chosen route before it was defined. BBOWT challenged the lack of SEA, but the Supreme Court ruled that there was no requirement for an SEA where a project is brought forward outside of a plan.  Clearly, BBOWT does not agreed with the rationale behind this ruling.

BBOWT produced reports and petitions to the Parliamentary Select Committees, appearing three times before Committees to make the case for better wildlife protection.

The first phase of the High Speed Two (HS2) railway between London and Birmingham was given Royal Assent on February 23, 2017. As a result of BBOWT’s long and strenuous campaign for the impacts of HS2 on wildlife to be reduced, some significant changes to the route have been made, but the HS2 line will still have considerable impacts on wildlife along the entire route as well as our nature reserves, Calvert Jubilee and Finemere Wood.

Estelle Bailey, Chief Executive of BBOWT, at the Houses of Parliament

Estelle Bailey at Houses of Parliament by Chris Wood

Over the last few years BBOWT has met with politicians, HS2 representatives and their key contractors to set out the devastating effect on wildlife the project would have. However, works have continued with scant regard for the environment.

In January 2020 we published the most comprehensive environmental assessment to date that revealed the sheer scale of potential damage from HS2. Our report shows that the deep cut HS2 will make across the landscape could stop nature’s recovery in its tracks. As the costs to nature escalate, we urged the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to use his power now to stop and rethink this project, or the scar may never heal. Thousands of people shared our concerns and signed our letter to the Prime Minister.

BBOWT continues to push for improvements. Because no Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) was carried out BBOWT has fought to urge the government to rethink its approach and put nature’s recovery at the heart of any and all plans.

Despite our best efforts, in April 2020 - in the midst of the coronavirus crisis - the government announced that Phase 1 of HS2 could proceed.

The Wildlife Trusts are represented on the Ecology Review Group for HS2, which will examine the impacts of the construction and operation of the line. 

As a direct result of our campaigning with The Wildlife Trusts nationally, and with the help of experts Prof John Altringham and Dr Anna Berthinussen from the University of Leeds, we secured:

  • A requirement for a Barn Owl Action Plan to be carried out. Without this Action Plan, phase one of HS2 is expected to kill 1% of the breeding barn owl population in the UK each year.
  • A promise to address shortfalls in the amount of wildlife compensation. We also secured an independent review of the calculations HS2 carried out to monitor their own impact on the natural environment.
  • A commitment for Green Bridges to be built where the line passes through the Bernwood Forest area. These will have 30m wide ‘green’ planting of grass and trees. The HS2 route through Bernwood Forest bisects a colony of Bechstein’s bats, one of the UK’s rarest mammals. BBOWT also secured extensive mitigation proposals for woodland creation in Bernwood Forest.
  • Changes to the Bill to ensure that bats can use the planned underpasses.
  • Alterations to works to ensure parts of our nature reserves are protected, and to ensure visitor access is maintained.
Bechstein's bat

Bechstein's bat

As a result of combined campaigning by BBOWT with HS2 Action Alliance, The Woodland Trust and the Chilterns Conservation Board:

  • Tunnelling was extended under parts of the Chilterns AONB to avoid ancient woodlands that would have been destroyed or bisected by the route.
  • The government changed the way that information on environmental impacts is presented to MPs before they vote on large projects.
  • The European Commission confirmed that they “remain of the view that large transport infrastructure developments such as this should be addressed….through the process foreseen in the SEA Directive”. We supported a legal challenge, asking the UK Supreme Court to rule that a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) should have been carried out.
  • The government eventually carried out a review of the possible impacts of HS2 on the South West London Waterbodies, a Special Protection Area for wildlife, just before the failure to carry out the review was addressed in the High Court.
  • HS2 Ltd removed ancient woodland impacts from their calculation of “no net loss” to biodiversity. Having ancient woodland in the calculations for a scheme approved by Parliament would have given the green light to other developers that they could damage irreplaceable habitats and still claim they were producing “no net loss” of impact.

BBOWT remains opposed to HS2 as it is, but the government insisted on pushing ahead with it. While work continues BBOWT is fighting to minimise the extent of the damage.

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