HS2 broke wildlife rules nine times over handling of bats and newts

·4-min read
HS2
HS2

HS2 has been handed nine warnings for breaching wildlife licenses, The Telegraph can disclose.

Natural England has issued the letters since last April over concerns about the new high-speed railway line's handling of bats and newts.

Six of the warnings relate to bats while the other three relate to great crested newts, among Britain’s most strictly protected species.

Wildlife licences allow projects to carry out activities that would usually be illegal, such as disturbing and capturing bats and destroying their roosts.

But they come with conditions requiring work to be carried out at certain times of year or with particular restrictions, to protect the animals concerned as well as other wildlife.

Among the latest warnings was a breach involving the incorrect use of newt traps in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, resulting in a letter sent at the end of June.

It comes as the Department for Transport gave instructions to 'shelve' all work being done on the Eastern leg of HS2, from Birmingham through the East Midlands to Sheffield and Leeds.

As the total cost of the project spiralled to over £100bn, HS2 CEO Mark Thurston said: "At the moment we are only working on phase 2b west. We are only focused on that.

"We are taking the western link now as a very discrete project and we wait to be guided by the department on what we do with the eastern link."

Mr Thurston added that phase 2b originally referred to both the eastern and western legs as one integrated project - but he said: "That is not now playing out that way."

In February, the Telegraph reported that the organisation was under investigation by Natural England after a dead shrew was found in one of the “pitfall” traps.

A dead shrew in a bucket trap used by HS2 - Michelle RB
A dead shrew in a bucket trap used by HS2 - Michelle RB

The traps, used to collect great crested newts so that they can be removed from site, are supposed to be kept covered in winter, checked daily and equipped with a “mammal ladder” so small rodents can escape.

HS2 Limited blamed the incident on vandalism. Emails seen by The Telegraph show Natural England told the company in a warning letter that the traps should either have been removed or “secured appropriately” and that regular checks should have been carried out.

Last November the Woodland Trust raised concerns about felling in ancient woodlands and the timing of bat surveys, which it says should have been carried out when bats were active rather than hibernating.

The high-speed rail line, expected to open towards the end of this decade, has been criticised by ecologists, campaigners and charities over its environmental practices.

Ecologists concerned about HS2’s wildlife practices have reported it to the police over alleged breaches. No prosecutions have been brought.

A register published by Natural England in May this year shows 33 wildlife licences granted to HS2.

A spokeswoman for HS2 said that the breaches were "technical or minor" but that it was “not comfortable” giving out more details including the sites involved.

Dominic Woodfield, director of Bioscan Ecological Consultancy, said: “We are surprised that HS2 Ltd thinks that nine warning letters from Natural England concerning breaches of protected species licences is nothing to be concerned about.

“As practitioners in this area, who hold protected species licences ourselves, we would expect to be debarred from holding such licences if we had presided over serial transgressions.

“This is because repeated and serial breaches of licences suggest a fundamental problem with due diligence and towards the responsibility that being awarded a protected species licence brings.”

'Disgraceful'

Ecologist Rob Mileto said: "I think it's disgraceful that a company that claims to be among the greenest and most ecologically friendly has been in breach nine times."

In a statement the organisation, which is funded by the Department for Transport, said: “Before starting any environmental work, HS2 Ltd and our contractors always ensure we have the correct licences and consent from the authorised bodies, including Natural England, who also regularly monitor our licensed work.

“As confirmed by Natural England, the breaches are considered technical or minor and the number is as expected given the number of licences involved and the scope of the works.

“We continue to work closely with Natural England to ensure our mitigation work is carried out to the highest standards by our expert ecologists.”

Dave Slater, Natural England's Director for Wildlife Licensing and Enforcement cases, said: “The licences we have granted HS2 set out strict conditions under which these works must be carried out to ensure that populations of protected species are not negatively impacted.

“The licensing breaches we have identified vary in nature, but have not impacted on the conservation status of species concerned.

“We monitor HS2’s compliance with licences closely and continue to work with them to make improvements to the management of licensed works

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