Wednesday 31 March 2021
It is with great regret that the Chilterns Conservation Board received confirmation today (31 March 2021) that Natural England yesterday issued a licence to HS2 Ltd’s contractors, Fusion Joint Venture, regarding bats at Jones Hill Wood, near Wendover, in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The licence permits Fusion Joint Ventures to:
4. Damage or destroy the resting places of specified bat species
5. Damage or destroy breeding places of specified bat species
The specified bat species covered by the licence include Barbastelle, Noctule, Brown Long-eared, Natterer’s, Common and Soprano Pipistrelle bats, all of which are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. The licence has been issued for the purpose of “Imperative reasons of overriding public interest including those of a social or economic nature and beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment.”
The Chilterns Conservation Board has always challenged the premise that HS2 meets the requirement of providing an overriding public interest. There is increasing evidence that the social, economic and environmental benefits claimed for HS2 have been overstated, and the harm to the natural and historic environment, and to local communities, are consistently understated.
The Chilterns Conservation Board has repeatedly questioned HS2 Ltd on the quality of the ecological surveys on which the licence is based. Whilst a number of safety measures are included in the licence conditions, we have not been reassured by HS2 Ltd’s answers to our questions. We remain of the view that proposed mitigation to counter the loss of roosting or foraging habitat will be far from adequate.
Dr Elaine King, Chief Executive of the Chilterns Conservation Board, said “The way this licence was obtained is morally wrong. In relying on the provisions in the HS2 Act, HS2 Ltd is failing to conduct the necessary ecological surveys in good time, and is limiting opportunities to scrutinise its plans and activities. As a result, licensing authorities have little choice but to issue licences and accept a ‘lower than standard survey effort’. This approach is not in line with HS2 Ltd’s commitment to uphold the highest environmental standards, and respect the sensitive and special nature of this protected landscape.”
With proposed tree felling work due to commence in April, we anticipate severe impacts on the bats that have made Jones’ Hill Wood their home. And, without full and independent monitoring of the felling operation, we may never know how many will be injured or killed.
The Bat Conservation Trust's statement on increasing concerns on HS2 (updated 25 March 2021)
Natural England: Wildlife licences and HS2 (June 2020)