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As the countdown to the Government making its final decision on building HS2 the opposition has ramped up their anti HS2 PR, the latest being today’s overly-long 34 page report from the Wildlife Trusts.

It’s a masterpiece of speculation and scaremongering. Long on apocalyptic predictions of what HS2 will do the UKs flora and fauna but woefully short of facts. It also ignores the critical question. If not HS2, what?

The report’s been collated using responses from 14 Wildlife Trusts and a number of conservation and landowning organisations along the full route of HS2 who’ve all been busy staring into their crystal balls in order to predict a future where HS2 has supposedly laid waste to this green and pleasent land. Here’s some examples. Here’s this from the Executive summary.

“HS2 will result in the loss of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodlands, veteran trees, wood pasture, old meadows, mires and wetlands. A total of 108 ancient woodlands are known to be threatened with loss or damage under current plans. Many other important wildlife habitats will be negatively impacted by the construction of HS2 and will not recover their existing biodiversity value, under the timescales used in HS2’s calculations

At the risk of being flippant, the old expression “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs” springs to mind here. The idea that we can build anything on the scale of HS2 in the UK without affecting something or someone is pie in the sky. The point is to ensure the least damage is caused as possible, to mitigate the losses and to ensure there’s replacements for what has to be lost. Because (make no mistake) there’s something much bigger at stake here. It’s called planet Earth – but more of that later….

Here’s some more examples.

“1.3 Species at risk
It is anticipated that HS2 will impact a wide range of wildlife significantly”

Anticipated? By whom? This is a good example of the language used throughout the report. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen the words and phrases “risk”, “potential risk”,”jeopardised”, “may”, “likely”,

Then there’s these classic bits of daft scaremongering from the introduction.

“HS2 is a huge infrastructure project, which will cut and divide England’s natural habitats in two, from London to Manchester and Leeds”…”HS2 will cut right through the heart of England, slashing a large part of the countryside in two”.

Err, hello? This is a railway, it’s not the Berlin wall! And, it’s a damned sight more permeable for wildlife than the alternative – more motorways. It’s this sort of blinkered thinking that is so frustrating, because at no point in the report are any alternatives considered – or a comparison of the destruction they would cause even mentioned. Because – if you did that, the effects of HS2 on the environment would look very different indeed to the bleak picture painted by these groups.

It’s that lack of a bigger picture that makes organisations like this part of the Climate Change problem, not the solution. They’re single-issue campaigners. They daren’t look at the bigger picture, because if they did it would make people realise that they (literally) can’t see the woods for the trees.

Great, say they managed to stop HS2. What then? The need for it won’t go away. Instead, the Government would have to come up with an alternative and the only obvious alternative is more motorways. The old axiom ‘be careful what you wish for’ is very appropriate here. If ‘green’ groups think building a new railway is too higher price to pay, what price is several hundred miles of new motorways?

Of course, the stock answer you get from groups like the Wildlife or Woodland Trusts is “not my problem Guv, we’re only here to campaign about UK trees, or newts, or bats”.

Which brings me back to planet Earth – if only I could bring these groups back there too!

Transport is one of the biggest emitters of Co2. If we’re serious about tackling GLOBAL climate change we need to get modal shift from road and air to the greenest form of mass land transport: Rail. But we can’t do that without the vastly enhanced rail capacity HS2 gives us as our existing network is full and can’t be expanded in any meaningful way. Oh, we can tinker around the edges, removing a few pinch-points here and there, but the truth is we need a new line. The rest of the world has realised that High-Speed rail’s the solution, but many here are too blinkered, too conservative and (seemingly) incapable of grasping the scale of the problem.

Great, we get to ‘save’ a tiny patch of ancient woodland. For now. But in doing so we put the whole ecosystem at risk. Not just in the UK but across the planet as there’s a clue in the name ‘Global Warming’.

This is ultimately my frustration with these supposed environmental groups. Their inability to see and deal with the bigger picture won’t save anything. Just the opposite! There’s another hypocrisy here. ‘Green’ groups constantly shout about the ‘climate emergency’ and the need to act NOW! Yet, when it comes to building HS2 they say “not so fast, we must go back to the drawing board”, thus delaying the means to enable modal shift for several years if not decades. Some ’emergency’! It’s taken us 10 years to get to this point, yet HS2 still won’t be ready for years!

I could spend hours critiqueing the rest of the scaremongering in this report, but I think you get the drift. I want to see the environment protecting too – after all, I’ve got to live on this planet as well. I just wish we had a decent environmental and truly ‘green’ party in the UK, because what we’ve got now is just doing the road lobby and oil companies jobs for them.

Despite all this there has been one very refreshing thing and that’s HS2 Ltd finally taking the gloves off by starting to challenge these factual inaccuracies and spin rather then leaving it to people like myself and Gareth Dennis. Here’s a sample of their ripostes on Twitter.

This challenging of factual inaccuracies and willingness to stand up for the project rather than rely on people like myself, Gareth Dennis and RAIL’s Nigel Harris amongst others is long overdue but nevertheless welcome. Maybe now we can start to cut through the crap and talk about the serious issues as construction of HS2 gets underway.

UPDATE: 16th January.

I know I’ve been a stern critic of the environmental movement in this blog, but I’m going to share this with you as evidence of why this is. Here’s a tweet from Craig David, who is the CEO of the England and Wales ‘friends’ of the Earth (FoE).

This mind-numbingly banal and intellectually bankrupt comparison is the best that a CEO can come up with? Seriously? If anything makes me worry for the future of the planet it’s the fact that these people are the ‘leaders’ of the ‘green’ movement. Talk about out-gunned and out-manoeuvred. Christ on a bike…