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It’s often difficult to cut through the nonsense and hysteria about the environment spread by the anti HS2 protesters as the media rarely do it and too many organisations tend to keep their heads down, so it’s great to see Natural England sticking their heads above the parapet and explaining what’s going on regarding bat licences at Jones’ Hill wood, one of the few woodlands that’s genuinely affected by HS2. Jones’ Hill will lose 0.7ha out of 1.8ha. On March 30th Natural England granted licences for work at Jones’ Hill woods and published details in a blog on their website, which you can find here. It makes interesting reading.

There’s also some important detail about what NE can and cannot do that the froth from the protesters (who always accuse NE of ‘betraying’ the environment) normally hides.

Natural England’s role in licensing development is to ensure that activities affecting protected species are carried out without damaging those populations. We don’t have powers to stop projects that have been approved, or to delay them unnecessarily, nor do we have powers to prevent the felling of ancient woodland if it has been approved by the planning system.

In this case, the ‘planning system’ is the Act of Parliament that decreed that Phase 1 of HS2 shall be built – and you really can’t get any higher up the planning, democratic and legal food-chain than an Act of Parliament! Oh, it’s also worth mentioning that the HS2 Phase 1 Hybrid Bill didn’t scrape through, it flew through both houses of Parliament with a whopping majority in each house.

By becoming law, the HS2 Phase 1 Hybrid Bill granted planning permission for HS2 and Natural England (even if it wanted to) cannot overturn or ignore an Act of Parliament!

NE go on to explain that:

When a developer applies for a licence to undertake works that will impact on protected species, Natural England assesses whether the works can be carried out in a way that maintains the conservation of the species in that area. We take our regulatory role very seriously; all licences that are issued include conditions that the licensee must apply with. We monitor compliance with licence conditions and will take enforcement action if they are broken.

This is exactly what NE has done at Jones’ Hill wood. They go on to say that:

At Jones Hill Wood, we have undertaken a careful assessment of the impacts in this area and requested further hibernation surveys.  Our assessment has concluded that the felling of 0.7 hectares of woodland at Jones Hill Wood will not be detrimental to the favourable conservation of the overall bat populations in this area.

Our decision takes into account a number of elements including the areas over which bats forage and the wider available foraging resource, the proposed methodology for minimising harm to roosting bats, and the compensation measures that must be put in place, which include creating new roosting features, bat boxes and the planting of 3.2 hectares of woodland habitat and fruit trees on an adjacent site. The effect of these compensatory measures will be monitored over a period of many years. The licence also sets out measures that must be undertaken to ensure no bats are harmed during tree and vegetation clearance at the location. Some further details on impacts and compensation measures are included below.

We’ll continue to work both with HS2 and other concerned stakeholders during the works, and our staff will undertake a site visit during felling to ensure that licence conditions are being met.”

So, 0.7ha of woodland is lost but 3.2ha of woodland habitat is created – a net gain of 2.5ha. Funny how the protesters neglect to mention this, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, what impact could the work have on the bat population? NE have this to say:

Impacts and compensation at Jones Hill Wood

The works at Jones Hill Wood have the potential to affect the following species through the loss of breeding sites and resting places: damage or destruction of up to 4 common pipistrelle resting places and 1 breeding site, 1 soprano pipistrelle resting place, 1 barbastelle resting place and 1 breeding site, 1 noctule resting place, 2 brown long-eared bat resting places and 1 breeding site, and 1 Natterer’s bat resting place. Works could also result in indirect disturbance of bats (if present) and the transport / possession / control / capture of bats.

Note the caveats (in italics) – ” could also result in indirect disturbance of bats (if present )”

Funny how the protesters only talk in absolute terms, isn’t it? Of course, the real world is far more complex. What NE make clear is that every effort will be made to protect wildlife like bats and that – at the end of the day, there’ll be far more habitat for them then before. But again, this doesn’t fit the protesters narrative so it’s ignored.

Instead, the protesters are trying to create a ho-ha on social media and in the press and are encouraging their supporters to bombard NE on Twitter, via mail and Facebook etc. In order to achieve what exactly? Natural England are not above the law, nor can they ignore it to act ultra vires although that’s exactly what the protesters are telling them to do! But then the protesters and people like HS2Rebellion think acting legally is something that doesn’t apply to them. Obeying the law’s for other people, which is why they flagrantly ignore it whilst claiming anything and everything HS2 do is ‘illegal’. It’s weapons-grade hypocrisy, but very much par for the course.

What happens next?

Nothing. The licences have been issued and Hs2s contractors can crack on with the work, despite what the protesters claim. Oh, their may be a bit of too-ing and fro-ing on the ground as the protesters try and make a last stand, but it’s General Custer territory, they neither have the numbers or the legal backing to stop HS2.

Of course (as is often the case) there’s an irony to this. The protesters will claim they’ve delayed the work so ‘saved’ 0.7ha of woodland, when the truth is what they’ve really done is delay the planting of an extra 2.5ha of habitat! Still, when did facts and HS2rebellion ever co-exist?

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