HS2’s massive blunder reveals how important it is to preserve biodiversity

A path of trees felled for HS2
Support us and go ad-free

HS2’s attempt to replace woodland that the high-speed rail link destroyed has spectacularly failed. But what it suggests affects more than just British trees. The “environmental disaster” is a stark reminder that we can’t simply replace the natural world.

“Cost effective”

Two Warwickshire farmers claimed that thousands of trees have died after they were planted on their land to replace cut woodland. BBC News reported on 21 May that:

Up to 350,000 saplings have so far been planted near the £56bn train line, but two Warwickshire farmers think up to 80% on their land have died…

HS2 said the trees died because of last year’s hottest summer on record, and it planned to replant them later this year.

The BBC reported HS2 as saying that “replacing the dead trees was more “cost effective” than watering them” because of the cost of getting enough water to the affected areas. However, Joe Rukin of Stop HS2 branded the choice a “disaster”. He told BBC News:

Planting hundreds of thousands of trees up and down the line and allowing them to die because you can’t be bothered to water them is almost as big a disaster as causing havoc and destruction over a hundred ancient woodlands to build this project.

It’s not the first time HS2 has been shown up for this decision. In September 2018, the Daily Mail reported that thousands of trees in the Colne Valley had died that summer. At the time, HS2 provided the same ‘cost-effective’ reasoning.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

The UN declared 22 May the International Day for Biological Diversity. It said that biodiversity is the “foundation of the ecosystems we depend on for our food, fresh water, medicines, climate regulation & more”. And it described protecting it as “critical”. The World Wildlife Fund published a video to coincide with the day. In it, presenter David Attenborough explains that “the more biodiversity, the more secure all life on Earth is”:

British conservation charity the Woodland Trust agreed. Responding to International Day for Biological Diversity, it said that all life depends on the planet’s “complex web of interactions”. However, even in the UK, “56% of our species declined between 1970 and 2013”. Another 15% are under threat of extinction or already extinct.

The Woodland Trust said this trend can be stopped. But it requires making protection of habitats such as ancient woodland an “immediate priority”. The charity defines ancient woodland as those that are present on maps dating back to 1600 in England and Wales or 1750 in Scotland. These are “irreplaceable” because each one is a unique ecosystem of plants, animals, soil and human cultural history.

Ancient woodland

In June 2018, the Woodland Trust described HS2’s tree planting programme as “greenwash nonsense”. It said that despite plans to plant seven million trees, including those that have since reportedly died, the rail link would destroy more than 40 hectares of ancient woodland. And, in a document tackling HS2 directly, the charity pointed out that:

newly planted woodland will develop some value for wildlife [but] it will never develop all of the natural characteristics of an ancient wood.

With this type of woodland reduced to just 2% of the UK’s land area, protecting that which remains is essential.


HS2’s thousands of failed saplings reveal major problems with so-called ‘mitigation’. Not only can new trees not replace ancient woodland, just getting those trees to maturity is fraught with hazards. The summer 2018 heatwave was closely linked to climate breakdown, which itself is intimately connected to biodiversity. As a result, the news of HS2’s failure and attitude is even more haunting.

While transport secretary Chris Grayling recently doubled down on the necessity of HS2, critics say the rail link will only benefit the wealthy. Meanwhile, the rest of us – the human and non-human world – will face a true natural disaster.

Featured image via YouTube – Elizabeth Williams

Support us and go ad-free

Get involved

  • Check out Stop HS2 for updates on campaigns against the rail link.
  • Read about the Woodland Trust’s own campaign against HS2.
  • Follow the #BiodiversityDay tag on Twitter for more information from around the world.

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us