My Lords, I declare my interest as in the register as the deputy chair of Natural England. Amendment 5 stands in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I will also speak to Amendments 6, 7 and 11 in this group. I give notice to the House that I will seek votes on Amendments 5, 6 and 7 unless the Government see light on the road to Damascus or even on the line to Crewe.
First, I thank my noble friend the Minister for the numerous meetings she has held with Peers proposing amendments. If we have not been persuaded, it is no reflection on my noble friend—it is just that some of us are difficult blighters at the best of times. However, on this occasion we think we might have some merit on our side. Noble Lords may consider this an unusual grouping of Peers, but we are all united in our desire to protect and enhance UK biodiversity, which has declined drastically over the last 50 years. We are not seeking to stop or slow down HS2a, but we suggest that a flagship construction project should be a flagship regeneration project for our flora and fauna too, and it can be done at little cost.
“The scheduled works must achieve 10% biodiversity net gain.”
The Government’s policy is that all new developments must achieve 10% biodiversity net gain. This has been welcomed by developers who see it as a selling point for their properties. However, the policy does not apply to national infrastructure projects, which in my view should be leading by example. Indeed, even Network Rail and Highways England have committed to net gain in the future.
Clause 92 and Schedule 14 to the Environment Bill, currently in another place and which this House will get next year, lays down a requirement for 10% net gain, but the HS2 policy is just no net loss. Leaving aside the point that when one destroys an ancient woodland there is an irrecoverable loss, that policy is now way out of date. In 2015, no net loss might have satisfied the public and the then Government, but it is out of step with what the Prime Minister has announced in the last few months and out of step with the mood of the times on to our environment.
Just last week, the Prime Minister said in the national infrastructure strategy that we must build back better and greener. He made the 30x30 pledge and recently launched a massive programme of nature recovery networks. Therefore, the old HS2 policy on the destruction of habitats and wildlife is way out of tune with the Government’s new thinking on nature recovery.
I pay tribute to the Government and to my honourable friend Andrew Stephenson MP, the Minister in charge in another place, for pushing HS2 to do more than just achieve no net loss. This amendment is designed to help my noble friend the Government by putting HS2a under an obligation to achieve 10% overall biodiversity improvement when the project is complete. HS2’s green corridor ambition can contribute to the project’s environmental legacy, but it is unlikely to deliver net gain on its own.
The main misconception about net gain, and this has been said in Committee, is that it would involve more compulsory purchase of land adjacent to the line. That is absolutely not the case. Achieving net gain in this project is similar to the environmental land management schemes being designed for farmers, launched this morning. That would mean HS2 offering incentives for landowners and others to develop biodiversity projects. These may be adjacent to the route or even many miles away. HS2 could fund new woodlands, peat restoration or wetlands improvements and these do not have to be tied to the route. It could fund landowners or organisations such as the RSPB, the Woodland Trust and local wildlife trusts to carry out nature recovery work elsewhere, so long as by the end of the project all the works had achieved a 10% net gain overall.
Natural England calculates that the cost of net gain over the whole HS2 route would be 0.01%, or £100 million. Here we are dealing with a section one-third of that length and a guestimate of costs would therefore be about £35 million. That would be a one-off cost. The wage bill for the 1,389 HS2 staff last year was £109 million, and that will be a recurring cost for 15 years or so. Thus, achieving net gain is a very small cost but a huge environmental gain. We should expect HS2 as the Government’s flagship infrastructure project to lead the way and go above and beyond the minimum and achieve what we will legislate for next year in the Environment Bill.
HS2 is unnecessarily antagonising organisations which would love to weigh in behind it if it would do a little bit more for biodiversity. There will be some who will always be opposed to the project, but many highly respected NGOs would publicly support HS2 if it achieved net gain and saved ancient woodlands.
That brings me on to Amendment 6, and my proposed new clause:
“The scheduled works must not destroy any ancient woodlands, either directly or indirectly.”
A number of ancient woodlands would be damaged or destroyed by the current proposed route. No matter how many new trees we plant, we cannot replace the biodiversity lost when an ancient woodland is destroyed. These are not just old trees. When habitats have been left to develop for 500 years or so they become complex ecosystems holding a wide range of flora. Ancient woodlands have declined dramatically over the years and now cover only 2.4% of the UK. That is far too small a size to sacrifice even more.
I quote from the Government’s own National Planning Policy Framework, which instructs councils that
“development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exists”.
Of course, the Government then list as “wholly exceptional” any old national infrastructure projects where they exempt themselves from the rules they apply to everyone else. In this day and age, I do not think Governments will get away with a policy of “Everyone must obey the rules, except us.” That mood is changing.
If ancient woodlands have to be destroyed, Natural England proposes a replanting ratio of 30:1. That seems high but it is a recognition that you have to plant a lot more new trees if you are going to try to ameliorate the damage done by the loss of ancient woods. I shall say no more on this subject, on this amendment, because I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who is an absolute expert on this matter, will talk about ancient woodlands. I look forward to hearing what she has to say about this amendment and her Amendment 13.
My last amendment, Amendment 7, seeks to insert a new clause stating that:
“All plants and trees planted on any of the land on which the scheduled works take place, or in mitigation of the effects of those works, must be … British native species, and … sourced in the United Kingdom.”
This is not a little Englander new clause, suggesting that I do not want nasty foreign trees when we have left the EU, but a recognition that our native wildlife needs native plants and habitat to survive. For tens of thousands of years our native fauna has survived and developed in a habitat of native British flora. Putting it simply, we cannot have native red squirrels unless we have the native trees producing the nuts, fruits and seeds on which they survive. The Back from the Brink project, to recover 20 species from near extinction, depends on native habitats.
This new clause is necessary because HS2 plans to plant one-third of the plants and trees from latitudes of up to two degrees south of the midpoint of the route. Planting trees from further south may make sense for commercial forestry, guarding against climate change, but does nothing to help our native fauna survive. Eucalyptus trees from France may be very good for timber but I understand their leaves are toxic and that only koala bears and possums thrive on them and we do not want those species running around our woods. Thus, we need UK native trees and plants to support our native wildlife. However, I mention that as an extreme example and I do not expect to see these exotic species from France, but it is highly likely that the one-third will be sourced from the largest supplier of trees and plants in Europe: the Netherlands. Last year, we imported £1 billion of trees and plants from Holland.
As colleagues will know, we face an increasing threat from diseases unwittingly imported along with plants sourced from abroad. Even if we step up biosecurity when we leave the EU, there will still be an enormous risk of bringing in destructive bugs and diseases. For any imported seed stock, HS2 must follow the relevant hygiene regulations as set out in the Plant Health (England) Order 2005 and it must comply with the latest biosecurity certification standards on planting and importation. But that is what is supposed to happen at the moment for all imported seeds and plants and yet we have ash dieback, oak processionary moth and spittlebugs, and God help us if Xylella fastidiosa gets here because it can destroy 500 different tree species. Of course, many bugs and diseases are hidden in the soil.
No doubt noble Lords with more expertise than I will correct me if I am wrong, but is it not the case that every single bug and disease which has devastated our trees and plants has come in from abroad despite the best efforts at port control with phytosanitary measures? Do not take my word for it on the risk. In July 2019, the Dutch Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture issued a warning to all its members saying that they had to take special care that they did not export the oak processionary moth to England along with all the English oaks they exported to us. If even the Dutch exporters are warning about the dangers of their products, should we not exercise a bit more caution? The one-third foreign planting advice satisfies the technical advice from the Forestry Commission and Natural England, but I am suggesting that we should be more cautious than the technical advice. The danger is not foreign eucalyptus but foreign English oaks.
At this precise moment—or he may have finished now—my noble friend Lord Gardiner is upstairs in the Grand Committee taking through a large SI on protecting us from invasive non-native species. A week today, he is taking through a massive SI with 13 annexes on plant phytosanitary conditions. Defra is well aware of the threat but it seems that the Department for Transport is not. That is why a requirement on acquiring plants from UK sources is so important. It will also be good business for UK nurseries that can easily supply all that would be required. We have a huge range of UK native trees and there is no excuse not to use them. One has just to look at the Woodland Trust website to see the full range and all animals, birds, butterflies and other species that depend on our native flora for survival.
I have just read, this weekend, the Woodland Trust publication, published this month, called Tree Provenance Choice in a Changing Climate, which addresses this biodiversity argument. The Woodland Trust says:
“For woodland conservation, resilience, and enhanced biosecurity, evidence suggests that tree seed sourced from local UK provenances will be best adapted for UK sites in the long term … Wherever possible, trees should be sourced from within the UK in order to prevent further introductions of damaging pests and diseases.”
Again, I say simply: do not take my word for it but listen to the experts on this occasion.
I want to say a few words on Amendment 11. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has drafted—in my opinion—a more detailed and better amendment than mine. I look forward to her speaking on it, but I will seek a vote on Amendment 7 if the noble Baroness does not seek one on Amendment 11.
I cannot see any downside to the Government accepting Amendments 7 or 11. They carry no extra cost, give a big boost to UK plant growers, provide native trees and plants for our native wildlife, and are a 100% cast-iron guarantee that we will not bring in another devastating plant disease. It is a win-win-win-win for all of us but especially our tress and wildlife.
I apologise that I have spoken at length on these amendments, so I will not try the patience of the House by speaking to any other amendments today, but I do support Amendments 10 and 13 in another group, when they are reached.
In conclusion, the cost of what we propose here for this short part of the route is infinitesimally small in comparison with the overall cost of the project. Our amendments would not slow down construction. If we are to have a world-class new railway, we should preserve our existing world-class woods and wildlife—what remain of them. HS2 should guarantee a substantial environmental legacy that is commensurate with the status of a flagship government infrastructure project. I hope that the Government might accept these simple amendments of mine or that of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is an extremely great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Blencathra. He has made a very eloquent case for all the amendments in his name and those that I have signed with him. First, I draw attention to my environmental entries in the register of interests.
Amendment 5, as my noble friend as said, is about treating national infrastructure projects in the same way as the Government want everybody else to do: in other words, to have net gain. Surely that is right. We should use our national infrastructure projects as an example of what can be done. I take the point—it is very valid—that environmental NGOs would support HS2 if they believed that this was achievable, which I think it is. I can give an example relating to phase 1, which has obviously now been completed, when I pointed out at a very early stage that the route was going through a local nature reserve owned by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust. I suggested that HS2 could improve that reserve: it was a deep lake, and could easily, with some of the spoil and so forth, have been made a little bit more shallow or have been graduated. Not only could it have made an excellent place for wildlife and biodiversity generally, but it could have become an educational facility for the west of London and surrounding areas. I think local people would have accepted that as something worth gaining against the loss of the land that HS2 was carving through.
That argument is now gone: we cannot do anything about that, but phase 2a is a very short route, and surely we could do something here. I agree entirely with my noble friend that the cost of it, in relation to everything else, would be very small indeed. It does not even have to be along the line all the time—although railway lines are, of course, notable for being wildlife corridors. As he said, we could all get behind the restoration not just of woodland, but of wetlands and so forth.
I turn to Amendment 6 on the preservation of ancient woodlands. We have discussed this before, and we will hear more about it, no doubt, from the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who is one of the experts on this and will be able to say a great deal about it. I support this amendment entirely. Ancient woodlands cannot be replaced or replanted. However many trees you plant in a place, when you destroy something like that, you destroy woodlands that are centuries old. I will give one anecdote from my days as a retail furnisher. One of our suppliers, a company that prided itself on having sustainable timber from British woodlands, used the example of a tree that was so old that it was actually reaching the end of its life. It used, as a promotional tool, a slice through the tree and showed what was going on in the world when it was a young sapling. First it was planted, and then the second ring was the Battle of Waterloo and so forth. It just is so impressive to see the age of these trees and what has gone on. The loss of one tree is a shame, but when you destroy a whole woodland it is a crime against nature.
Moving on to Amendment 7, which is the easiest in this group for the Government to accept, I agree with my noble friend that this is actually a win-win-win-win situation. Of course it is. We have probably gone past eucalyptus—I think that he said polar bears but probably meant to say koala bears—which were imported. Eucalyptus forests, whether in Spain or in Africa or wherever, contain virtually no wildlife whatever. They are deserts. In Australia, however, they are the very source of a lot of the wildlife. Once you move them away, they are useless, apart from the commercial side. That is what my noble friend was saying, although I would not have a eucalyptus for commercial uses either.
For biodiversity, we need our own species. My noble friend very clearly made the point that they should be sourced in the United Kingdom; I cannot for the life of me see why that cannot be accepted. He mentioned the invasive species that creep in—a lot of them come in the soil. I draw noble Lords’ attention to something called the Obama worm, which originated in Argentina, came across to Europe, is now in the UK and is eating up all our earthworms. As you can imagine, it does not do our soil or our biodiversity any good. It is almost impossible for however many—and we will not have many—inspectors to be able to dig through all the earth that these saplings, or whatever, come in. Quite honestly, the Government could show great encouragement for this; elsewhere, as my noble friend said, Defra has shown such encouragement. Government at the highest level is very keen on improving our biodiversity. I am afraid that the Department for Transport does not seem to quite get it, but there is an opportunity here.
Finally, I also agree with my noble friend on Amendment 11 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, which I am looking forward to hearing about; it seems something that I could really get behind. I shall support him in the Division Lobby later if, as he said, that is not pressed to a vote.
I will start with Amendment 5. You really cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra—he laid out the case so clearly and passionately. It is strange that the Government have committed to, and will bring into legislation, a requirement to have 10% biodiversity net gain from all developments other than major infrastructure projects. It is morally as well as environmentally important that these major projects, which are mostly government-sponsored, should not be able to duck this important commitment if the government are trying to get everybody else to commit to it. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that.
Of course, there are weasel words in all this. In the case of HS2, the concept of net biodiversity gain would need to be defined very carefully. Any project that impacts adversely on ancient woodland is already not able to achieve net gain fully, as damage to ancient woodland is irreversible and cannot be compensated for in any way. No amount of tree planting or carting woodland soils across the country can recreate or compensate for trees that may be anywhere between 400 and 1,000 years old, and are part of complex webs of biodiversity. That is what ancient woodland is—it is about not just the trees but the soils and all the other species; it is about that ecosystem. So I would support a requirement for 10% biodiversity net gain for HS2 with the exclusion of ancient woodland, where it simply does not work. I am also greatly against HS2 saying that it is delivering biodiversity net gain. As long as it is destroying ancient woodland, it simply cannot make that claim.
I support Amendment 6. It is a bold and simple amendment not to destroy ancient woodlands. Avoiding ancient woodland in some of these major infrastructure projects is not an impossible dream. However, it needs a couple of things to happen; for example, an up-to-date ancient woodland inventory mapping all the remaining areas so that developers have a sporting chance of seeing where these areas are and avoiding them. That has been done very successfully for such things as sites of special scientific interest, marine protected areas or bird-breeding areas. It is not a new idea but a very simple one.
The current ancient woodland inventory has existed for a number of decades but is incredibly out of date. I saw a quite laughable example recently where a site on the ancient woodland inventory has actually been a cement works for 15 years; that goes to show how out of date it is. It is out of date, it does not map all the eligible areas, a lot is missing and, as a matter of policy, it does not go down to some of the smaller fragments.
Natural England is responsible for updating it and is, very slowly, with Woodland Trust help because it simply does not have enough money to do it at the pace that is needed. We really cannot expect developers to do a good job on ancient woodland identification without help. An inventory could avoid much conflict, if there was a good one in place. The simple message for the Minister today on the ancient woodland inventory, as part of Amendment 6, would be: please stump up the money to allow it to be completed and brought up to date. It is bizarre that a charity such as the Woodland Trust, supported by public donation, is paying for a statutory body to do a statutory job.
The second thing we need if we are to destroy no more ancient woodland is a slower speed HS2, as constantly advocated by my noble friend Lord Berkeley. The TGV goes at 200 mph and the Japanese bullet train goes even slower. Why do we need one at 250 mph? Let us have medium-speed rail rather than high-speed rail; that would give us the ability to wiggle the routes more around sites that are sensitive, for whatever reasons, and reduce the amount of public angst for a variety of reasons. We know, as has been said this evening, that HS2 is more about capacity for passengers and freight than about journey time. Speed is less important; ancient woodland is vital.
Amendment 7 seeks to ensure that the species used by the HS2 project are all native. This is important for three reasons. Most commercial forestry in this country focuses on non-native softwoods. As we restore the highly depleted tree cover of the UK, which we are going to do because it is vital for us in addressing climate change, the biggest growth needs to be in native trees. Strangely enough, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, pointed out, they also support native biodiversity and will help to reverse the tremendous decline in it that has already happened, so we need native trees to be planted by the HS2 project. Sticking to native trees also avoids imports and helps to avoid tree disease. I will speak on that when I come to Amendment 11.
I want to challenge the argument at the moment that HS2 needs to plant a substantial proportion of trees from two to five degrees south—as far south as the Loire valley—because they will adapt better to climate change. That argument is simply ceasing to represent what the science is saying. Recent research confirms that native species growing in native soils and living in assemblages of native biodiversity, to which they are accustomed, have more chance of adapting over time to climate change as it advances. They are capable of demonstrating greater resilience, particularly because of the wide genetic variation which we are blessed with in this country, even within individual species and sites. I urge the Minister to tackle Defra to require the Forestry Commission urgently to revise its guidance on the selection of species. What might be just acceptable for non-native species in commercial forestry is absolutely not acceptable for amenity and conservation planting, which is what HS2 is doing.
Let me turn to Amendment 11 in my name. We desperately need a biosecurity standard for HS2 to reduce the risk of importing potentially devastating tree disease. We all know what happened to English elms. Ash dieback is now rampant, with a prediction that 80% of the more than 2 billion ash trees will die. Now that is what I call a pandemic, and it will change the face of the British countryside. Ash trees are the most predominant trees standing as standards in our hedgerows. They are an archetypal bit of what the English countryside looks like, but they are not going to be around. Lots and lots of other trees, for commercial and amenity purposes, will die as a result of the ash pandemic.
That pandemic was probably brought about by trees being imported from Holland. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, talked about oak processionary moths, which are now with us. There is now a disease or pest for practically every native species, either here or waiting to invade from the continent. France, Switzerland, Belgium and Holland all have huge horticultural industries serving the UK and have recorded outbreaks of serious tree diseases that are not currently prevalent in the UK. You just have to say “Xylella fastidiosa” to a tree person and they go into a terminal faint. This bacterium can infect more than 300 species of trees and shrubs. If it comes across the channel, which, under the current importation standards, it could well do, it will infect tens of billions of shrubs and trees in this country and threaten the billions of pounds of benefits that trees provide terms of in public services across the country—services such as protecting our water and soils, cleaning our air, reducing flood risk, providing health and well-being, supporting biodiversity and reducing climate change. We cannot afford to have any risk at all of Xylella coming here. We have already had to double the number of plant health inspectors post-Brexit, but that is insufficient in the face of the scale of threats we are talking about. The only real protection is to have a major push for the use of seeds, shrubs and trees sourced and grown in the UK and Ireland only as the only safe way forward. There is an added benefit of promoting new tree nursery businesses in the UK and Ireland and allowing them to invest now to create safe tree stocks for the growth in both urban and rural planting that we are going to see with the push for the planting trees in the face of climate change.
I hope I can get the Minister to give assurances on those points I have raised on biosecurity. I do not intend to move my amendment because I hope I am going to get assurances, but were the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, to move his, I would vote for it.
My Lords, I am rising in support of all these amendments. If it comes to a vote, I will vote for them all. It is a pleasure to follow the previous three speakers. I admit we are a strange bunch to be putting amendments, and, after the excellent opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, I look forward to working with him on the Environment Bill. I am sure we will have lots to agree about. Astonishing, is it not?
It is worth saying yet again that we are in a climate emergency. Gone is the time for mega projects like this. It is not the time for new airports and new roads. We have to cut down. It is a time for creativity, adaptation and transformation, as well as keeping things local, whether buying or producing. Amendments 5, 6 and 7 would, at least, protect against some of the worst damage and legally require effective mitigation of the damage.
I know HS2 makes lots of promises, but unfortunately, it often breaks its promises. It is down to the Government to make sure it does not. For example, last night, in Camden, there was a motion to try to reclaim £129 million for rehousing from HS2 because it gave all sorts of assurances about noise and construction, dust and debris, all of which has made life absolutely impossible for hundreds of Camden residents. Every single political party unanimously agreed that HS2 was at fault and they would try to reclaim the money. We have to accept that HS2 does not live up to its promises. We, here and in the other place, have to try to make sure it does.
The Bill has shown the limits of what parliamentary democracy can achieve. The parliamentary arithmetic is against us in the other place and in this House. Preventing this destruction is something that just a few of us cannot manage. I realise that the Green Party is the only political party that is against HS2, alongside some notable rebels from other parties. I am very sad that Labour is not, I gather, supporting these amendments today. Surely everybody cares about biodiversity; it is the basis of our health as humans. I pay a special tribute to all the campaigners against HS2, some of whom are exposing themselves to great physical, mental and financial risks. Their work, like that of activists on so many issues, is what inspires me and keeps me fighting in this Chamber, although it is wonderful to have the support of other political parties today.
The Conservatives ran a shameless election gambit last year, claiming to put HS2 on hold. They did not so much kick it into the long grass as hide it in the grass until after the election—then they went ahead with it. They had full support for it once the election was over, not understanding what the loss of ancient woodland means. I have heard the arguments: it is only a few; there are lots more; we can replace them. That is all absolute nonsense. The loss of ancient woodlands creates gaping wounds in Britain’s nature. These amendments will, at least, force the Government to face the reality of the destruction that is being inflicted.
I am pleased to be a signatory to Amendments 5 to 7 and would have signed Amendment 11 if I had spotted it. I very much hope that the Government are in listening mode on this and that the Minister can take it back and get some sort of support for it.
My Lords, I cannot hope to match the oratory of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, when he moved and spoke to these amendments. I have a great deal of sympathy for what he said, but I urge him and other noble Lords to look at the report from the Select Committee, which took this aspect of the Bill extremely seriously.
We heard detailed evidence from the Woodland Trust about biodiversity, particularly about the loss of ancient woodlands. Can the Minister define exactly what an ancient woodland is? There seemed to be some doubt in the committee about what it was and how much of it was being lost through the building of HS2a. It seemed to us that the Woodland Trust’s demand that any ancient woodland being lost should be replaced at a ratio of 30:1 was somewhat excessive. Does the Minister agree with that? The distinguished chairman of the committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, made the point that replacement to such an extent would take a considerable amount of existing farmland and would certainly not be in the interests of the countryside generally. Can the Minister say exactly how much ancient woodland is being lost as a result of the HS2 scheme?
The committee received assurances from the promoters of HS2, who insisted that they had planted, and intended to plant, new woodlands, though perhaps not to the extent that the noble Lord who moved the amendment would like. I would be interested to hear the Government’s view. The committee was not entirely satisfied with the promoter’s response on the replacement of woodlands, but the case for their replacement is not helped by exaggerating the amount of ancient woodland being lost through this project.
On the proportion of new and replacement trees from abroad, the committee sought assurances from the promoters that such replacement would be kept to a minimum. Again, those assurances were received. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what proportion of British native species she envisages will be replaced under the scheme and how much of it will come from other countries. I cannot comment, because I do not have the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, about the dangers of importing seeds from places such as the Netherlands, but if organisations such as the Forestry Commission and Natural England are prepared to accept a proportion of replacement trees from the continent, it seems to me that we should accept their assurances.
My noble friend Lady Young wanted to turn the high-speed train—perhaps an unfortunate name for it—into a medium-speed train by curving the line and having it less straight. I gently remind her that one of the reasons we are building HS2 is the curvature of the existing lines caused by the reluctance of landowners in the 19th century to permit the railways to pass through their land. The two things go together. If we are to have a train service that exceeds the speed of our existing services, which is at least one of the purposes of HS2, expecting it to go round curves would make unsatisfactory the reason for building it in the first place.
My noble friend asked some important questions about biodiversity which the committee was anxious to look at, but I stress that we were collectively and unanimously of the opinion that, although HS2 could do more, it was certainly making a substantial contribution to the replacement of any trees that would of necessity be destroyed by the project. Perhaps the Minister could tell us what progress has been made so far on this aspect of the Bill in light of the amendments before us.
I will speak to all the amendments in turn. On Amendment 5, which would insert a new clause on biodiversity net gain, I have very little to say except that I support my noble friend. It seems illogical that a flagship project should not behave in the same way as other projects, as envisaged in the Environment Bill which will come to us shortly.
On Amendment 6, my heart is with it, but I fear that in this and other amendments one is looking at the environment a bit too much with a telescope; it needs to be done slightly more broadly. There are other irreplaceable habitats, so why single out ancient woodlands? There needs to be a balance overall for the environment. If we avoid ancient woodlands, which I am all for, are we doing more damage to the environment by going another way? At the end of the day, that requires a balance. If we put into legislation just one item, that we will not destroy any ancient woodland, there could be adverse and perverse effects which we have not taken into account.
Amendment 7 relates to British native species. What are British native species? There is a list on the Woodland Trust’s website. I am glad to see that the only softwood is Scots pine, so there will be no chance of Norwegian pine, thuja, sitka spruce or anything else being planted; if there is to be any softwood, it will have to be Scots pine.
When it comes to our broadleaf woodlands, let us not forget that 70% of them are still represented by only five species, and disease is wiping out one of them: ash. We need more diversity in our woodlands.
The point of Amendments 7 and 11 is to prevent the potential importing of tree diseases. Again, they are looking at tree diseases and pests with a telescope and focusing on just one part of that problem. Let us not forget that we have had 14 new diseases and five new major pest outbreaks in the last 20 years that have affected our woodlands, but those have not all been caused by the importation of plants or seeds from overseas. It is possible that ash dieback, which the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, mentioned, was also introduced by air, and we have absolutely no control over any disease that comes in that way.
Diseases also come in from imported timber. The noble Baroness mentioned Dutch elm disease, which came in by imported timber from the United States, I believe; I was a young land agent at the time and on behalf of some landowners we injected a lot of elm trees, but they all died of the disease in the end. It was not a plant that brought that in; it was imported timber.
Although the phytosanitary statutory requirements have been tightened, and will be tightened noticeably after
Perhaps the most evil of all the carriers is the human being. We bring in diseases unintentionally. Horse chestnut leaf miner, which is a huge concern, was brought in by tourists coming back from France, and if ever Xylella comes into this country it is more likely to be brought in by tourists than by anything else.
We human beings are all so guilty. I recently saw that a television programme has released a whole load of bugs and insects into the environment. What a crassly stupid thing to do, all for the sake of trying to get a show that is going to make some money. We are playing with nature in a way that is totally stupid when we do things like that.
Diseases to come are equally worrying. Both the emerald ash borer and Xylella, which I have just mentioned, could decimate our broadleaf woodlands.
It is important that wherever possible we use British-sourced and British-planted seeds and plants. I have always been an advocate of self-sown woodlands because I believe that that produces the right tree for the right environment. But the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, was right when she mentioned the climate. The problem is that we do not know what the effect of a changing climate will be on British woodlands. Are our oak trees going to be as adaptable when we have severe periods of drought and excess flooding at other times of the year? It is only right that we look abroad for biosecure plants, and they have to meet the appropriate standards.
My noble friend Lord Blencathra is a great believer in free trade, if I remember rightly. We could not have a restraint of trade like this, with the nursery or the provider of the plants meeting the same biosecure standards as we do; I think that would be very difficult to implement. I agreed with so much of what my noble friend Lord Blencathra said, but I disagreed fundamentally when he said we could 100% guarantee that this will stop disease. No, my noble friend has got that one utterly wrong. There is no guarantee to stop disease coming into this country. It can come in by air, by bird or be brought in by humans, as I have said.
This is a hugely complex area, and to focus on this one particular issue is taking our eye off a much bigger and more serious problem.
My Lords, I do not always agree with my noble friend Lord Blencathra, but I thought he gave a splendid introduction to these amendments this evening. Unlike my noble friend Lord Caithness, I find myself almost entirely in agreement with him. One thing I did agree with my noble friend Lord Caithness about—well, probably more than one—was these idiots bringing in bugs to bite people who are camping in Wales. What an irresponsible, stupid, ridiculous thing to do. I have never watched the programme, but it ought to be entitled “I’m an idiot… Get me out of here!”
There was a programme that I watched last night—it is one that I watch quite often as gentle, Sunday evening viewing: “Countryfile”. The theme last night was trees and planting. There was a very splendid testimony given by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, there were young people planting trees in Bradford, and there was great emphasis on the need to increase our woodland coverage. Only 13% of our land surface is forested in this country, which compares very unfavourably in percentage terms with virtually every other country in Europe. Only 3%, or slightly less, deserves the designation of ancient woodland.
Although nothing is foolproof and nothing is guaranteed to bring an absolute result, I believe that my noble friend Lord Blencathra is entirely right in the three targets that he sets. I have to admit that I am not a great fan of HS2, but I accept that it is going to happen—but I am not persuaded, and do not accept, in spite of the honeyed words of my noble friend the Minister, that those in charge of HS2 are such wonderful champions of consultation.
I have heard far too many stories about that from friends in Staffordshire, where I was a Member of Parliament for 40 years. HS2 does not touch my constituency, but I had the honour to be a deputy lieutenant of Staffordshire—I am still on the retired list, in fact—and I know that many of the people whose livelihoods and property are affected in parts of the county were less than impressed by the sensitivity of those to whom they had talked. Consultation often seemed to be the giving of information rather than the requiring of comments and views.
Only this weekend I spoke to one of our colleagues in your Lordships’ House who lives in the Chilterns, who told a similar story, and also bemoaned the loss of ancient woodland in that particularly beautiful and sensitive part of our country. I used to drive through the Chilterns every week during my last 25 years as a Staffordshire MP, and one of the great sights was, of course, the soaring of the red kites above those wonderful hills.
It is far too late to oppose the building of HS2—although not too late to regret it. I think that it may well prove to have been the visionary answer to a problem as it was seen in 2010, but to be rather obsolete by 2050—because it will be 2050, not 2040, by the time it is completed.
Looking individually at my noble friend’s amendments, I see that he is entirely right to insist on a biodiversity net gain. As has been said, the Government are imposing this plan in many places. Should not the greatest infrastructure project of our times be subject to such an edict? It certainly should be.
I have already touched on the subject of ancient woodlands, and one of the most specious, fallacious arguments I have heard in recent years is the suggestion that we could preserve ancient woodlands by preserving the soil and transporting it. How fatuous can you get? As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said, we cannot replace ancient woodlands. When they are dug up, they are dug up; when they have gone, they have gone. I can tell my friend the noble Lord, Lord Snape, that it will be 200 years before a woodland planted tomorrow can qualify for the description “ancient woodland”. Many of the ancient woodlands that we are talking about contain trees dating back between 500 and 1,000 years. Think of the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest.
My noble friend Lord Blencathra is right to stress how prodigal a waste it is to get rid of ancient woodlands. His third amendment is about native British species, and how integral the flora and the fauna of our native land are. He is right to say that there should be a requirement to replace native plants and trees with native plants and trees. That was one of the rather encouraging things in last night’s “Countryfile”, because that is precisely what they were doing, deriving both knowledge and enthusiasm in the process.
My noble friend the Minister has been working incredibly hard. She paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and I pay tribute to her. I hope that she will just take on board how very serious these subjects are, and the comments not only of my noble friends Lord Blencathra and Lord Randall, but of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and, of course, the noble Baroness Lady Young of Old Scone, who has enormous experience in such matters. They are making serious, valid points, to which I hope I have added just a tiny bit. When we have lost something, we cannot get it back. The Prime Minister has talked about the importance of planting. Well, here is a challenge for him—to ensure that HS2 plays its part in rejuvenating our glorious countryside.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I too watched “Countryfile” yesterday evening; in these gloomy days I found it really quite inspiring. I wish to speak in support of Amendments 5, 6 and 7. Although much has been said already—the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, have comprehensively dealt with the issue—perhaps something I say may be of interest.
During our discussions in Committee, I was accused by one noble Lord of making a Second Reading speech. I cannot possibly agree. I contend that if a project is as fundamentally flawed as HS2, this flows over and contaminates every aspect of the Bill. It is impossible to escape the basic facts. If you are unwise enough to try to build a house on shifting sand, every time you discuss the doors or windows, you will be forced back into recognising that you have made a dreadful mistake from which there is no escape.
These proposed new clauses, which I support, are about damage limitation. The effect of HS2 on our natural environment will be, and is already, catastrophic. To insist, as Amendment 5 does, on a “10% biodiversity net gain”, rather than the very unambitious “no net loss”, seems the least we can do. The Government insist on these standards for other people and ought to insist on them for HS2, particularly as the damage is being inflicted by the Government and intentionally.
Amendment 6 deals with ancient woodland. I declare a long-standing and non-pecuniary interest in the Arboricultural Association, the foremost organisation in the country in the planting and care of our urban trees. I was for some years its president and am now an honorary fellow. The amendment is about doing all we can to protect and preserve our ancient woodlands. Let no one pretend that HS2 is not doing irreparable damage. The woodlands, with all the benefits and joy they bring, will never be replaced. It is futile to suggest it. It is even more ridiculous, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has just pointed out, to suggest that they can be moved, as anyone with any understanding of trees, soils and their interaction can testify. Protection, not replacement, is the key.
I come back to the point I made earlier about the relationship between the Second Reading of a Bill and its later stages. Whoever dreamed up HS2 either did not care or did not understand the effect of driving a high-speed train through the heart of England. If you want to travel at the kind of speeds originally used to sell the project, you must travel in a straight line. You cannot have bends or curves, for obvious reasons, so you draw a straight line from London to Birmingham, or Birmingham to Crewe, and if anything happens to get in the way—towns, villages, farms, businesses, people’s homes or ancient woodland—I am afraid that is just too bad. A massive amount of damage is inevitable and, one would have thought, foreseeable. This is not how you build roads and railways in a relatively small country. It is possible to travel at reasonably high speeds on railways which have been constructed, as far as reasonably possible, to avoid doing the kind of damage that I feel has been inevitable from this scheme’s conception.
The irony of all this, as I understand it, is that, for a variety of reasons, the originally dreamt-up speeds are not going to be possible. Indeed, the accent has now shifted, and the argument has moved to other things, so time may show that our ancient woodlands have been sacrificed in vain, if we are no longer going at the speeds we projected. Some 108 of our ancient woodlands have already been affected and, nationally, only 2.4% of the original woodlands remain. We simply must do all we can to protect them. When the Minister comes to wind up, I would be grateful if she could tell us—if she can—what the top and average speeds of HS2 are now projected to be.
The new clause proposed in Amendment 7, in its excellent brevity, encapsulates the two most important issues facing the future of trees in the United Kingdom today. Basically we need, first, to keep diseased trees out and, secondly, to grow more of the trees we need. The two propositions are entirely complementary. If, through the problems created by HS2, we can make progress on these two issues, some good will have come out of the difficulties. For many years, I have been advocating tighter restrictions on imported trees and eventually, perhaps, a total ban. Certainly, we need an immediate ban on certain species, such as oak. We are an island and have phytosanitary advantages that brings; we cannot afford to take the risk of more admission of serious diseases.
We have suffered from Dutch elm disease and ash dieback, both of which are imported diseases. The first came from Canada and has almost completely wiped out our precious elm population. How many ash trees will be left when dieback has run its course remains to be seen. The latest fiasco has been the oak processionary moth, which does such damage to our oak trees. It had been present in this country for some time and was presumably imported, but it remained confined to London and the Home Counties. Recently, however, we allowed it in on a consignment of oak trees, and, saving the moth the inconvenience of spreading itself, we distributed it all over the country. There have been excuses aplenty but not the fierce action the situation demands.
We have Xylella fastidiosa, capable of infecting over 300 different plant species, and plane wilt, capable of wreaking havoc on all London planes—both diseases are in Europe, just waiting for the chance to invade. At the moment, our stance on imported trees is awareness and reaction. It should be much more aggressively defensive. As a country, we are becoming more tree-conscious, and mass tree-planting schemes are under way. Without adequate biosecurity, all that effort could be for nothing.
The gap in the market created by tighter import restrictions must be filled by our own nurseries. Urgent consultation should take place, involving government, tree nurseries, landscapers, contractors and local authorities to plan how this can be done and provide the long-term financial commitment badly needed by growers, the lack of which is the reason for so much of our imports. The Woodland Trust has already taken the lead on this issue and will plant only home-grown native trees. It is to be congratulated, and I agree with it when it says that it makes sense to insist that HS2 is required to source all its trees, shrubs and seeds from the UK. It says, and I agree, that to argue otherwise is to deny the seriousness of the situation we are facing.
If both the proposals made in the new clause in Amendment 7 can be put into action, this will be a huge step forward for our trees, and I believe that any noble Lord who really cares for our trees must support it.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a landowner with ancient woodlands in the Chilterns. That is set out in the register. I am also directly affected by HS2 south of Birmingham.
I would like to speak against Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, as it fails to take into account one of the three major threats to our woodland—that of climate change, the others being, of course, pests and diseases. It would be short-sighted and damaging to restrict in this manner the plants and trees that are planted under the provisions of the Bill. It also flies against the science and recommendations of the Forestry Commission, set out comprehensively in its report of November 2019 entitled Managing England’s Woodlands in a Climate Emergency, and the UK forestry standard which sets out the Government’s approach to sustainable forestry management with regard to climate change. I should mention here that the Forestry Commission is not just concerned with commercial woodland; it is concerned with all sorts of woodland.
The ancient woodlands of England cannot be set in aspic as they are as affected by climate change as any other type of woodland. We therefore need to ensure that a wood’s genetic viability is enhanced by including not only native species with local provenance but others which are successfully grown from seeds sourced from the Forestry Commission’s 2 to 5 degrees south rule. Avoiding pests and diseases is obviously paramount, so such trees should be grown from carefully selected imported seeds from selected stands, but in UK nurseries. Amendment 7 would be a backward and unhelpful move in the important development and expansion of UK nurseries, leaving aside potential climate change consequences to HS2 woodland.
Amendment 11 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, achieves much more than Amendment 7 in the sourcing of trees from UK growers, but unnecessarily seems to stop the importation of seed to enable the growing in the UK of trees to achieve the genetic provenance that is so necessary and comes from the areas 2 to 5 degrees south, which is the clear recommendation of the UK forestry standard and the Forestry Commission, which says that:
“Naturalised tree species should be considered to increase species diversity where appropriate”.
That may be necessarily limited in ancient woodland due to other factors, but we are looking at much wider tree planting. The Forestry Commission goes on to recommend the consideration of re-stocking from more southerly origins in the right conditions. Proposed new subsection (2) flies in the face of the Forestry Commission’s advice for the reason of biosecurity. I cannot and do not believe that the Forestry Commission ignores biosecurity, but it also correctly takes into account climate change. The importation of tree seed from carefully selected stands should be actively encouraged.
The other part of this amendment which I greatly welcome is the encouragement given to UK growers and the expansion of the domestic industry. I thoroughly agree that everything should be UK-sourced, but perhaps the amount of time specified for replanting should be extended if an unrealistic timeframe has been given, as supplies from the UK growers are likely to be initially limited in view of the enormous size of potential planting over the next few years. Any clause on those lines must bear in mind that there needs to be joined-up thinking on all tree planting, and in particular that arising from the ELMS in the Agriculture Act, the provisions of the Environment Bill and, of course, the English tree strategy.
One slightly mischievous thought, however, occurs. Perhaps this proposed new clause, suitably amended, should form the missing subsection in Clause 100 of the Environment Bill, which is entitled “Tree felling and planting” but currently covers only felling. Perhaps the Minister could mention that to Defra.
My Lords, I am very lucky to be following my noble friend Lord Carrington because he said a great deal that I would have wished to say myself. A proper, healthy, temperate forest contains about 1,000 different tree species. That is true of North America and Asia. It is not true of Europe because the last ice age crushed the European flora against the Alps and we lost a lot of species and genera at that time. The ice ages also had a significant effect on us. At the peak of the last ice age we had only two trees species: pine and birch. Looking at things on a slightly longer than human timescale, those are the only two native British trees. Everything else has come in, but we still have only 31. It is a ridiculously small number and makes our forests extremely vulnerable to pests and diseases.
Pests and diseases travel easily. Even without our help, they blow in on the wind and come in on migratory birds. We have already experienced a number of these diseases. Round where I live in Eastbourne, most of the ash trees have gone. It looks as if as a continuing flow of disease is the future that we should expect. The right response to that is biodiversity. We should be striving for biodiversity in the number of species we are using in our new planting and in the origin of the seeds that we are using.
If we are careful and import seeds under proper conditions, the risks of bringing in disease are extremely low. I have seen the way Kew makes sure that what it brings in from around the world for its Millennium Seed Bank is safe to have and to store. It is not impossible and you do not need a huge weight of seed to supply a very large number of trees.
I very much favour what my noble friend Lord Carrington advocates. We should follow the direction that the Forestry Commission advocates and seek to increase our biodiversity—to get gradually towards a forest with more natural resilience and a more natural species than our current 31. That will give us resilience against incoming disease which we currently, quite clearly, do not have.
Where we face the regrettably small proportion of ancient natural woodlands, which are a great haven for established wildlife communities, we should not think that we cannot do anything to increase that. We need to plant the right kind of trees next door. It has always been the case that species move from one bit of wood to another. As I say, there were only two species here at the peak of the ice age. Everything else has come in. All the communities that live with them have come in. All these species are used to moving. If we create the right conditions next door, then in 100 or 200 years—the sort of timescale you are looking at if you plant trees—we will have a good community of woodland species in our new plantations.
We should not think that we can do nothing to increase our proportion of high-quality woodland. We should strive to increase it next to the woodland that we are damaging with HS2. To return to one of my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s earlier amendments, we should absolutely require that HS2 achieves biodiversity net gain.
My Lords, I too support these amendments, particularly Amendments 5 and 6. The destruction of ancient woodland has been exacerbated by the frankly disastrous public relations of HS2 on phase 1, which the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned. It has done nothing to endear HS2 to residents up and down the line of phase 1. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has outlined the problems very well, along with my noble friend Lady Young.
I will concentrate on something that my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone asked, which is whether you can avoid ancient woodland by slowing the trains down. It is a rather simplistic explanation on my part, because there is nothing to be done on phase 1. The line is there, HS2 has started clearing everything and we have seen the results. When it comes to the next phases, 2b west and 2b east—if it happens—which we have debated at length today, it would be possible to avoid much ancient woodland if Ministers look at the routing of the line. My noble friends Lady Young and Lord Snape talked about speeds, but obviously the faster a train goes, the straighter the line it goes on must be, not only on plan, but on profile. When you do not want too many humps and bumps, your cuttings and embankments get bigger and you take more land, including, possibly, a lot of ancient woodland.
Many noble Lords have been on the French high-speed line between Paris and Lyon, which was the first one built. I once had the privilege of being in the driver’s cab and found it to be rather like a fairground switchback. It was designed to avoid not only woodlands, also valleys and hills, to save on the cost. Even so, it goes at 270 kilometres per hour, which the French thought was fast enough. We prefer 400 kilometres per hour, because obviously we are a bigger country than France and want to be the best in the world, which is total rubbish. Even if we stuck to 270 kilometres per hour, the French speed, we could probably do something, but I hope that when HS2 and the Government plan phase 2b west, to Manchester, and phase 2b east, to Leeds and Sheffield, if it gets built that way, they look at the speeds and see how the alignment can be done to avoid ancient woodland, at an early stage before the Bill is published.
That is why I could not support my noble friend Lord Adonis’s amendment saying that everything had to be done in a hurry and within six months. As the Minister explained in her response, these things take time, and during that time, those of us who have an interest in avoiding ancient woodland and anything else that we feel needs preserving must look at it and relate it to the design speed of the alignment.
I suppose my last, rather facetious, comment—or maybe it is not facetious—is about phase 2a. The Bill is published, we are debating the Bill on Report tonight and it will probably get Royal Assent quite soon. Of course, if there are any ancient woodlands in the way—and I am afraid I do not know whether there are—one could suggest to Ministers that they make a slight deviation on the route of the line, using a Transport and Works Act order, which I also spoke about earlier. I am sure the Minister will not like that idea, but it is an option and it could be looked at.
My Lords, fighting climate change is a giant carbon calculation, and HS2 is firmly on the plus side. Rail is the most carbon-efficient form of transport and, in 2017, the transport sector overtook the energy sector as the UK’s largest carbon emitter. This debate has produced some extremely interesting and very expert speeches. They have revealed the complexity of the issue because those who know a great deal about these issues do not agree with each other.
On Amendment 5, HS2 itself claims that more than 33 square kilometres of new and existing wildlife habitat will be created or improved. That is a 30% addition compared with what is there now, and I hope the Minister can reassure us that this is accurate, that HS2’s claims are accurate and that there will be a substantial biodiversity net gain.
Turning now to Amendment 6, I read the committee’s report with great interest, and I have just re-read it while listening to this debate. HS2 says that 0.005% of ancient woodland will be affected by its project. As the committee noted, “ancient woodland” does not necessarily mean old trees, but rather that woodland has existed for a long time on that patch of ground. Some such areas were replanted after the two wars and were not necessarily planted with native species, so ancient woodland is not an amorphous mass of very important sites. There are varying levels of importance. Obviously, any loss is significant in terms of ecological diversity, but it is worth pointing out that new, young trees are more efficient and vigorous in dealing with climate change. Avoiding ancient woodland entirely would mean more tunnelling, which produces spoil which, in itself, destroys habitats when it has to be dumped somewhere. The tunnelling process creates noise and local disruption for residents and in itself creates carbon because of the vehicles that are dumping the spoil. It is not quite as simple as it sounds.
I have some sympathy for Amendment 7 and Amendment 11. It is, however, as noble Lords have capably illustrated, on an extremely complex subject. Trees sourced from the UK are most likely to succeed, and they avoid the importation of diseases, which have repeatedly caused serious problems in our landscape. Of course, diseases also come to this country through other routes. I hope the Minister can reassure us that this work is being undertaken by HS2 and will continue to be.
The committee looked in detail at all these issues and did not make an adverse report. It is important we take account of the points being made today. The Minister has a crucial job to do in reassuring noble Lords this evening that HS2 has made progress in the way it approaches its environmental commitments and responsibilities and will be going forward in tune with the sentiments expressed in these amendments.
I think we have reached the stage at which noble Lords would like to hear the Government’s response to an interesting debate. A significant number of noble Lords has spoken on the basis of considerable experience and knowledge in this field. We have agreed an amendment today providing for consultation and a report to Parliament on the impact of HS2 phase 2a on the natural environment, including the impact on ancient woodland, which could enable local residents to be engaged in decisions affecting their environment.
As a general point, we could not support an amendment if the effect of it was—and I do not know whether this will be the case in this instance—to delay progress of HS2 phase 2a. I note the requirement in the amendment that scheduled works must not destroy any ancient woodland, either directly or indirectly, and I am not entirely clear what the impact of that would be on the progress of HS2 phase 2a.
I also note that my noble friend Lady Young has indicated she will not seek to push her amendment in this group to a vote. Like other noble Lords, I will listen with considerable interest to the Government’s response and the extent to which they can offer assurances acceptable to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for what turned out to be a very interesting debate. I was interested in the observations of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, when she noted the complexity of these arguments put before noble Lords today. Many people do not agree on this, yet when one looks at it at face value, it is easy sometimes to reach an automatic conclusion that it must be a bad thing to cut down a tree, but people start talking about where the replacement tree would come from, and it is complex. I would like to reassure your Lordships’ House that HS2 takes its environmental obligations very seriously and follows the advice of the experts, recognising also that that advice may change as more scientific work is done in this area.
Phase 2a has been designed to avoid or reduce adverse significant effects on habitat, protected species and other features of ecological value, where reasonably practicable. However, it is not possible to build a major public transport infrastructure project without creating some adverse significant effects on the environment on or near the proposed route.
One of those effects is on biodiversity, the subject of my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s first amendment. Where adverse significant effects cannot be avoided, mitigation and compensation measures are included to reduce effects on species and habitats. These include the translocation of species, the provision of replacement habitats, and special measures, such as ecological underpasses and green bridges, to facilitate the movement of species across the route. My noble friend Lord Randall mentioned that rail corridors are often good wildlife corridors.
I am proud to say that HS2 was the first major transport project in this country to seek no net loss in biodiversity on a route-wide basis. The phase 2a Bill has been in Parliament since 2017 and, in that time, there has been a step change in our national ambitions to protect and enhance our natural environment. This has not passed HS2 by. During the consideration of the Bill by the Select Committee in this House, HS2 demonstrated greater ambition on the environment. A commitment has been made to enhance the phase 2a scheme’s no net loss objective, by identifying and implementing appropriate opportunities to move towards gains in biodiversity. HS2 Ltd’s green corridor initiative will create a network of habitats along the phase 2a corridor. The Government have also committed £2 million of funding for biodiversity improvements, £5 million for the community and environment and the business and local economy funds, the phase 2a woodland fund and two area-specific funds. These funds total £11 million and they will improve biodiversity.
The legislative commitment sought by my noble friend Lord Blencathra simply goes beyond what can and should be committed to at this stage of the Bill. Casting in iron a commitment to 10% net gain, when land take on the scheme has already been fixed, would be disproportionately expensive, would entail extensive redesigns of the scheme and may lead to significant delays. In all likelihood, further land purchases would be required, going beyond the existing boundaries of the phase 2a scheme and requiring the return of the Bill to the House of Commons.
I know that some noble Lords believe that land purchases may not be required and, as I said earlier, sometimes people disagree on this, but we believe that it would probably be one of the approaches we would have to ensure to reach this legislative goal. However, there are no assurances that we would be able to do this quickly, and the Government would have no alternative other than to get additional compulsory purchase powers to deliver this requirement—if it became a requirement.
I believe that the steps that HS2 has taken, the assurances that have been given and the funds that have been provided to improve biodiversity are the correct approach for the phase 2a scheme. I reiterate that the phase 2a scheme and HS2 as a whole are already committed to no net loss of biodiversity. I hope that, on this basis, my noble friend is able to withdraw his amendment.
The noble Lord’s second amendment is on ancient woodland. We will be returning to this topic further down the track, with some amendments on reporting. I am afraid—and I believe my noble friend knows this—that I simply cannot support his amendment. When designing a complex transport infrastructure scheme, such as HS2, it is necessary to balance competing priorities. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, made this point. Ancient woodland sites are fragmented and scattered across our countryside. They can be difficult to avoid without incurring substantial adverse effects to other environmental sites or local communities.
The phase 2a scheme has been designed to avoid or reduce impacts on homes, businesses and heritage sites, to reduce losses of our most valuable agricultural land and to prevent impacts to other protected sites. The scheme must also be mindful of wider issues, such as safety and affordability. Noble Lords understand that it is extremely challenging—it may be impossible—to design a scheme of this scale that avoids impacts to ancient woodland entirely, but this does not mean that we do not take this seriously. Where impacts to ancient woodland sites are unavoidable, HS2 Ltd has sought to reduce them by changing the scheme design to reduce the amount of woodland taken.
Although impacts on ancient woodland cannot fully be compensated, its loss can be addressed and somewhat mitigated through a broad range of measures, including planting native broad-leaved woodland to enhance linkages between current ancient woodlands and salvaging ancient woodland soil to be used in new sites.
I return briefly to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Snape, who asked me to define ancient woodland. It is quite a tricky beast. Ancient woodland is defined as an area that has been wooded since 1600, but a lot of other things go into that. It could of course be the case that an ancient woodland, as currently defined, consists almost entirely of new trees. They are not necessarily old trees; it has just been woods for a long time.
This returns us to the soil translocation measures. Again, there is some disagreement as to whether it will work, but you know what, my Lords? It is worth giving it a try because, if an ancient woodland can be new trees and it is all about the fungus and the soil—I am feeling like David Bellamy—perhaps it is worth looking at the soil translocation measures. HS2 Ltd has committed to translocating soil but then spending 50 years managing and monitoring in all locations where the translocation of soils has happened. In this way, we will actually know: we will be able to determine the effectiveness of these measures and learn lessons for future infrastructure projects.
The design within the phase 2a Bill is at a relatively early stage of maturity. The area of ancient woodland loss is currently reported in various documents and is set out as the reasonable worst-case assessment. We believe that there may well be improvements as detailed designs come to pass. As I mentioned in other places, more steep cuttings and so on can help to retain ancient woodland. All sorts of things that can be done will be looked at by HS2.
This amendment would result in lengthy delays and costs to the entire phase 2a scheme as, clearly, it would have to go back to square one. There would be a significant redesign. I reassure my noble friend that I will be accepting an amendment later on relating to reporting on ancient woodland, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I hope that he will take comfort from that, and I request that he does not press his amendment.
I have an answer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Framlingham. HS2 trains will run at 360 kilometres an hour. The track is designed to a slightly higher speed of 400 kilometres an hour, but of course that is pretty much within the same ballpark.
I turn, finally, to biosecurity. I will address the amendments in the names of my noble friend Lord Blencathra and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, together. The amendments seek a commitment that all seeds, trees and shrubs planted on the project be sourced within the United Kingdom, due to concerns about biosecurity. That all seems fairly straightforward; various other noble Lords were then able in their contributions to provide some insight as to why it is not as straightforward as that. Biosecurity is an issue that we should, and do, take very seriously. We know the tremendous harm that can be wrought—we have heard about it today—however, it is not the only relevant concern. As some noble Lords have noted, we have to think about climate change and of other challenges that our woodlands may face. This balancing act was given detailed consideration by the House of Lords Select Committee, and I thank it for that.
Assurances have already been given that the nominated undertaker will grow all trees for the phase 2a scheme in the United Kingdom. It is not the case that HS2 Ltd will procure mature plants from abroad—only seeds. At least two-thirds of the required seed stock for phase 2a planting will come from Great Britain, with the remaining third being procured from an appropriate region of provenance within Great Britain and from non-British sources.
DfT officials agreed to consult with the Forestry Commission and Natural England, of which my noble friend Lord Blencathra is deputy chair, because these are the sorts of experts that we need guidance from. We are consulting with them to ensure that this seed stock is from an appropriate region of provenance and to secure stock from within Great Britain as far as is reasonably possible.
All planting for ecological mitigation and compensation will use native species and will be tailored to the individual sites during detailed design of the scheme. This portfolio approach is recommended by the experts—the Forestry Commission and Natural England—for new woodland planting, not just for commercial woodland. It is designed to help spread the risks associated with making any one tree provenance choice and increase the likelihood that woodlands will thrive in our changing climate.
I recognise that science may change and that experts sometimes change their view. If there is new guidance published by Natural England or the Forestry Commission that specifically recommends a different approach to seed provenance for woodland planting, HS2 Ltd would, of course, consider tailoring its approach accordingly. On biosecurity controls, all seed stocks and suppliers are required to comply with the latest biosecurity certification standards. This includes the use of plant passports for stocks sourced within the EU.
I hope my intervention has provided some clarity to the House, and that my noble friend Lord Blencathra is feeling satisfied and will therefore withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, naturally I am grateful to all noble Lords, both here in the Chamber and online, who have spoken both for and against my amendments. Since I spoke at length in moving them, I shall be as brief as possible now.
On Amendment 5 on net gain and Amendment 7 on native-sourced trees, I feel that the Government have not really won the argument. I have seen a note from the Government today—and my noble friend the Minister repeated the point—saying that Amendment 5 would be disproportionately expensive, could entail redesign of the scheme and would turn valuable farmland into biodiversity sites. That really is a bit desperate. Disproportionately expensive? We estimate £35 million out of a total HS2 cost of £106 billion; £35 million is just a four-month wage bill for HS2 staff.
The suggestion of redesign of the scheme is just nonsense. There is no redesign of the scheme involved in offering incentives to farmers and NGOs to voluntarily do some biodiversity schemes, either near the route or elsewhere. What redesign is involved in giving the Woodland Trust, say, £2 million to restore some ancient woodlands—or in giving the RSPB £2 billion to develop wetlands somewhere else? There is no redesign involved at all. God help us if that is what the Department for Transport officials think “net gain” means. At this stage, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson: HS2 boasts that it is trying to achieve no net loss. I have never seen anything that says that HS2 will achieve net gain. If it were achieving net gain, none of us would be speaking in favour of these amendments; they would not be necessary.
The other argument against Amendment 5 is that we would lose valuable farmland to biodiversity. Does the Department for Transport never talk to Defra? Today, Defra has launched the most massive scheme in our history to incentivise farmers to use land for biodiversity purposes. The Secretary of State, my right honourable friend George Eustice, said that it is the most significant change to farming and land management in 50 years. All my Amendment 5 on achieving 10% biodiversity net gain seeks to do is to replicate that voluntary scheme for HS2 phase 2a, and get other volunteers near the route or somewhere else to do some biodiversity net gain.
With regard to Amendment 6 on ancient woodlands, I accept that if every ancient woodland were to be avoided, that would result in route changes. That is unlikely to happen, and I accept that; I accept that this was my weakest amendment. However, I want to vote on it to signal to HS2 that we do not want this to happen with further legs. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and maybe the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, we will be here in a couple of years’ time—or six months’ time, according to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—looking at the next leg, another leg that will bulldoze through more ancient woodlands, and when we complain about it the department will say “Oh, it’s too late to change it now, it would mean route redesign and greatly increased costs.” I would like Peers to vote for Amendment 6 as a signal to HS2 that we do not want more ancient woodlands destroyed, up with which we will not put.
On Amendment 7, I just do not understand where the Government are coming from. We are talking about woodland to support native wildlife, not simply planting commercial forestry for timber. I accept that the advice of the Forestry Commission, on one-third of seeds from warmer climates to guard against climate change in future when you are looking at a crop lasting 50 or 70 years, may be perfectly valid to support commercial timber growing, but in the woodlands we are looking at a lot of trees that will be short and stumpy things, since Network Rail hacks down anything above 20 feet in any case if it gets too tall and interferes with the lines, which is fair enough. Is it seriously suggested that we need trees from warmer climates since one-third of our species will not survive the next 20 or 30 years? In this sort of planting for native wildlife, we are looking at the natural regeneration of rowan, holly, birch, wild cherry, hawthorn, blackthorn, alder, crab-apple and things like that. I have seen no evidence that climate change—which I agree will happen—will be so drastic that the species I have mentioned will not survive the next 20 to 30 years or so.
I listened with great care to the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Lucas. I am happy, if we can guarantee that no plants come in from abroad, that we are going to get biosecure seeds that will be grown in this country. That is an improvement. I simply do not trust HS2 to go for that option. If some big supplier in the Netherlands does a deal for plants that are a fraction of the price—I have bought plants from the Netherlands for my gardens over the years at dirt cheap prices; unfortunately, half of them died but that was probably my fault—then HS2 will go for that. So I would like to push that amendment to a vote too.
My noble friend Lord Caithness was right: I should not have said that by taking nothing from abroad we are 100% guaranteed not to get new diseases, but we will have severely diminished the risk. I accept that some may come in airborne or in timber, but if we do not import plants or trees from abroad, at least we will 100% guarantee that we will not get soil-based or plant-based bugs or diseases, although the risk of airborne ones is still there. We cannot catch every disease that we may import but we can severely reduce the chances.
It is with regret that, for the first time in nine years in this House, I wish to push my Amendment 5 to a vote—against the Government’s advice—as well as, I am afraid, the two amendments afterwards.
Ayes 57, Noes 234.