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26.06.18

The Green Corridor: More than a railway

Source: RTM June/July 2018

HS2 will inevitably leave a footprint on the British countryside – but there are extensive plans in place to turn this into an opportunity, not a threat, for the natural environment. Anthony Coumbe, the organisation’s head of environmental construction for Area North, explains.

HS2 is the first new intercity railway to be built north of London in over 100 years. When it’s fully up and running, high-speed trains will carry over 300,000 people a day – creating vital rail capacity and kick-starting thousands of new jobs.

But there is more to HS2 than that. A construction project of this size can be seen as a threat to nature. Yet it can also be an opportunity to support the natural environment, so we’re working on a green corridor which will be home to wildlife and integrate HS2 into the landscape.

A network of habitats ranging from woodland and meadows to wetland and ponds will stretch along much of the 345 miles of track.

They will replace any habitats affected by the construction of HS2, while conserving and enhancing some too.

Helped by our community funds, there will be ways for local people to enjoy the countryside, through new access routes and open spaces.

Yet we think even more can be done as the green corridor takes shape.

A balanced footprint

Inevitably, HS2 is going to leave a footprint on the British countryside. That’s something we want to carefully manage, while improving the environment where we can.

At a local level, new wildlife habitats ranging from badger setts to bat houses will support any animals affected by the construction of HS2. In many cases we’ll be able to leave behind bigger and better habitats than what’s already there. We’ll also have a responsible approach to natural resources, with most of the material we excavate for tunnels and cuttings being used as part of our earthworks.

Ultimately, the green corridor should be able to support delicately balanced ecosystems running through the spine of the country.

Snapshot: Chilterns Northern Portal

Along the entire route, one of our first priorities has been to avoid or reduce any impact on the natural environment. Over half of the London to Birmingham line will be below surface level, passing through tunnels and cuttings, while we’re building hundreds of viaducts and bridges so the railway will be permeable to wildlife, as well as waterways.

Our extended tunnel under the Chilterns will run for almost 10 miles, protecting the local environment.

Where it emerges, extensive planting will reflect the surroundings, including new woodlands which will link with existing ones. Through the green corridor, we’ll be taking the chance to join up numerous disconnected habitats in this way.

Crucially we’ll be creating new homes for wildlife here, including a bat house designed to support a nearby colony of Common Pipistrelle bats. It is one of four bat houses to be built from London to the West Midlands. They will be significant structures tailored to the needs of local bat species.

GreenBridge[2]

Community-led

We will work with local communities to create the green corridor. This includes the chance for local people to get involved in everything from landscape design to tree planting.

From the outset, funds are being put into local hands to deliver environmental improvements that go above and beyond our own. A total of £6m has been awarded to local groups in the Chilterns and the Colne Valley, which could support projects ranging from new habitats to cycle routes. In addition, our £45m Community & Environment Fund and Business & Local Economy Fund are a way for people to make their own landscape and conservation ideas become a reality.

There are opportunities to improve the natural environment outside the immediate boundaries of the railway too. It’s one of the guiding principles of a £5m Woodland Fund, which has been set up to encourage landowners up to 25 miles away from Phase 1 to create new woodlands or restore existing ancient woodland sites.

These various funds are a small part of our environmental work. However, their power to involve local people is crucial. We’ll also be working with landowners and wildlife trusts along the route on long-term maintenance to ensure whatever we create can thrive well beyond the construction of HS2.

What next?

We are at the beginning of a long journey.

In 2017 we started work on our first new wildlife habitats for protected wildlife species. We also appointed our main works contractors and started the next stage of design for the railway.

As our main civil engineering work progresses, so will our various landscape, habitat and woodland creation initiatives.

Not only are we just in the early days of design and construction, we can only make the most of this opportunity with the future involvement of local people and environment groups. That work starts now.

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