Tens of thousands of trees planted on HS2’s route have died after bosses decided it was cheaper to replace them than water them during last summer’s heatwave
- HS2 has admitted that of 236,762 trees planted along the route last year
- HS2 must plant new trees ‘in mitigation’ of the loss of woodland it causes
- The £56billion rail project is aiming to create a ‘green corridor’ along the line
Tens of thousands of trees planted by HS2 have died – after bosses decided it was cheaper to replant them than water the saplings during last summer’s heatwave.
HS2 has admitted that of 236,762 trees planted along the route last year, 89,742 – 38 per cent – have had to be replaced.
Under the terms of its contract, HS2 must plant new trees ‘in mitigation’ of the loss of woodland caused by its construction. So far, it has planted around 350,000 trees.
Artist’s impression of an HS2 train on the Birmingham and Fazeley viaduct, part of the proposed route for the HS2 high speed rail scheme
The £56billion rail project is aiming to create a ‘green corridor’ along the line. Trees are being planted to screen the route from surrounding communities as well as providing new or alternative habitats for the wildlife in those areas.
HS2 plans to plant a total of seven million trees along the route, which will ultimately provide high-speed links between London, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham.
But the company claims it is cheaper to replace the withered saplings than it would have been to transport water supplies to hard-to-reach locations last summer.
Farmer Derek Hyatt said: ‘I think there are around 800 trees planted on my land – and if 5 per cent of those trees are alive I’d be quite surprised.’
Another farmer, from Southam, Warwickshire, told the BBC 6,500 of the 8,000 trees planted on his land had died.
Undated handout concept image issued by Bombardier and Hitachi showing their proposed design for a HS2 train
Separately, John Taylor, 76 – a part-time farm manager in Ladbroke, Warwickshire – said roughly half of the saplings on HS2-owned land beside his farm have died. They were planted in January and February 2018 – before England’s hottest summer on record.
Mr Taylor said: ‘I am in favour of the line, but to suggest that it is cheaper to replant than supply a bit of water seems strange, when you think of the labour costs involved in checking which trees are dead, then cutting off the tree guard and then going back to replant them.’
He added: ‘The trees cover 12 to 14 acres near me, but they are planted higgledy-piggledy and it was a once-in-a-generation heatwave. It’s not like an orchard where you can drive in between to water them if necessary, you can’t get amongst them. I hate to think what it is going to cost to replace those that have died, but to be fair to HS2, they have planted a lot more trees than they are having to take up near me.’
Joe Rukin, from campaign group Stop HS2, described the tree deaths as an ‘environmental disaster’. He added: ‘This is a picture which is repeated up and down the country in their fields of failure and is a testament to the institutional incompetence of HS2.’
An HS2 Ltd spokesman said: ‘We estimate it would have cost around £2million to water the trees during the drought, so replacing these plants is a much more cost-effective solution, as well as a more ethical use of resources during unprecedented conditions.’
HS2 said more than 33 square kilometres of wildlife habitat – an area the size of 4,600 football pitches – will be created.
Adam Cormack, head of campaigning at the Woodland Trust, said: ‘While the loss of so many trees is regrettable, last year’s heatwave was exceptional and there comes a point where constant watering becomes unsustainable.’