HS2 needs to be stopped: Here are all the reasons why London doesn’t need another rail service

It will have catastrophic impacts on the UK’s natural landscape

A quick look across newspapers and news channels would raise awareness about the recent protests by HS2 Rebellion against High Speed 2.

HS2 Rebellion protestors clashed with the police in the early hours of the morning last week. The activists built a 100 feet long tunnel under Euston Square Gardens, in Central London, as a form of protest against HS2’s proposed, new railway line.

Following the news of the tunnel, police arrested several activists, some of who were living in the tunnels, and bailiffs were called to remove some of the campaigners who were living in the trees. The activists had been living in the tree protection camps which were established in September 2020. Five arrests were made by Camden Police on 28th January 2021. The activists maintained that they were committed to non-violent action and that the protest was being carried out to defend the park and its trees against HS2.

The activists believe HS2 plans to replace Euston Gardens with a taxi stand. They describe the project as “truly monstrous”, “the biggest land grab in modern British history”. The protest was met with support from environmentalists across the UK who also chimed in with the hashtag #STOPHS2 on Twitter.

To briefly summarise, the cause of the conflict is HS2’s planned railway line which aims to connect London Euston to major UK cities. The first phase of HS2 links London Euston between Birmingham while the second phase plans to connect London Euston with Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, and Scotland. The project is at an estimated £106bn, scheduled to be completed by 2040. HS2 and its proponents argue that HS2 pushes the UK economy towards a much needed economic boost, provides the greenest, safest, and most efficient way of transport, reduces the north-south divide, lessens car traffic, and meets the growing travel demands. If we look at the claims from a sole economic and capitalist viewpoint, then the project appears impressive. However, tossing aside the economic benefits, the project is far much darker and extremely grim when we look at it from an environmentalist point of view. 

This is not the first time that the project has met with widespread opposition and resistance. In 2019, protests were carried out in Staffordshire against HS2 while Birmingham and Warwickshire have also seen protests which include the 125-mile walk from Birmingham to Central London in August 2020. The controversial rail network has met with severe resistance from environmentalists and conservationists who oppose the billion-pound project, citing the project as “monstrous and destructive to the British environment”. Environmentalists and anti-HS2 campaigners say, the project is indeed the most expensive, wasteful, and destructive project in UK history” and that it is “set to destroy or irreparably damage 108 ancient woodlands and 693 wildlife sites”. And, indeed, the project is truly destructive.

The routes designated by HS2 pierces through a monumental expanse of pristine landscapes, rich ecosystems, comprising 130 wildlife sites, including 10 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as the historic ancient woodlands. According to Woodland Trust, the UK is the second least wooded country in Europe after Ireland. This means projects like HS2 will have catastrophic impacts on the UK’s natural landscape is allowed to carry out such large-scale deforestation activities for economic profits. Natural England Open Data identifies over 52,000 ancient woodlands in the UK, the largest being the Galloway Forest in Scotland which is 297 square miles. Ancient woodlands are forests that have remained continuously wooded for more than 400 years. Home to several species, irreplaceable historical value, and features, this biodiversity-rich area cannot be reinstated through replacement tree planting, which HS2 has proposed. Studies have already shown that lack of tree cover, deforestation adds more atmospheric CO2 and accelerates species extinction.

HS2 Action Alliance, an organization that campaigns against the project illustrate how the rail network will cause an unacceptable level of damage to European and national species. According to HS2 Action Alliance, several European Protected Species are present within the planned HS2 routes. Species include otters, great crested newts, and several species of bats. Nationally protected species of freshwater crayfish, stag beetle, smooth newt, great crested newt, common frog, slow-worm, common lizard, European water vole, Eurasian badger, rare butterflies, and breeding birds also reside in the proposed travel corridor. Construction of the travel corridors through these regions will cause habitat loss. Habitat loss is directly connected to extinction since animal species, who lose their natural home or habitats, which they need to survive, witness a rapid decrease in their numbers, eventually pushing them on the verge of extinction.

Furthermore, if HS2’s plans to transform Euston Gardens into a taxi stand, then it is an equally abhorrent proposal. London is densely populated, suffers from high levels of air pollution, and lack adequate green cover, urgently need more green spaces. Moreover, parks and gardens within the city are a boon for Londoners and tourists alike. They serve as a gateway for relaxation during spring, summers, provide picturesque views during rainy winters, and are home to a variety of small mammals, insects, and birds.

Is the erasure of woodlands and animals worth a railway line? In my opinion, it is unacceptable. The cost of achieving a stronger economy and ease of travel is extremely high. The £106bn project will successfully cause the extinction of species, deforestation, specifically the removal of ancient woodlands which have been here for centuries and accelerate global warming. In an era of climate emergency, agreements and policies should be such which protect and preserve the natural environment, actively working to achieve a stabilised Earth model rather than becoming active contributors of Hothouse Earth i.e. a planet with inhospitable conditions. HS2 plans will cause serious environmental destruction, adding to the damage rather than weaken it and this needs to be stopped.