Jones’ Hill Wood | Update 25.05.2021

Jones’ Hill Wood | Update 25.05.2021

Author: Adamcio
Date: 25.05.2021

We thought it was time for a brief Jones’ Hill Wood update/explainer: 

What has been happening at Jones’ Hill? How did we get here? Where are we with the legal case? And what can you do to help?

HS2 continued to fell at Jones’ Hill beyond the timeframe granted to them by Natural England. 

The protest camp is separated from HS2’s devastation by two rows of fencing, with a strange “no-man’s land” in between. This narrow space is part of HS2’s “mitigation zone.” 

These mitigation zones form part of HS2’s application to Natural England. Permission to fell is dependent on these areas of mitigation. An additional mitigation zone is located in an adjacent field, where the stumps of felled trees have been stuck into the ground. These “monoliths” now stand, haphazardly and dead, like great wooden zombies. A cruel perversion of the natural order. 

In addition, bat boxes were due to be installed on private land nearby. This installation took place without permission of the landowner and were illegally installed by HS2. This is a direct contradiction to the terms of the licence handed out by Natural England. 

HS2 have begun using a large covering to limit our ability on the ground to observe felling, which is worrying due to their history of wildlife crimes. More so, given the reliance on protesters to witness these crimes, build evidence, and fill the vacuum left by the police who have been conspicuous by their absence. 

We have been told that there are no more trees that require a licence to fell. All of the trees with suspected barbastelle bat roosts have already been felled. This includes one tree that was felled a week ago, we believe without the appropriate permissions. 

The tree had been marked as potentially containing a Maternity roost. We believe HS2 cut down that tree at a time when they did not have the necessary permission. Therefore, its recent disappearance does raise serious questions for HS2. 

There are also question marks over licencing for the remaining felling. As we have seen previously, HS2 have been permitted to “mark their own homework.” 

Natural England have said that they will not be checking if any of the other trees marked for death contain endangered species. This is because HS2 have not applied for a licence, because they claim no endangered species are present. 

In other words, Natural England only provide a licence to HS2 when a licence has first been requested by HS2. So, if HS2 don’t tell Natural England that any endangered species are present, Natural England will not check if any endangered species are being put at risk. 

Along the HS2 route we have seen many instances of felling being carried out without adequate surveys being carried out, or the necessary licences being applied for. This lack of care goes against HS2’s environmental duties. It puts at risk endangered bats, birds and animals. 

During the winter, many trees were cut down and immediately thrown into a chopper. Tree, bird, bat, squirrel, and bug were all mercilessly chucked into the grinder. It is hard to say how many lives were lost in this way, despite repeated calls to the police by protesters and members of the public, who observed these crimes. 

Jones’ Hill Wood was originally due to be felled last year. It was only the brave actions of protesters that has protected it for this long. 

By delaying felling, the protesters and independent naturalists were able to confirm the presence of barbastelle bats. This had been missed by HS2’s specialist ecologists. In some cases no surveys even took place. 

Had it not been for the presence of and resistance by the protesters at Jones’ Hill Wood, these bats would never have been found by HS2 and the trees would have been illegally felled back in 2020. 

Unfortunately, the nearby prehistoric site Grim’s Ditch was less fortunate. The Bronze Age earthworks was flattened by HS2, with the loss of countless trees, shrubs, and animals, including endangered species. In addition to the ecocide, there was staggering archaeological devastation to our shared cultural history, as thousands of years of artefacts were obliterated forever. 

It should never have been the duty of protesters to police a £200bn operation like HS2. That is what the police are supposed to be for. It is unfortunate that Thames Valley Police have signed up to a special “enhanced policing agreement” with HS2. Essentially, HS2 as a private company, have bought the British police force. Is it any wonder, therefore, that the policing of the project has been less than impressive? 

Last week, there was a brief pause in felling. Not due to barbastelle bats, but due to the presence of one common robin redbreast nest! 

If it wasn’t quite so tragic, it might almost be darkly comic. 

Our legal case against Natural England, the Statutory Body responsible for the Environment, has now gone from the High Court to the Court of Appeal. The original judge – Justice Lang – had ordered a pause on all felling while she reviewed the case. Specifically, she was keen to look into evidence that Natural England had erred in the way they had granted HS2 a licence. 

In particular, the claimants, instructed by Mark Keir and backed up by leading ecologists, questioned the use of Licensing Policy 4 to issue a licence. Natural England essentially rewarded HS2 for not having conducted full surveys, which would have shown the scale of risk to the endangered bats. So, Natural England granted a licence without certainty of the bats that were under threat.   

However, less than a week after felling was ordered to stop, a new judge – Justice Holgate – inserted himself into the case and immediately went to the opposite extreme. He permitted HS2 to start felling again immediately and dismissed Mark Keir’s legal team’s points as “wholly unarguable”. 

Justice Holgate is the same judge who attempted to ban the vigil for Sarah Everand and has previously done his best to authorise and enable fracking. It may also be worth noting that Justice Holgate’s former colleagues at Landmark Chambers were representing the opposition. In fact, Landmark Chambers have been representing the Secretary of State/HS2 in court cases for most of the past decade. 

We lodged our application for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal on Friday 21st May and await the outcome.  

It is now too late to save the trees at Jones’ Hill Wood which are at the centre of the case. Our hope is that success in court will save 1,000s of trees further north along the proposed line. 

To continue our legal fight, we need your help. 

We are immensely grateful that your generous donations enabled us to get to court in the first place. The money raised has now been spent and only the generosity of our legal team has allowed the case to progress this far. 

Now that we are heading to appeal, we must ask you once again to help. Please, if you are able, put your hands into your pockets once more and donate what you can to help pay for the legal costs. 

This case is important, not only for the Barbastelle bats at Jones’ Hill Woods, but for all Barbastelle bats and other endangered species throughout the UK that are under threat from relaxed planning laws and relentless construction and infrastructure projects. 

If we win on Appeal, our case Keir v Natural England, will set a crucial precedent for all our endangered species. 

Half of Jones’ Hill Wood still stands. Its presence is a testament to the hard work, determination, bravery, and solidarity of a vast number of people from a wide variety of backgrounds, with a range of different motivations, all united by one aim – to #StopHS2. 

Jones’ Hill Wood is still the place where that can happen. This court case can set a precedent which will make it near impossible for HS2 to continue. Their entire modus operandi would need to change. 

Please help us to Stop HS2. Donate here: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/protect-jones-hill-wood-from-h/ 

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