Vital bat corridor under immediate threat as HS2 plans to fell in height of summer

Vital bat corridor under immediate threat as HS2 plans to fell in height of summer

Press release by Campaign for Leather Lane Oaks

Road closures are planned for Leather Lane this Monday 19th July to fell up to 15 oak trees along the planned track, putting wildlife and this vital bat corridor at risk.

We are currently in dialogue with EKFB and have employed a civil engineer to design a viable alternative route for the over-road and bat corridor. Despite this, EKFB have planned road closures from 19th July to fell 12–15 trees along the route of the track.

It is the height of summer when bats and endless other wildlife are active and using the trees and ecosystem along Leather Lane for habitat, foraging, and commuting. Felling at this time not only goes against the Precautionary Principle adopted by HS2 in their Environmental Statement, but it is also in contravention of their Local Environmental Management plans and all good practice regarding wildlife protection, prevention, and mitigation.

Leather Lane is an ancient, sunken lane, known as a Holloway. It is lined to the south with 99 oak trees. It was originally planted by Arthur Lazenby Liberty in the late 1800s, and is set within the Central Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

This irreplaceable bat corridor is under immediate threat as HS2 are currently planning the overbridge on the southern side, putting endless oak trees and the ecosystem at imminent risk. This will fragment the corridor and will impact the bats’ ability to forage and travel between other habitats, threatening bat populations and putting the conservation status of the endangered Barbastelle bat under threat.

Also at risk is a magnificent lone oak, identified as tree number 144, which is older by far than those on the lane. It is almost 200 years old, and is at least 37 meters away from the track cutting.

HS2 and EKFB have failed to uphold their legal obligations and their own standards and commitments to ecology and biodiversity, and no mitigation has been put in place. As a result, we stand to lose this irreplaceable holloway and bat corridor, which will have a huge impact on the Chilterns landscape, biodiversity, and bat species at both a local level and national level. With the government’s recent G7 re-commitment to halt biodiversity loss, this issue is especially poignant at this critical time for the environment.

In the absence of surveys from HS2, concerned local residents have stepped in to commission several independent bat surveys, which show that there are at least seven (7) species of bat – including the endangered Barbastelle bat – which are continually using this vital corridor in high numbers.

Furthermore, the current designs are for a standard two-way road, which does not take into account the design principles submitted to protect the AONB,1 and will require more land and earthworks.

Local residents, with the support of bat experts, ecologists, engineers and lawyers, are campaigning to reduce the overbridge to a one-way road on the northern side and to provide mitigation for the bats to get over the tracks. This will have the effect of saving lives and reconnecting the fragmented landscape, as otherwise the current works will lead to population decline if not addressed immediately.

Expert John Altringham, Emeritus Professor of Ecology and Conservation at the University of Leeds, who advises national authorities including Natural England and the Bat Conservation Trust on bat ecology and conservation issues, has confirmed that:

“As few trees as possible should be removed to retain foraging habitat, roost potential and connectivity across this fragmented landscape. All species are under considerable pressure and their small populations reflect the already degraded nature of the landscape. Further stress on species through habitat degradation, loss and fragmentation will inevitably lead to further decline and possibly local extinction.”

Barbastelle bats are among other bat species that have been detected using the bat corridor. They have recently lost roosts at nearby Jones Hill Wood following felling of trees containing known roosts, and as a result their species is under threat. The Barbastelle bat is afforded protection under the Habitats directive.

Yesterday Professor Altringham told us:

“The Annex II Barbastelle already has a thin and patchy distribution in the UK, so local loss of this species is of national importance, in part because it leads to ever more isolated local populations, which become increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and other pressures.”

The campaigners are demanding that EKFB:

  1. Suspend felling until bridge design is agreed and bats go into hibernation;
  2. Sincerely consider the design to route the overbridge to the Northern side;
  3. Adopt the design principles submitted by the Chilterns AONB group to design a one-way lane, in keeping with the holloway and Chilterns AONB, and keep the track within the Act limits; and
  4. Create a bat corridor over the track cutting to prevent unnecessary deaths and protect their conservation status.

We demand that HS2 lives up to its PR on green bridges and upholds its commitments to net loss and protection of biodiversity, as required by law.

An online petition2 – Save Leather Lane Oaks – has huge public support with over 42,000 signatures so far. Local and media outrage, combined with legal intervention, stopped the felling of these majestic oaks back in March when HS2 misled the public, even local councilors, and had not carried out necessary surveys for potential roosting bats. Several bird nests were destroyed by HS2 employees in full sight of the public.

No more wildlife crimes and destruction of biodiversity!

Felling must be suspended now until the next round of scrutiny when EKFB submit their plans to Buckinghamshire Council and laws can be applied.

*End*

For reports on bat corridor and HS2’s failings re Leather Lane – please email jhwprotectors@gmail.com

Leather Lane Oaks - Stop HS2 - Save the bats
Leather Lane, Great Missenden

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