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Why HS2 can’t simply “replace” an ancient woodland

Author of blog: Josh Watson

They can’t see the forest for the trees

To destroy an ancient forest and replace it with saplings (that die) is to reduce a forest to a collection of trees. Indeed, HS2 ltd. go one step further. When they would rather let a sapling die and replace it in the name cost-effectiveness as they did in 2019, they see trees as money.  This is not the case. A forest is a complex network of creatures and critters busying themselves from the top of the canopy to deep in the soil. Those connections take hundreds of years to form and are full of processes that we still don’t understand. This highlights how futile it is for HS2 ltd. to replace ancient woodland as they don’t know what they’re trying to replace in the first place. Moreover, their attempts of ‘woodland translocation’ is fundamentally flawed and not guided by any sound ecological understanding.

There is an inherent value in nature beyond carbon and cost

The idea of ecosystem services helps us understand what nature provides for humans and the values we derive from it. Such services come in the form of regulatory services e.g. air quality; cultural services e.g. recreation; supporting services e.g. soil formation; and provisioning services e.g. fresh water and natural medicines. This can be a useful tool when making decisions about how to manage land but only in the right hands. We have to keep in mind that nature has an inherent value beyond human use.

HS2 ltd. abuse the ecosystem services tool by not only ignoring the inherent value in nature but also by reducing all the other services to pound signs and carbon credits. This is consistent with the neo-liberal environmental narrative, which manipulates concerns for the climate-crisis to push the broader ecological crisis to the side and views the complexity of life only in terms of carbon and cost. With this perspective, HS2 ltd. wields the tool of ecosystem services believing they can destroy or damage an ancient woodland in one place and replace it with a plantation somewhere else.

Ancient woodlands are at the heart of our communities

As spaces for picnics, dog-walking, exploration, and learning it is critical that every community has access to woodlands. To destroy a woodland is to sever communities from such a space for generations.

To take a woodland is to induce solastalgia (grief over environmental loss)

From the benefits felt when in nature to the grief we feel over its loss (known as solastalgia), the mental health crisis and the ecological crisis are inextricably linked. Numerous reports show woodlands are a place to enhance mental wellbeing and have been critical during the pandemic. Meanwhile, a U.K. study has shown that having a broadleaf woodland nearby (like ancient U.K. woodlands) is associated with reduced psychiatric cases in the community. It is critical to protect woodlands to protect our mental health. Yet, all around the world we are in a state of solastalgia and HS2 ltd. is a primary reason for that in the U.K. As HS2 destroys each woodland, wetland and grassland in its path, it reduces local access to spaces for mental wellbeing and pushes people closer to grief and into a state of solastalgia.

Ancient woodlands are one of the last sacred spaces

HS2 ltd. takes advantage of a culture in which sacredness has been diminished. Yet, woodlands all along the line provide a space for ceremony, retreats and daily spiritual practice. These are spaces for weddings, funerals, and the spreading of ashes. For revitalisation and reconnection with the sacredness of nature through walking, forest bathing and meditation. When HS2 ltd. desecrates these woodlands, they violate our memories and our ancestors. The saplings planted by HS2 cannot replace these memories and spaces, they will only serve as a reminder of what has been lost and deprive communities of their sacred space. 

Restoration is critical, but prevention is the first step

Restoration of woodlands, and other ecosystems, is a critical aspect to building resilience in the ecological crisis. However, prevention is far more important. The reality is HS2 ltd. are actively destroying 108 of our last remaining ancient woodlands. They are a primary driver of deforestation in the U.K. and they go by digger, crane, and bore hole driller. It is well-known that they have ripped out trees and flattened forests for temporary roads and buildings when alternative solutions are available and more appropriate.

 The next post in this series will reveal what’s wrong with HS2’s tree planting.

🎥 Credit: Ancient tree on the HS2 Rebellion Truth Trail – Georgia Baker, 2020.

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