Trees not tarmac in RIS2

Richard Barnes, Senior Conservation Advisor for the Woodland Trust, writes about the alliance of 17 environmental groups proposing a fresh approach to the Government’s second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2), suggesting a focus on improving existing roads and motorways rather than building new ones.

The reportRising to the challenge: a shared green vision for RIS2, has been co-ordinated by Campaign for Better Transport and calls for funding to be prioritised for a ‘green retrofit’ of the current road network ahead of the provision of new road capacity.  The Woodland Trust has contributed to the ‘safeguarding the environment’ section of the report, and Barnes says that the Trust is aware of 45 ancient woods directly threatened by road development across the UK.  He writes:

Following the publication of its first Road Investment Strategy, Highways England hired an external consultancy to create a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) to guide its future infrastructure development.  One of the key statements in this plan is to achieve “no net loss” and in time a “net gain” of biodiversity.  It is impossible to achieve net gain or even no net loss of biodiversity when ancient woodland is destroyed though, it is irreplaceable.  We need to see evidence of BAP delivery to appraise the progress of Highways England in more sensitive environmental mitigation, yet we have seen no evidence that this monitoring is even taking place as their reports are not being published.  Road building doesn’t have to be at the detriment of the natural environment; we have seen some evidence of forward thinking such as the Hindhead tunnel, this is the standard to which all other schemes should aspire.

Some of the examples of road infrastructure impacting ancient woods include:

  • A27 Arundel Bypass, Sussex – open for consultation until October, all three proposed bypass options will see destruction of ancient woodland.
  • Lower Thames Crossing, Kent/Essex – The preferred route of a second crossing will see impacts to two areas of woodland south of the Thames in Kent. Claylane Wood, which is ancient and another, Shorne Wood, which is SSSI-designated and partially ancient, records show it is home to, amongst other species, the ruddy darter dragonfly, marsh tit and hawfinch.
  • A21 dualling, Kent – nine hectares of ancient woodland was destroyed to dual a section of the road. Highways England claim it as a positive example of ‘translocation’ of ancient woodland soil, a measure for which there is no evidence of success, compounded by carrying it out at completely the wrong time of year contrary to promises at the public inquiry.
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