Minister ‘kept in the dark’ over rare bat find

A Bechstein's bat at Finemere Wood near Calvert.  By Toby Thorne of the North Bucks Bat Group
A Bechstein's bat at Finemere Wood near Calvert. By Toby Thorne of the North Bucks Bat Group

A NATIONAL wildlife charity has said the minister in charge of controversial high-speed rail proposals has been kept in the dark over a potential HS2 “showstopper”.

The Bucks, Berks and Oxon branch of the Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) says the Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond, has not been told about a colony of protected Bechstein’s bats on the HS2 route in Finemere Wood near Calvert.

BBOWT used the Freedom of Information Act to get copies of emails between the Government’s wildlife advisors Natural England and HS2 Ltd. On June 7, Natural England told HS2 Ltd: “There is potential for Bechstein’s to be a showstopper, but it could be that it won’t be a problem or that it might require redesign of the scheme...but we simply don’t know with the survey information which is currently available.

“Therefore we urge HS2 to undertake surveys as soon as possible in order to understand the likelihood of impacts.”

Seven weeks later, Aylesbury MP David Lidington wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport to find out what action had been taken.

The minister responded: “No assessments have yet been undertaken on the effects of the HS2 proposal on Bechstein’s bats in the Bernwood Forest, as this issue is very much at a local level.”

BBOWT spokesman Matt Jackson said: “It seems that nobody has told the Secretary of State for Transport that the presence of these bats has the potential to be a showstopper.

“The Secretary of State’s reply to David Lidington shows that advice from Natural England to HS2 Ltd is not being passed to him.”

The Wildlife Trust had already taken legal advice about the bat colony and sent it to the Department of Transport as part of the formal HS2 consultation in July.

Mr Jackson added: “The legal advice highlights the need for the Secretary of State to be certain that the HS2 development will not have a significant effect on the bats before he is able to make a decision whether or not to proceed with HS2.

“We are very worried because it looks as though vital information about the Bechstein’s bat colony is simply not getting through to the Secretary of State – who is ultimately deciding whether or not HS2 goes ahead.”

Bechstein’s bats are known to occur in 10 woods within the Bernwood Forest area of Bucks and Oxon.