For the hard of thinking – a guide to ancient woodland #HS2

Tom’s words laid bare the hearts of trees and their thoughts, which were often dark and strange, and filled with a hatred of things that go free upon the earth, gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning: destroyers and usurpers. It was not called the Old Forest without reason, for it was indeed ancient, a survivor of vast forgotten woods; and in it there lived yet, ageing no quicker than the hills, the fathers of the fathers of trees, remembering times when they were lords. The countless years had filled them with pride and rooted wisdom, and with malice. But none were more dangerous than the Great Willow: his heart was rotten, but his strength was green; and he was cunning, and a master of winds, and his song and thought ran through the woods on both sides of the river. His grey thirsty spirit drew power out of the earth and spread like fine root-threads in the ground, and invisible twig-fingers in the air, till it had under its dominion nearly all the trees of the Forest from the Hedge to the Downs.

(J.R.R.Tolkein. – Fellowship of the Ring, one of the good bits Jackson forgot).

Ancient woodland is, well, pretty old. In England there’s even a definition for it… it is woodland that has existed intact since about 1600ce or earlier. That’s about the time we started planting forests – basically because we were starting to notice we’d cut so many down. Anything older that four hundred years or so is deemed to be naturally established. Because it’s so old, there are aspects of the woodland that are not only precious but irreplaceable if damaged (or at least irreplaceable for about 400 years). They can’t be transplanted, moved or mitigated. Any person who says otherwise is an idiot. When it’s a Minister saying so it’s deeply sad. When it’s the Minister making the decisions it’s desperately worrying.

Have some links

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-17867138
Transport Secretary Justine Greening suggested “transplanting woodland to an adjacent site”, in a letter to Chesham and Amersham MP Cheryl Gillan. Ms Greening said that as an important part of the UK’s natural heritage, ancient woodlands “need to be protected wherever possible”. She said the Environmental Impact Assessment process would identify the scope of the rail link’s effect on the environment, but transplanting the woods would be an “appropriate” mitigation solution…

http://www.woodlandtrust.presscentre.com/News-Releases/This-is-no-green-Government-says-Woodland-Trust-over-decision-to-destroy-ancient-woodland-for-HS2-9d9.aspx
“Any government agreeing to the destruction of ancient woodland is wholly mistaken when referring to itself as the ‘greenest government ever’. Regardless of any mitigation strategy put forward by Government on HS2, no compensation can exist for this loss.”

Ancient forest is not just a bunch of trees, however fine they might look. It is the environment itself, from the top of the highest crown to the depths of the earth beneath the roots. The fungii and mycelium stretch for hundreds of yards beyond the treeline, carrying nutrients and changing the very soil on which the woodland stands. Indeed, from some perspectives the mycelium is the woodland, and the trees only the surface effect, in the same way the fruiting mushroom belies the fungal parent beneath. Between the leaves and the soil a vast number of creatures and flora exist as they do nowhere else, from bugs and bees to bluebells… this does not establish overnight, Ms Greening, nor can it be moved. It develops, over time… lots of time.

Although I can’t, for the life of me, think of one good reason to build HS2, I can think of lots not to. One of the more persuasive reasons has to be the carving into and ultimate destruction of ancient woodland.

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