HS2 High Court bid threatens to crush public’s right to peaceful protest along the route

HS2 High Court bid threatens to crush public’s right to peaceful protest along the route

The Wildlife Trusts are concerned that HS2 Ltd is threatening to prevent people’s right to peaceful protest with a legal bid this week.

The company's High Court hearing on Thursday seeks a route-wide injunction making it a criminal offence for anyone to enter what it calls “HS2 land” or delay its operations. It also aims to criminalise “slow walking in front of vehicles in the vicinity of the HS2 Land”.

The Wildlife Trusts have long opposed the route of the high-speed rail project because of the associated environmental damage. The charities warn that the proposed injunction threatens people's right to protest peacefully against the construction along the route as many members of the public seek to protect their local wild places.

The Wildlife Trusts also fear that a route-wide injunction would prevent ecologists and other experts from visiting HS2 sites to undertake important ecological monitoring and checks during construction – checks that are intended to ensure that rules are adhered to. This is particularly important because HS2 Ltd has been accused of poor environmental practice since construction began.

Nikki Williams, director of campaigning and communities at The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“This is an extraordinary request from HS2 Ltd, and one that also sets a very dangerous precedent if it is permitted by the courts. We’re extremely concerned that this injunction, which would apply across the entire HS2 route in England, would stop experts from monitoring the work and halt the public’s right to protest peacefully against HS2. Thousands of people along the route have been devastated to witness the damage that the huge construction is causing to their treasured countryside, communities and nature havens.

“Since construction began on Phase One, people have reported bad practice, unnecessary damage to natural places and harm to wildlife. They have also been met by aggression from HS2 security personnel.

“People should have a right to make their voices heard, and anyone who wants to visit and enjoy the countryside and nature reserves near or around the HS2 route should not have to do so in fear. The court should refuse to grant the injunction that HS2 Ltd has applied for.”


HS2 security at Calvert Jubilee in 2020 © Mark Vallance

The Wildlife Trusts have long challenged HS2 because of its exorbitant cost to nature and the vast scale of damage that it is already causing. Two years ago, The Wildlife Trusts published a report – What’s the damage? Why HS2 will cost nature too much – which was the most comprehensive review to date of the risks to nature across all phases of HS2, including to protected wildlife sites, vulnerable species and landscape restoration projects.

Drawing on data from 14 Wildlife Trusts affected by the current plans, other charities and landowners along the route, the report shows that HS2 is dividing and destroying huge swathes of irreplaceable natural habitat and important protected wildlife sites up the length of England. The report found that HS2’s proposals risked the loss of, or significantly impact on:

  • 5  Wildlife refuges of international importance, protected by UK law
  • 33  Sites of Special Scientific Interest which are protected by UK law
  • 693  Classified Local Wildlife Sites
  • 21  Designated Local Nature Reserves
  • 26  Large landscape-scale initiatives
  • 18  Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves – many are also designated wildlife sites
  • 108  Ancient woodlands, an irreplaceable habitat
  • Other irreplaceable habitats such as veteran trees, wood pasture, old meadows
  • Extensive further areas of wider natural habitat
  • Barn owls and endangered wildlife such white-clawed crayfish, willow tit and lizard orchid. Rarities like dingy skipper may become locally extinct.

Matthew Stanton, Head of Planning and Advocacy for one of The Wildlife Trusts affected along the route – the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust – says:

“Since construction started at our nature reserves, HS2 Ltd’s security staff have been accused of being heavy-handed and some of our members have complained that they have been intimidated and, as a consequence, have avoided the nature reserves close to where construction is taking place.

“Fencing in some of the areas where HS2 is being built is so poor that visitors to some nature reserves are able to freely wander onto what the injunction would consider as ‘HS2 Land’ without even realising it. Should they accidently walk onto ‘HS2 land’ after an injunction is granted, they could find themselves facing criminal proceedings. This proposed injunction must be stopped in its tracks.”

HS2 Ltd’s record of following good practice has been called into question. For example, in November 2020, The Wildlife Trusts submitted a joint statement of concern with RSPB and Woodland Trust based on licensing agreements for the protection for endangered bats on the route. Ecologists were able to show that agreements had been breached and they raised concerns about wildlife crimes that could have been committed. The statement was in support of a letter from Lord Hague to the Secretary of State, Grant Shapps. This led to some corrective action by HS2 contractors.

If an injunction is permitted, formal permission from HS2 Ltd will have to be requested to visit sites by ecologists, and this may not be given, adding further cause for concern about the transparency around the project and the accountability of the company.