Eustice defends chopping down trees for HS2 after COP26 deforestation deal

2 November 2021, 10:50 | Updated: 2 November 2021, 11:21

By Patrick Grafton-Green

A government minister has defended the construction of HS2, which campaigners say is causing significant destruction of UK woodland, after world leaders signed an agreement pledging to protect the world's forests.

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On the second day of the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow on Tuesday, more than 100 leaders covering 85% of forests on the planet will commit to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030.

Environment Secretary George Eustice was grilled by LBC’s Nick Ferrari about HS2, saying it was "a bit rich" that trees were being felled in the Chilterns and Buckinghamshire while the UK was "lecturing the world on deforestation".

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But Mr Eustice insisted the agreement wasn’t "banning the felling of all trees" but was rather "no net loss in forests by 2030".

He said: "This pledge and our own policy doesn't mean that you would never cut down a single tree, sadly you need to when you've got big construction projects... we're trying to avoid cutting down as many trees as we can but occasionally, you'll get these requirements to do so."

HS2 Rebellion claimed earlier this year that the planned HS2 line, due to link up London, the Midlands and the north of England, will see 108 ancient woodlands "destroyed".

HS2 Ltd has said only 43 ancient woodlands would be affected by the railway's route between London and Crewe, with 80% of their total area remaining intact.

Mr Eustice added: "In the UK we've committed to plant 30,000 hectares of new trees each and every year by the end of this Parliament.

"We're also looking through the Planning Bill how we can strengthen protections not just for ancient woodland but also strengthen protections as well for older woodland that's maybe 100 plus years old but should have more protection than it has today.

"So we’re looking at protections and we've got big ambitions to plant more trees."

On the deforestation pledge, he said: "We've got an agreement with over 100 countries now supporting a pledge that we will halt the loss of forests by 2030 and it includes commits from countries like Canada but also Russia and crucially as well Brazil which is obviously responsible for the Amazon.

"Underpinning that we've done something which hasn't been done before and that’s we've mobilized pledges of finance from both governments but also from the private sector which together means there’s around £15 billion which underpins projects to deliver on this pledge."