England

Battlefields, graveyards and forests in HS2's firing line

The Cubbington Tree has been deemed the country's favourite in a poll Image copyright Woodland Trust

England's "favourite tree" is set to be felled to make way for the much-debated HS2 high speed rail line. It's just one of the many landmarks in the developer's firing line.

The 250-year-old pear tree near South Cubbington Wood took more than a third of 10,000 votes in a poll to be crowned the country's best tree, prompting calls for it to be saved from the HS2 axe.

Its fate may not yet be completely sealed, but what of the other monuments and sites of historical importance along the proposed route?

Image copyright PA
Image caption The HS2 route could see the demolition of important landmarks and wildlife sites

Ben Ruse, a spokesman for the developers, said "great care" had been taken to avoid houses, landmarks and sites of interest where possible when planning the route.

Yet there are still a number of places whose days could be numbered.

Edgcote Battlefield, Northamptonshire

Image copyright David M Jones
Image caption The Battle of Edgcote took place in this now tranquil vale, close to the River Cherwel

The site of the Battle of Edgcote, fought in 1469, could disappear if the bulldozers plough through the Northamptonshire countryside as planned.

The War of the Roses battlefield, north east of Banbury, has been given listed status by Historic England, formerly known as English Heritage, owing to its historical importance as the location where the House of York was defeated by forces supporting Warwick the Kingmaker.

But the move does not guarantee protection for the landscape; only that it must be considered as part of the planning process.

Campaigners fear the high speed rail line could run through the mass graves of around 5,000 fallen soldiers.

Burial grounds

Image copyright P L Chadwick
Image caption St James' Gardens dates back to the 18th Century but was converted by Camden Council

A number of burial grounds are set to be dug up under the current rail link plans, including St James' Gardens in Euston, St Mary's Churchyard in Stoke Mandeville and Park Street Gardens in Birmingham.

They were all closed for burials more than 100 years ago but human remains and monuments will need to be cleared to make way for HS2.

The Stop HS2 campaign group said a number of petitions have been raised by churches and church organisations, including one from the Archbishops' Council, calling for greater protection of people's remains along the route.

Image copyright Tim Stockton
Image caption Campaigners fear St James' Gardens won't be replaced if torn down to make way for HS2

St James' Gardens was turned into public gardens by Camden Council in the 1980s. Developers say they will treat the remaining graves with "dignity, respect and care".

Tim Stockton from the Pan-Camden HS2 Alliance, said: "St James' Garden is essentially irreplaceable. There aren't that many green spaces in that area and the local community really appreciate it.

"But there's no realistic chance of it being replaced."

Also at risk in the Camden borough is a Grade II-listed war memorial and a statue of railway engineer Robert Stephenson, both at Euston Square.

'Ghost' villages

Image copyright Andy Grice
Image caption A deserted medieval village lies in the grounds of Doddershall House along with ancient ponds and moats

It may be debatable how much harm can be caused by bulldozing through an already abandoned settlement but campaigners believe the remnants of a number of once important villages and hamlets are set to be destroyed forever under the current rail plans.

Buckingham Archaeological Society responded strongly to suggestions the HS2 route will slice through one such site - the deserted medieval village of Doddershall in Aylesbury.

Shallow earthworks are all that is left of the village, which dates back to Saxon times and is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.

But campaigners claim it is a "significant heritage asset" which merits a full archaeological survey and excavation in order to record what will be lost as a result of HS2.

Archaeological remains of the medieval village of Kings Hill in Warwickshire are also in HS2's crosshairs, despite being given Scheduled Ancient Monument status by the government.

Image copyright Sheila Woolf
Image caption Stare Bridge has been described as one of the best medieval bridges in the country by campaigners

Elsewhere in the county, there are concerns for Stare Bridge which is considered by the Stoneleigh HS2 Action Group as "one of the best medieval bridges in the country".

Sheila Woolf, chairman of the Stoneleigh History Society, said it was possibly built in the 14th Century by monks at the nearby Stoneleigh Abbey.

"The trainline will cross very close to the line of the river Avon and all one will see right next to this ancient bridge will be concrete and steel," she said.

Woodland and wildlife

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Campaign group HS2 is strongly against the high speed rail link and say it will destroy habitats and ancient woodland

Campaigners say the HS2 plans will threaten 350 unique habitats, 94 ancient woods, 30 river corridors, 24 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and hundreds of other sensitive areas.

The Wildlife Trust said approximately 150 hectares of wildlife habitat in the Greater London area is likely to be lost or damaged by the new rail line, while more than 50 designated wildlife sites in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire are likely to suffer.

Image copyright Woodland Trust
Image caption Long Itchington Wood in Warwickshire is on the list of ancient woodlands at risk from HS2

In Staffordshire, HS2 winds through one of the greatest concentrations of ancient woodland sites in Lichfield District including Vicar's Coppice, Ravenshaw Wood, Black Slough and Slaish, Tomhay Wood and Big Lyntus which cover a combined area of approximately 52 hectares.

Numerous other sites in Birmingham and the Black Country, Warwickshire and Bedfordshire, would also see the disappearance of crucial habitats.

Beccy Speight, CEO of the Woodland Trust said: "That so many people voted for Cubbington's Pear Tree to become tree of the year shows the strength of feeling that HS2 Ltd really must do more to avoid irreplaceable habitats."

HS2 spokesman Mr Ruse said great care had been taken such as almost half of the line between London and Birmingham being "put into a tunnel or a cutting to reduce any impact".

"There are already property schemes in place to compensate homeowners that have been affected. Millions of trees will be planted along the route and we have made a commitment that there will be no net loss of biodiversity," he said.

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