Cubbington woods is a piece of ancient woodland which is due to be destroyed as part of the HS2 development.
One day in early January, Brindley and I visited a very muddy and chilly Cubbington woods with friend Mary who has been helping to occupy the camp there for the last five months. I wanted to find out why she had given so much of her time to supporting the camp since it started in September 2019.
Mary explained to me why she is doing what she is doing
“I knew that HS2 was going to be built when we moved to our house in 2015 – we had a survey which told us it would be built about 5 km from the house. So I was aware of it – but it doesn’t affect me personally in terms of the view or noise from the house.
I first went to Cubbington woods in April 2017 as there was thing in the paper about HS2 going to bash through the woods, so friends said come and walk through them before they go. I went to the woods for a walk and there were lots of nice people and I saw bluebells and anemones and I learned that anemones take 100 years to enlarge their patch by 6 feet and the whole place was carpeted in them…
A year or two later I heard that HS2 was starting work there and I thought I don’t want to go there anymore as they’ll be digging it up and there will be fences and stuff. But a friend of mine in the pub said “oh no its not blocked – there’s a review. They might not do it. We have set up a camp so they can’t chop the trees down while there’s a review on”. So I went to find out more.
We call ourselves ‘protectors’ rather than ‘protesters’.
The Cubbington Woods camp was set up in September 2019. After a month or so there was a meeting and they were talking about a rota of people and keeping it manned at all times… suddenly I realised I was involved, and I was on the rota! The first time you go, you wait for someone to offer you a cup of tea and suddenly I was up there and offering other people cups of tea! It gradually got colder and colder and the leaves fell off the trees and it was muddier and muddier, and it didn’t stop raining. Less people came then.
The people at the camp are not ‘professional protesters’ – they are ordinary people who have jobs, families and live locally (and some not so local). They are respectable professionals who are clean and tidy. For each person who comes to man the camp there’s 50 relatives and friends back at home who support the camp but who can’t make it.
The camp is very organised. There’s a yurt with a wood burning stove, a kitchen, a compost loo, a campfire… If anything runs low, like milk, then you can just send a text and half an hour later some will turn up. We are like minded people who have been driven to the edge by this plan to destroy these ancient woods.
While there’s still a tree standing in the woods, we have something to fight for.
The Ancient Woodland has extra protection thanks to Chris Packham
Cubbington Woods are in the Doomsday book. Which is about 1000 years old and they may be even older than this – maybe 5000 years old having developed after the last ice age. The soil under the trees has only ever had leaf fall, tree rot. The fungi the invertebrates, the biodiversity, all the tree roots are intertwined. There’s new research about trees communicating between themselves and sending messages via that root network. You can plant a tree anywhere and within 100 years you’ll have an ‘old’ tree but ancient woodland is like virgin soil and extremely special. The soil under the trees is what makes it ancient. So that’s what ancient woodland means.
We were guaranteed that they weren’t going to chop trees down while the review was on. Ancient woodland now has extra protection because of a legal challenge by Chris Packham.
There’s over 100 ancient woodlands on the HS2 route.
HS2 are planning to do what they call ‘soil translocation’ at these sites which means that they’ll come in, chop trees down, scrape up the soil (which is carpeted with bluebells, anemones, wood sorrel, and other rare, precious and uniquely habituated wildlife) and dump it in the field next door, which isn’t in tree dappled shade; on completely different soil that has been farmed up until about 2 years ago, so its full of residual fertiliser and whatever else they have put in it in the last 50 years of farming.
There’s no evidence that trans location has ever worked.
And the trees will be cut down. And living in the trees are woodpeckers, bats, marsh tits, badger sets, blue tits, coal tits, nut hatches, tawny owls, bats to name but a few species. It’s not like they’ll chop the trees down and all this wildlife will just rush off to the next piece of ancient woodland because there isn’t really any other ancient woodland. Less than 2% of the country is ancient woodland and its all in little scrappy patches – and if you’re a mouse or a bat you can’t really skip from one bit to another.
In these days of being aware of climate change it just seems foolish to destroy one of the last bits of this unique habitat.
Up and down the line this is happening. There’s something like 33 sites of special scientific interest, 65 natural parks, a natural aquifer…
The HS2 Plans don’t make sense.
I am not an infrastructure or railway expert but up and down the country it would seem that we are in desperate need of commuter routes. People get the train to work for fairly short distances and they travel by train and bus. The trains are always over crowded, and they don’t run on time and people are being driven demented by disruption … so that’s what people actually need.
HS2 connects with Heathrow – Why? It doesn’t even connect with HS1
What they are doing – is to say “I know we’ll build a high speed line”. It starts in London and connects with Heathrow… How is that aligned with climate change strategy? And it doesn’t connect to HS1 which is the Channel Tunnel and Eurostar route. It starts at Euston which is half a mile from where that terminal is.
It starts in London and stops in Birmingham. So if you want to travel from London to Birmingham that’s wonderful. Although it doesn’t go to Birmingham New Street, it goes to Curzon Street. So it might be 20 mins faster on the line but if you want to transfer anywhere else you need to get a 10 minute bus or train to New Street which is where all the other bus and trains depart from. So you will have lost this supposed speed gain from taking a fast train.
What the country does need are links from East to West
London is like a star with all these lines radiating out of it. And everyone else is scuppered if they’re not on these lines… It’s really hard to do. If you want to go between any of those lines its really difficult. Especially if you don’t have a car.
How will HS2, that goes up and down the country, relieve road traffic that needs to go across the country from left to right? I am all for train travel. If you could link up to Eurostar from Northern England that would be amazing. That really wood encourage people.
There are old Victorian lines that don’t go through ancient woodlands and don’t go through housing estates. Why can’t they be redeveloped?
The line just seems to be pointless to me. I am told its to do with freight and if you put passengers on this new fast line that freight can go on the old line but that doesn’t make sense, because the stations on the old line are right in the middle of the city centres. And if you’re trying to unload containers why would you do that in city centres?
It’s being built by sub contractors sub contracting sub contractors
When it first came out, they spoke with the top of the range construction companies to get them to price it up, and the blue chip construction companies took one look at it and said no way! It cant be done. No thanks. Then they had to go to the next tier of companies and they also said no way. So now there is sub contractors sub contracting sub contractors, and in my opinion these are people who are just in it for the money
Because it has been sub, sub, sub contracted and everyone is taking their cut along the way, this has to be part of the reason that the costs are spiralling. I have heard it said through others that some of the people working on the project have said “well this is my retirement project. When I have done this I won’t have to work again”. Because they’re being paid blood money, because no one else will do. it.
Some of the HS2 workers I have come across at Cubbington Woods will cover their faces and not tell you their real names as they are ashamed of being associated with it.
Even though the review has recommended this goes ahead, they still have to pass a Notice to Proceed.
The review has taken place and the review has recommended (we think, although no one has seen it) that it is recommended that it still goes ahead but that the management has been poor. But they still have to pass (unless they change the laws about this) they still have to pass a notice to proceed.
The Notice to Proceed has to prove three things
1 Robustness of business case (which is based on 18 trains an hour in each direction, which is a train every 2 and a half minutes) going at 200 miles an hour. And all the trains must be full. Are there really that many people who want to get that train every 2 and half minutes and how will they physically get on the train every 2 and a half minutes.
2 Affordability – when they first planned it there was going to be £2.60 return on every £1 spent. Now its 60p return for every £1 spent.
3 Management capability – There isn’t yet a proper management procedure in place and there isn’t anyone left – they are already scraping the barrel to run HS2. They have had 29 directors. Who have all given up within months in the first 9 years of the project.
We will be there until the bitter end”.
Marys response to my question ‘How long will you occupy the camp at Cubbington Woods?’ So I guess that Brindley and I will just have to travel to this beautiful unspoilt location again when we want to see Mary.
And long may it remain unspoilt.
You can send a message of support to The Ancient Pear Tree
The Ancient pear tree at Cubbington Woods was awarded European tree of the year 2015 – its a champion pear tree. It’s between 250 and 300 years old. It is the second oldest wild pear tree in the country. Messages sent to the following address will reach the protectors of Cubbington Woods:
The Ancient Pear Tree
South Cubbington Woods
Photographs © Tisburylicious