As Zoological Director of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), I am involved in projects to help protect, preserve and promote the conservation of animals all over the world, and here at ZSL, we act as a voice for many of these creatures.
Right now, I’m giving a voice to a local resident, one who is in desperate need of our help; the British hedgehog.
We have worked with the Royal Parks Foundation, alongside independent hedgehog experts over the past two years, to conduct surveys of Regent’s Park in order to gather information about the size, health and behaviour of the population of hedgehogs living within the Park boundaries.
The surveys highlighted that the only population of hedgehogs in central London resides in Regent’s Park, with experts identifying two distinct groups within that population – the most significant and healthy of which is living inside the Zoo’s Gloucester Slips car park.
HS2 – the Government’s planned high-speed rail line from London Euston to the Midlands – want to use the car park as a holding base for their lorries for the duration of the rail line construction works.
As you may be aware, we submitted a petition to the HS2 Select Committee of the House of Commons against this proposed use of our car park, on the basis that we believe that any disruption to the hedgehogs poses too great a risk to their survival.
We know that the hedgehogs are sensitive creatures, and we know that they are fussy about their homes, but most importantly, we know that we don’t yet know enough about them.
With so many unknowns, we’re simply not prepared to risk their survival.
Following the submission of our petition, we were invited to a Select Committee hearing, where we raised our key concerns to the forum – namely, what will HS2 do to protect central London’s last remaining hedgehog population?
We were advised by the Select Committee to liaise further with HS2, who committed to exploring mitigation measures to counteract their negative impacts on the hedgehogs’ habitat.
This week, we, along with representatives from Royal Parks, the Royal Parks Foundation, and hedgehog experts, invited HS2 and their ecologists to a meeting at ZSL London Zoo to present their proposed mitigation measures.
Firstly, we visited the site to ensure everyone was clear about the locations, space and changes to the site. We then heard from HS2 about the extensive work that needs to be undertaken to re-route a water pipe, before moving on to hear more about their proposed hoarded lorry parking site.
With up to 80 lorries anticipated to use the car park in a single day and some vehicles also arriving throughout the night, we were expecting HS2 to have identified the risks posed by constructing and operating the lorry holding area, the actions HS2 would propose to take to counteract them and evidence supporting these mitigation actions.
Disappointingly, HS2 did no such thing.
HS2 said that they continue to hold the view that the lorry holding area will pose no risk to the hedgehog population, and as such had not considered mitigation measures.
HS2 provided no evidence to back up their view. The ecological risk assessment they conducted was incomplete, inadequate and out of date. They could not tell us if they had fully-explored the use of alternative locations, especially once evidence of the hedgehog population had been presented to them.
All HS2 offered was to replicate some of the hedgehog conservation activities already conducted by Royal Parks, the Royal Parks Foundation and ZSL – much of which may be unnecessary as we believe we are doing everything we can to manage the sites for the benefit of the hedgehogs.
With HS2 refusing to acknowledge the risk posed to the hedgehogs, they were unable to convince us that any mitigation measures would be enough.
HS2 are now going to consider the risks to the hedgehogs and their habitat and present this to us in a new mitigation proposal, identifying relevant evidence.
We’ll continue to consider our next steps, and continue to use our voice for the hedgehogs.
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