Chris Packham has joined forces with Dame Emma Thompson and Annie Lennox to warn of the “environmental disaster” they say will be caused by the HS2 rail line.
The Springwatch host has launched a short Christmas film called Stand For The Trees, which calls for HS2 to be scrapped and for the protection of 108 ancient woodlands along the line’s proposed route.
The film, directed by Ornette Spenceley, features music by Scottish singer Lennox and a voice-over by Bafta-winning actress Dame Emma.
Set in Jones Hill Wood, the woodlands which inspired Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, it follows an eight-year-old boy who encounters HS2 workers clearing trees close to his home.
He decides to decorate one of the area’s ancient trees with a robin from his own Christmas tree, and soon the local community has followed suit and transformed the tree with their decorations.
Packham told the PA news agency: “The project is in no uncertain terms an environmental disaster across many parts of that spectrum.
“Please don’t think that we are saying we don’t want significant investment in different means of transport – we do. But this isn’t it.”
The environmental campaigner said endangered bats, butterflies and barn owls were facing what could be their “last Christmas” if the project is given the green light.
He said: “If this project gets the go ahead, and I sincerely hope that it doesn’t for so many reasons, you can expect ferocious public opposition to it, and I will be happy to lead that from the environmental perspective.”
Packham and Dame Emma have worked closely with Extinction Rebellion, with both taking part in April’s climate change protests in central London.
Packham said the UK was in a worse position in terms of the environment following Boris Johnson’s landslide win in the General Election.
“Yeah, I think we probably are,” he said.
“To be quite honest, I wasn’t terribly impressed with any of the parties’ policies. Some were better than others. There was no doubt about that.
“But ultimately this was an election that was entirely driven by Brexit, and of course Brexit is important – it has an impact of our lives, on our children’s lives. I am not denying that. It’s importance is significantly overshadowed by the problems we face with the environment.”
However, he said a Labour victory would have been only marginally better.
He added: “Equally, had we got a Labour government at the moment we would still have a fight on our hands because their plan was to progress with HS2.
“I just think we have a bigger and broader one because we have got a Conservative government.”
Annie Lennox, who has supported the film with an acoustic version of her song Why, produced by Mike Stevens, said: “I’m honoured to support this campaign with my song Why, which is the question we must all ask ourselves in a time of climate and ecological emergency.
“Why do we continue to destroy nature… our precious life support system? Ancient woodlands have stood for hundreds of years and evolved to support whole eco-systems of their own.
“Destroying these irreplaceable trees is equivalent to demolishing National Trust properties to make way for shopping malls. That’s why I’m standing for the trees.”
Dame Emma said: “HS2 is and has always been an overpriced white elephant.
“Ours is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, so when we create new train lines they must avoid irreplaceable ancient woodlands. Nothing else makes sense. It’s time to stand for the trees.”
An HS2 spokesman responded: “Of the 52,000 ancient woodland sites in England, only 43 will be affected by HS2’s route between London and Crewe, and over 80% of the total area of these 43 will remain intact and untouched by HS2.
“By creating more space for more trains, HS2 will take hundreds of thousands of cars and lorries off the roads and massively reduce the need for internal flights. This will make roads safer, improve air quality and help reduce carbon emissions, making HS2 an essential part of Britain’s drive for net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”
Lennox, Packham and Dame Emma are joined by a number of environmental organisations in demanding a rethink of HS2 to save over 100 ancient woodlands.
The film supports the #ReThinkHS2 campaign of leading environmental organisations including Client Earth, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, The Ramblers, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, The Woodland Trust and WWF.
More information is at www.standforthetrees.org and #ReThinkHS2.