Campaigners are launching legal action against Natural England for issuing a licence to HS2 allowing it to "destroy" land at an ancient woodland in the Chilterns AONB.

Mark Keir on behalf of the Jones’ Hill Wood Earth Protectors has said the campaign group is set to launch a “landmark” legal case after HS2 was allowed to fell 0.7 hectares of land at Jones Hill Wood, near Wendover, as part of its construction works.

The area is home to the barbastelle bat, which is at risk of extinction, as well as a number of other protected species, such as noctule, brown long-eared, Natterers, common and soprano pipistrelle bat roosts, as well as ancient ecosystems

Lisa Foster, a partner at Richard Buxton Solicitors, which is bringing the case on behalf of the Jones’ Hill Wood Earth Protectors, said: “What we see now is a regulatory failure when the licence to fell an ancient woodland, known to contain protected species and accepted to have a rare barbastelle maternity roost, is given consent in the absence of clear evidence the mitigation is appropriate or will work.”

Jones Hill Wood is also said to have inspired Great Missenden author Roald Dahl to write Fantastic Mr Fox, and is one of 20 ancient woodlands across Bucks, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire totalling 19.45 hectares, that HS2 contractors are attempting to translocate.

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Translocation is the moving of woodland soils from one place to another in the hope that it will re-grow.

Rob Mileto, who has 30 years’ experience in ecological consultancy and is the principal consultant of EcoTech, said: “The compensation measures proposed for a barbastelle maternity roost are unproven. Natural England are taking an unwarranted leap of faith with one of Britain’s rarest bats.”

Bucks Free Press: Picture by Miles WalkerPicture by Miles Walker

A fundraising campaign to launch the legal challenge against Natural England raise £35,000.

The campaign group said: “Additionally, the mitigation at this stage includes the installation of bat boxes, which – incredibly – HS2 has installed in close proximity to heavy floodlights, which can threaten bats’ survival through entombment and starvation.”

Mr Keir says he is concerned that Natural England is “failing to take steps through rigorous compliance checks to ensure the mitigation is being done properly”.

He added: “During this time, a heartbreaking amount of this irreplaceable habitat has been destroyed and rare bats are put at risk.”

Bucks Free Press: Picture by Miles WalkerPicture by Miles Walker

Ms Foster said: “The real tragedy, and block to strong legal protection, is a weak regulator. Natural England has the powers to enforce the law and in our view for the reasons set out in the grounds of the claim, they have failed to do so in respect of Jones’ Hill Wood.

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“Without legal proceedings this licence decision sets the bar for derogations licences where there are important rare protected species like the barbastelle bat too low and will create a terrible precedent for future actions of HS2 and others.”

The BFP approached Natural England for comment.

Dave Slate, its director for wildlife licensing and enforcement cases, said: “We do not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.”