A woman from Great Missenden has saved over 80 ancient trees from felling for the HS2 railway line – after learning they were home to a rare bat species.

Carol-Anne O’Callaghan first spotted the marks left by high-speed railway workers on trees near her rented farmhouse on Leather Lane back in 2021.

After realising that the trees earmarked for the chop were home to a rare bat species, she began tirelessly campaigning to protect them from being felled for the HS2 route.

In the three years since Carol-Anne launched her campaign, no veteran oak trees – apart from those removed for the track and haul road – have been felled in the area, leaving a “green corridor” amidst the barren land.

She estimates that “at least” 80 trees in total have been saved from the chop.

One in particular holds a special place in her heart – a tree she has named Illona, which stands alone next to the HS2 route.

Carol-Anne said: “I chose the name Illona not only because it personifies her as standing alone, but also because in Finnish it means ‘as a joy to someone’.

“She is my beloved Illona, a majestic oak that proudly stands at the top of a hill, overlooking the valley beyond.”

Bucks Free Press:

She said she had never taken part in any active campaigning before and had “no idea” about the impact HS2 construction was having on the environment before spotting the yellow dots on trees near her rental home. 

“I knew HS2 had been an enormous expenditure, but I am now ashamed to say that I was one of many who didn’t get the nature of the devastation that came with that – it’s the mindset of ‘it’s not on my doorstep, (so) I don’t need to know’.

“(But) I just knew that to take (away) 100 oak trees was wrong. I couldn’t sit by and watch it happen.”

Bucks Free Press:

READ MORE: Chesham Bois: Man to build sauna, ice bath and office in back garden

After spotting the dots, she called HS2, who explained that they were in the process of preparing the groundwork for a track line and were clearing ‘vegetation’ in the area.

However, Carol-Anne then learned of plans to chop down all the trees along the row to install a new two-lane road and overbridge over the high-speed train track and replace the existing lane.

After a neighbour told her about a rare bat species living in the ancient oaks, she recruited fellow residents to set up the Leather Lane Conservation Group (LLCG) in the hopes of boosting attention to the cause.

Over £40,000 raised through an online fundraiser went towards hiring a lawyer, an engineer and an ecologist to force HS2 to stop felling trees in the area - a mission in which they were ultimately triumphant.

Bucks Free Press:

In September 2023, it was announced that the construction group Align would take over work in Leather Lane from the high-speed rail company.

Carol-Anne said: “The first thing Align have done is to engage with LLCG as well as the parish councils and Buckinghamshire Council.

“Our heads have come together – it’s a joining of ideas and forces which shows collaboration in a cooperative way – being inclusive and talking to everyone. It’s a win-win situation.”

With support from local MP Sarah Green as well as the Chiltern Conservation Board and the Woodland Trust, the grassroots campaign has been able to work with Align on their aims to protect the rare bat species and veteran oak trees.

Bucks Free Press:

Carol-Anne and the team are now aiming to turn the LLCG into a registered charity and transform the remaining green spaces on Leather Lane into a conservation area for plants and wildlife.

A spokesperson for HS2 said: “HS2 is delivering 33 square kilometres of new wildlife habitat along the railway, including over seven million trees and shrubs.

“At Leather Lane, we are looking at a number of options for how to take the road over the cutting which will carry the railway north from the Chiltern tunnel towards Wendover.

“The design work is based on extensive surveys of the local bat population carried out over more than two years.”