Millions of trees at risk in secretive network rail felling programme environment the guardian 1 unit electricity cost in gujarat


Thousands of poplars, sycamores, limes, ash trees and horse chestnuts have already been chopped down across the country from Yorkshire to Dorset, and the scale of the potential destruction outlined in a Network Rail blueprint involves 10m trees growing within 60 metres of track.

[Network Rail, the public body that owns and manages much of Britain’s railway infrastructure, disputes that millions of trees are at risk, and that its felling operation is secretive or represents a change in practice. After publication of this article, the organisation’s head of media, Kevin Groves, said in an email: “We are not a logging company or a paper making company – we have no need or desire to remove all the trees from the railway. Our job is to run trains, and run them reliably and safely and to do so we have to manage our lineside vegetation carefully and responsibly and that’s exactly what we do.

[”We take advice from experts”, he went on, “to ensure our policies and standards are well balanced”. This enabled Network Rail “to both maintain and look after the trees on our estate, as well as remove dangerous ones and those minority of species that can cause reliability and safety problems in the autumn. Biodiversity matters to us.” See footnote.]

The company has created an aerial map of its 40,000 hectares of railway and identified “hotspots” where mature trees might cause a problem at an unspecified time in the future. Engineers are operating in a targeted felling programme that dwarfs the operation by Sheffield city council that was paused in the face of huge public protest and condemnation from the environment secretary, Michael Gove.

Ray Walton witnessed hundreds of trees being chopped down along the length of track between Christchurch and Bournemouth. “It was total mass destruction, they obliterated every tree,” he said. “These trees were mature 30-foot-high trees which have been there for 50 years in some cases and never caused a problem.

[Kevin Groves disputed that there had been a change: “Our lineside management policy and standards have not changed. We are not managing the lineside any differently today than we did last week, last month or last year. The tree census has enable us to be more targeted, eliminating needless clearance work enabling us to be more efficient and better at managing the lineside.”]

“I know they have to manage the trees, but this was excessive,” he said. “It looked like some kind of logging operation. I was sitting in the train and looking out at the countryside and all you could see was mile after mile of tree stumps and sawdust. They had felled trees which were a long way from the track. It was extreme.”

Network Rail admits the vast majority of the trees are healthy. It defended the felling, saying its new tree database of hotspot problem trees has “revolutionised” its approach to “vegetation management” to cut delays and risks to passengers from tree branches.

Dan Donovan, a senior spokesman for Network Rail, said: “Network Rail is a big, responsible, public company that takes its environmental obligations seriously. We manage our lineside to provide healthy biodiversity advised by experts in the field. We do remove trees that are, or could be dangerous, or impact on the reliability of services that serve over 4.5m people everyday.

On its website, it said the tree felling was part of its Orbis (Offering Rail Better Information Service) programme and was saving the taxpayer thousands of pounds in repair and clean-up costs and reducing the likelihood of a train colliding with a fallen tree or branch.

• This article was amended on 16 May to include remarks by Kevin Groves of Network Rail disputing that millions of trees are at risk, and that the felling operation is secretive or represents a change in practice. For clarity, a subsequent NR quote about biodiversity was attributed to its originator, Dan Donovan. A paragraph stating that Network Rail did not respond to a request for comment, and refused to reveal how many of the 10m trees identified along its lines have been earmarked for felling, has been corrected to make clear what the company did, and did not, say in response to questions.

• This article was amended on 1 and 3 May 2018. It was made clear that Sheffield city council’s tree-felling programme was paused rather than permanently halted. A reference to Network Rail doing its aerial mapping by drone has been deleted.