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Network Rail heavily criticised for tree felling in Newbury

Infrastructure giant has gone ahead with the work despite it being the bird nesting season

Fiona Tomas

Fiona Tomas


01635 886639

Network Rail heavily criticised for tree felling in Newbury

RESIDENTS have accused Network Rail of causing “utter decimation” after it began fellingtrees along stretches of Newbury’s railway line this week.

Those living near the railway track have vented their anger after the company’s operators began the noisy work on Saturday. 

Workers are said to have spent the week clearing vegetation through the night with heavy machinery, starting from 7pm and finishing at 7am.

It is the first of four vegetation clearing phases set for this summer – with work continuing until August – and isn’t expected to be completed until March 31, 2019.

Residents woke up to find trees and vegetation stripped eight metres from the railway track or to the boundary fence – despite it being the middle of the bird nesting season.

The destruction comes after rail minister Jo Johnson launched a review into Network Rail’s tree-cutting and vegetation management last month.

The company has been asked to suspend all felling during the current bird nesting season, which officially runs from February until August, except where the need is safety-critical.

But on May 22, Network Rail wrote to West Berkshire residents living near the line to notify them of a “controlled programme of tree and vegetation management” on the railway track from Newbury to Wiltshire. 

Network Rail – the fourth largest landowner in the UK – said that ecological surveys would be carried out prior to the scheduled work commencing, but did not stipulate what these would be.

One resident, Andy Cantwell, who lives in Westgate Road, Newbury, said he was unaware of the results of any ecological surveys Network Rail endeavoured to carry out prior to commencing the work.

He even feared at one point that operators were going to fell trees right up to the back of his garden, which lies in very close proximity to the track.

A Network Rail spokesman said: “In relation to the vegetation management currently ongoing in the Newbury and Hungerford areas, all the necessary ecological and environmental studies were carried out prior to the commencement of the work.

“There are daily checks for nesting birds and should any be discovered, an exclusion zone is enforced to ensure that the birds and their nests are protected and not disturbed.”

The company also said it receives advice from partners such as Natural England and Woodland Trust when planning vegetation management work.

But another Westgate Road resident, Richard McLellan, criticised the rail operator for the “minimal” information it had provided to residents and said the felling had a detrimental effect on scenery surrounding his house.  

Mr McLellan had recently installed cabriole balconies in the upstairs of his property, which provided stunning views of the surrounding vegetation and the variety of flora which he knew to inhabit the area.  

He said: “We have lost beautiful trees which provided privacy and noise reduction – we had lovely scenery before.

“Now there are houses which can see right into my garden.

“It has been very distressing for me and my wife.”

One resident in Bone Mill Lane said he could see the other side of the railway line for the first time in 18 years living at his property, decrying it as “utter decimation”.

Last year, Network Rail recorded more than 400 incidents of trains colliding with fallen trees.

Another 1,000 caused delays to services, costing the industry more than £100m.

The Network Rail spokesperson continued: “We do not have a national tree felling programme and we certainly do not have any plans to cut down all of the trees on our estate.”

But former Guardian journalist and Newbury Green Party agent David Marsh condemned the felling, which he suspected was the cheapest and easiest option.

He said: “There’s a sense that action hasn’t been proportionate to the problem.

“It’s clear that this has been a very heavy-handed policy.

“They are working in the dark and they are keeping everyone in the dark about this.

“It’s ridiculous to say how they are looking for birds and nests.

“But this isn’t just about birds and wildlife – it’s about trees themselves.

“We need them to reduce pollution and to improve air quality.”

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Article comments

  • JPatStarsmead

    19/06/2018 - 10:10

    This is a glaring example of how callous and uncarinmg Network Rail are over anything they wish to do but which runs contrary to the interests of other people or wildlife. Tree felling at the height of the nesting season is an appalling travesty. farmers don't trim hedges then for a very good reason... it kills baby birds before they can leave the nest. As for damage to protected wildlife (bats for example)... it is actually ILLEGAL to be doing this work during the breeding season and every instance of this law being broken renders Ntework Rail liable to a heavy fine. Let us see the law obeyed in this ! There is not one law for us and another for Network Rail... these corporate thugs are NOT above the law. They must STOP felling trees at this time of year.


  • rollingpinboy

    16/06/2018 - 02:02

    ...also, ask where the larger felled trees are going and being used for! Biomass wood burning power plants in the UK. Also they are also doing this to make way for the new 5G microwave phone signal rolling out all across the UK and on the railways in 2020. Trees and leaves 'block' the new signal and won't work as good as the 3G and 4G signal...It is completely different. Network Rail 5G - 'Ministers now looking at “future proofing” rail connectivity to help pave the way for a 5G rollout'.


  • rollingpinboy

    16/06/2018 - 02:02

    You need to ask Network Rail via the 'Freedom of Information Act' for copies of the bird, bat and wildlife environmental Impact assessments and preliminary appraisals carried out beforehand and 'on the day' of the tree and vegetation removal whilst birds would be nesting and wildlife breeding.... before the tree felling took place. You will probably find that the appraisals (if any) were done in the winter months or in 2017 and are well out of date of spring and summer nesting and breeding months. The bat assessments have to carried out in the summer...not winter..Pursue them and don't let up. Network Rail are blatantly ignoring the Government calls to stop it and are already under investigation.


  • zmjrc

    09/06/2018 - 11:11

    Former Guardian journalist and Green Party member talking total nonsense- quelle surprise. No doubt people of the same ilk will be moaning in Autumn/Winter when there are delays and cancellations due to leaves on the line and trees falling on the railway. It is not NR's job to provide a habitat for wildlife or to provide a screen from the railway for residents. Ultimately, if you don't want to see/hear the railway, don't buy a house near the railway- it's been there a lot longer than you have.


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