Fri, 08 Jun 2018
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.”