Network Rail Tree Clearance Programme

Network Rail tree clearance in North London. Coming to a track near you?
Network Rail tree clearance in North London. Coming to a track near you?

Network Rail are planning to rip up the trees along the line behind Cromwell Road in Whitstable, Kent.

The work was due to begin on Monday 16th April, but an aggressive campaign by residents forced the contractor to halt work temporarily. However, work continued on the opposite side of the track and further down the line and will recommence behind Cromwell Road sometime in August.

It seems they are ripping up trees along half the lines in England too. They are ripping up trees in Cheshire, in Bath, in Oxfordshire, in South Yorkshire, and in parts of London (see below for links). They are probably ripping up trees near to you even now. Network Rail's own consultants state that their clearance programme will "destroy an area the size of the Forest of Dean."

Something very strange is going on. According to the contractors, Capel Group, “Trees draw excessive moisture out of the embankment and cause issues relating to track quality.”

This is odd because that line, those trees and that embankment have been there for over a hundred years, and there’s never been any issues relating to track quality before. Residents were given less than 24 hours notification of the work and at a public meeting were only told why the work had to go ahead. There was no consultation, and no need, apparently for an Environmental Assessment to take place. The Public Works Act, under which Network Rail are operating, allows them to circumvent the normal processes of public consultation.

They are citing safety concerns as their excuse. How odd. I wonder how many people have been killed by falling rail side trees in the last hundred years? I would venture to suggest, very few, if any.

In some cases trees up to 100 ft from the line have been cleared.

Why do I hear the warning sound of cash tills going off in my head? As always it will have something to do with money.

This is the mark of how degenerate we have become as a civilisation. Railway lines are like wildlife corridors through the landscape. They are rich natural resources. They show that it is possible for nature and technology to live side by side. They mitigate the worst excesses of our age by allowing a place for nature to bloom and to thrive in the heart of our towns.

And now some unaccountable company thinks it’s ok to rip them up, to replace the infinite interdependency of nature with a dust-grey gravel desert for the sake of some measly blips on a computer screen.

Network Rail resides within a legal anomaly. It is a public company but it acts like a private company. It is publicly owned but not answerable to the public. Only the rail regulator has a say in its decisions. The company is in debt to the taxpayer to the tune of £24.5 billion, while its tree clearance programme is costing us £15 million per year.

The company states its commitments as:

  • Protecting Natural Resources
  • Exceeding the expectations of the public
  • Being recognised as a good corporate citizen
  • Improving the economic value of the existing railway

In reality, it seems, only the last of these commitments actually applies.

Anyone who has looked out at the scene on the high speed line to St. Pancras International will know what death looks like. It is a scene of concrete and gravel, with not a sign of a living thing from Ashford International to St Pancras, a distance of some 50 miles. That’s what the line behind Cromwell Road will look like soon, if Network Rail have their way. It’s what all the lines in England will look like.

And it’s a measure of the collective insanity of our age that this massacre is taking place during the nesting season, when Nature is at its most abundant, when the miracle of life is being unfolded, and the Mothers are nurturing their young.

Every creature has a heart. Every nest is a home. Every tree is a world. The pulse of the earth is your own heartbeat.

The worship of money is the worship of death. Let us stand up for life and put ourselves in the way of the devastation.

Contacts

Network Rail

Kings Place
90 York Way
London
N1 9AG

Switchboard: 020 7557 8000

Capel Group Ltd

SUITE 6
141-143 SOUTH ROAD
HAYWARDS HEATH
WEST SUSSEX
RH16 4LZ

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Comments 35 comments

DC Gallin 4 years ago

Looks like some kind of artificial job creation maybe? I remember the council painting over window frames that hadn't been cleaned and when I asked why the answer was: 'don't worry we're going to replace all these windows within the next 6 months...'


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

No, not job creation. Partly it will be to do with the leaves on the line issue, partly, I suspect, because some of the areas just off the line are ripe for development. They are "improving the economic value of the existing railway" as they state in their list of commitments.


Jon Elliott profile image

Jon Elliott 4 years ago

I used to be a trackman some time ago during the BR times and BR weren't this vicious towards the trees so i suspect it is about being a jobs worth creation scheeme by some company to justify its self. My brother was also an arborist working for one of these private companys and since privatization this kind of work has escalated so much so it does not make sense. im also trained in amenity horticulture and any horticultralist will tell you trees if left to themselves yes can undermine tracks perhaps as i,ve never seen it but also BINDS the soil on embankments especially as most people know when you take away rainforest etc the soil gets washed away.

really all the trees need is management not obliteration so i can't help but feel this is a capatalist project, the subcontrators for canterbury city council also go over the top i noticed when it comes to tree management as it was brought up in in a petition at last weeks council meeting


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Jon, partly it's down to the anomalous situation that Network Rail finds itself in. It is a publicly owned company, but it operates as a private company, while at the same time receiving subsidies from the taxpayer. There are probably several reasons why they are doing this, but one of them might have to do with accessing public funds for "works". Who knows? Whatever the reason, and whatever you want to call it, it points towards a culture of death and it shows how insane our world has become.


Jon Elliott profile image

Jon Elliott 4 years ago

I think it could also be that Network Rail is also under a lot of lobbying pressure from the subcontractors who do this kind of work a sort of conspiracy by the big contractors as it seems nationwide i think


dave w 4 years ago

That comment from the contractors: "Trees draw excessive moisture out of the embankment and cause issues relating to track quality,” sort of gives the game away in my view.

When BR was privatised, they broke up long-term directly employed maintenance crews who had the in-depth experience of dealing with track -- experience gained and passed on over years.

And they replaced it with the inevitable short-term contractors like these, who probably employ smaller short term contractors with far less knowledge and even less interest -- and main contractors who no longer have the in-depth knowledge or background in the work.

The result, is a "quick fix" like "get rid of the trees", which will probably prove to be a false economy.

In a few years time they'll probably discover that the banks are unstable because of uninterrupted run-off, as Jon Elliot above suggests, and then they'll decide they need massive doses of concrete to hold them up. Which of course causes flooding problems somewhere down the line, because it prevents groundwater draining away gradually.

and that's before you start thinking about loss of natural habitats, which very often serve a useful purpose.

hey ho.


Catherine 4 years ago

Trees have rights, too! This is part of the ecocide that's going on worldwide. Big oil and coal get a lot of press but the destruction of habitat and the insult to the natural environment are no less criminal acts. (Can you tell I'm mad yet?) Thanks, CJ, for putting this out on your blog.

If it's a publicly owned company why don't the trees belong to us, i.e., the public??? (Never mind; the answer is obvious.) So local opposition is the only way to prevent further damage?

Yes, I suspect 'development' may have quite a lot to do with it. They seem to think ripping up 'old' trees, placing their buildings, and planting puny little things to 'replace' the old ones is a proper environmental attitude. Pshaw! Whoever is behind this is an ignoramus! How can a four month old sapling do the work of a 100 year old mature tree? And that's only one element! I'll stop now — nobody likes reading lengthy comments, but really, this is agony!


noel rooney 4 years ago

Add to this the extraordinary arboricide around the Olympics build; trees are obstacles to the phoney notion of progress represented by spurious philosophies such as 'property development' and 'regeneration' ... knowledge of what trees do is unnecessary in this world view (such as preventing rain run-off onto tracks?) as it's puritanically urban ...


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Hello Dave, yes, hey ho indeed. I think you're right about the break up of the long-term maintenance crews and the consequent loss of expertise. This is where we are heading with all the privatisations, of course, towards increasing shoddiness and lack of accountability.

Thanks for your message Catherine, yes whoever is behind it is an ignoramus. I share your frustration. The irony was, the day I discovered this I had a leaflet through the door from the Woodland Trust saying that Britain is one of the least wooded countries in Europe, with only 2% woodland. Well it will be even less by the time Network Rail are done. But hopefully we can get a campaign going to halt this before it is all destroyed. I'm willing to sit in the trees myself, and I know a few other people who are.

Thanks Noel: how right you are. 'Property development' and 'regeneration' trump living things in this insane world. As I say in the piece, the worship of money is the worship of death.


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 4 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

Follow the Money.


kas 4 years ago

BRILLIANT article Chris......once again the barbarians are at the gates!...NO PASARAN!!!


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

This absolutely disgusts me! O love trees and wildlife and hate seeing what humans are doing to them! Voted up!


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Thanks for your comments everyone. Hopefully we can do something about this.


Lou Purplefairy profile image

Lou Purplefairy 4 years ago from Southwest UK

Chris, there is a very simple and valid reason why this is happening. Trees need forestry management or they cause a huge danger on the track because of their close proximity, which costs an enormous amount of money from the rail networks budget. Remove the trees, and you remove the cost of management, making it cheaper for rail companies to rent the track, passing on savings costs to passengers fare costs, increasing rail usage, decreasing car usage and controlling and monitoring how people travel around.It's a knock on effect, which I can see so easily. Its not some conspiracy, its good economic policy for those with financial interests in the rail industry and those with an interest in the surveillance industry, but not so good for those with an interest in trees and wildlife. I can understand the reasoning, but I do not agree with it. Its extremely shortsighted. Trees lining roads and rail networks act as pollution cleansers and are essential to keep the environment stable. Someone is thinking with their wallet and not their brain.

This has more to do with the reduction of independent travel, centralisation of populations with rail link networks connecting human habitation zones (areas that all humans will eventually be herded into t live) and more to do with the "sustainable development" and "agenda 21" plans than the interest of trees and wildlife.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Lou, I think dave w's comment above is the most relevant to what you say. It's partly due to the privatisation of BR. The loss of dedicated maintenance crews and the subcontracting of the work means that, economically, it makes more sense just to clear the lines than to practice proper management. I'm not saying it is a conspiracy (though the privatisation agenda itself has conspiratorial elements) I'm saying it is an indication of the degeneration of our culture that only money matters. As I say: the worship of money is the worship of death. I believe that.


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 4 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

Lou, if you think the rail companies will pass any savings on to passengers I have a bridge to sell you


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

That's how they'll put it Alex, though the real reason is "Improving the economic value of the existing railway" for future exploitation, as I'm sure you already know. The rest is just window dressing.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Thanks for this Jon. It's all very useful. I'll contact you when we need some help. I wonder if an interview with your Dad about what's happening would be helpful? Would he be interested do you think? C


Jon Elliott profile image

Jon Elliott 4 years ago

I've changed my mind on this sorry to disappoint everyone as i've been enlightened as to the reasoning network rail are doing this.

Because theirs more trains on the track especially here in the southeast and these trains are longer and heavier than the old slam door ones of BR days there is more pressure the track has to put up with from day to day.

and thus the Trees though they do bind the embankments the fact that they take a lot of moisture out of the soil at the same time can undermine the track and cause it to sag which as your probably guess could cause all kinds of havoc to happen which would be a shame as the train is more much more environmentally friendly and shifts more people faster than the old combustion engine though like Chris says i would not like to see the embankments reduced to miles and miles of concrete.

also theirs a danger of trees falling an to the track but this was taken care of any way during the BR days as well but if the contracters are taken away trees that are far away from the track then it would be stupid and suspicious as seen from Chris picture above. as i said before the companys do go over the top as i have seen in clowes wood near were i live were they cut down a big section of the wood making it look barren. i could go into this further but in the end i prefer the train to the car and i think the wild life will still use the railway as a highway


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 4 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

Jon: where did this information come from?

It sounds plausible but I would like to see facts and figures.

Surely vegetation would also help trap water in the soil


Jon Elliott profile image

Jon Elliott 4 years ago

I just found out their was a meeting on thursday between the residents and network rail so i can tell you Alex it wasn't network rail though, i feel a bit miffed now coz i wasn't told about this. Can't give facts and figures as i am not a geologist but its easy to understand that if you have one part of an embankment dry due to the trees and another wet a whole bank could sheer off from another bit and would be extremely dangerous.

Yes vegetation does trap the moisture but trees don't, my naibours house is a prime example, a previos tenant grew some very large trees near the house and the roots can be as long as the tree is high and what has happened is one part of the house has risen whist another bit has sunk and now all the internal doors can't close i'm told, in the end the council cut the trees down now if you apply this to the railway and times it by 10 say you'll know the result.

If the old BR was in control i think people would believe it but because private company's are involved and have agendas to suck up money we are suspicious obviously.

Its just sad that so many wonderful trees have to come down as we all love trees and so does the wildlife.

If only the government made the train more accessible by perhaps bringing it back into public ownership then i think a lot of us would aggree its a sacrifice worth having because the road has done so much more damage but people accept it because they like their own personal space

i don't like it being done during nesting season though, i don't see the logic in that.

Chris if You could contact me on FB we could meet down the pub and i will explain more to you


andy57 4 years ago

JON, please don't believe all you read or your told , in the vast amount of cases around this country NR will not tell people why the trees are being felled. Look at pictures on treesavers website. At grange Park N21 london NR strippedall trees bushs vegetation and grass back in some places 150ft from trackside . I think CJ's article is really excellent, the whole thing just stinks of short term cost cutting


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 4 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

I would recommend that everyone write to their MP and ask for legislation to require NR to transplant the trees they remove or plant two new trees for each one killed, and make sure they replace, elsewhere, the wildlife habitat they destroy. The numbers , and quality of replacement to be decided and assessed by an independent body. Also maybe put a petition on e-petitions.gov.uk (if I spent the site right)


Jon Elliott profile image

Jon Elliott 4 years ago

andy57 if you read i wrote earlier youred see that i don't agree with them going way over the top as to what is nessersery and i wonder do the subcontractors have some or even quite abit of influence over network rail. these private entity's i do feel go over the top as they answer to no one really and get our money none the less that's why i'd like to see BR back


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Jon, for a start there aren't more trains on the track than there were before. There's always been two an hour from Ramsgate to Victoria, so that's one part of the argument which doesn't hold up. As for the trains being longer and heavier, where's your evidence for this? As I remember, the old slam door trains were much longer. Some of the new trains are only three or four carriages long, and are they really any heavier than, say, the diesel trains which came before, or the steam trains which came before them? I think I would need to see the figures before I accepted your argument. Again, as dave W points out above, part of the problem is down to the loss of dedicated maintenance staff who had particular expertise in looking after the track, and their replacement with subcontractors who are only interested in doing the work as cheaply as possible. So on this point we are agreed. We would both like to see BR back.


Jon Elliott profile image

Jon Elliott 4 years ago

Chris you have not anallised the timetable correctly, the ones you have looked at are minus the dark blue high speed javalin trains that go to st pancras which ARE longer than many platforms i've experienced and i suspect over all are heavier than any steam or deisal train however you are right the regular trains are only 4 carriages long at whitstable but i don't know weather their made longer during peak times and saturdays your get your info on that from a man with the knolege you and i know who attends your regular

so you can add 1 or 2 more trains using whitstable to your tally which rises to six an hour at peak times, but your right i don't have facts and figures on the weights and needs of the different trains, you could add also that that the private contractors are making a extra mint from felling etra trees on the side and sellig it which would explain why they go over the top so often. being an arborist i'm told is very hard and heavey work and i know this, those contractors don't pay their hard working workers that well for the work they do.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Jon, the high speed trains stop at Faversham, so why are they cutting the trees in Cromwell Road? The trains ARE made longer during peak times, and are more frequent, but they always were. Why the change now? If there's a problem with the trees, the judicious removal of some of them might be appropriate, but this is total clearance. And no, it's not the contractors cutting a few extra trees to sell the wood. Network Rail have to give permission, so it has to be an NR decision. It will have nothing to do with the contractors. It has to be something else. Let's face it: a clean concreted embankment will be cheaper to maintain, and that - I suspect - is the real reason behind this work.


Jon Elliott profile image

Jon Elliott 4 years ago

Did they say they were going to cut down all the trees Chris if so then i stand corrected as my info on local lines like the whitstable one is that they leave a 1/3 of the trees left and bolster the bank with concrete piles to keep the soil from shifting, if this is not so i am behind you 100%.

I remember the the high speed train traveling through whitstable going towards london from ramsgate at least as of last year i think but they do stop at faversham coming from london as i've been on one recently.

we should consult the train spotter as he knows more on this than you and me put together down your local.

I know you may think me an idiot but i'm just trying to put some perspective on this debate.

Theirs also the problem that if a tree fell down the bank or their was a land slide into peoples on to peoples property as well as it being really dangerous for passengers and staff network rail would be liable for prosecution and possibly corporate manslaugter if it ever occurred, don't know how the law stands on this presently though.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Jon, take a look at that picture at the top of the page. That was taken in North London. Does that look like 1/3 of the trees left? Yes, I've seen the high speed train going through Whitstable too, but it isn't regular as far as I can make out. As for the trees falling down the bank, or the danger of a landslide, again, so why has this become an issue now all of a sudden? Those embankments have been there since the century before last, so what has changed which means they have to strip half of the banks in half of the country right now? I don't think your train spotter friend is privy to this information.


Jon Elliott profile image

Jon Elliott 4 years ago

Ah Chris i did make reference to your picture 2 days ago on your blog when i say that i've changed my mind.

Chris why don't you want to talk to me as i've massaged you on FB about meeting you at your local then i could possibly explain things and then you're find out who the train spotter is as he knows about the trains not about the track and embankments that is what i was trying to get at.

I don't know weather you live down cromwell road but it does seem like you might do as you seem to have closed your hears to what i'm saying, i know the gazette doesn't have much opinion of me but does that mean you have to look at me in the same way as they do.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Don't be silly Jon. I've disabled my notifications from facebook as they were clogging up my inbox, so haven't seen any messages from you. I'll take a look and reply now. I don't know what the Gazette might think of you, but if it is negative in any way, I certainly don't share it.


Heleno 4 years ago

You can read more about the destruction of hundreds of mature trees across an area which reaches way beyond the embankment here, using this link http://n21online.com/campaigns/network-rail-campai...

how can Network Rail be stopped from committing further chainsaw massacres?


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Thanks Heleno, I'll put that link in with the others.


JKenny profile image

JKenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

Interesting article. I wonder if all of this disgusting tree clearing has anything to do with the new HS2 railway. Perhaps, they're already making preparations for its construction. Where I live (just south of Birmingham) we have a double whammy, because not only am I seeing tress being cleared left, right and centre but Birmingham airport is extending its southern runway, so that means more precious wildlife habitat destroyed.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 4 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Thanks JKenny. I'd be interested to see what they're doing around the airport as I used to live in Marston Green. The tree clearance programme around Whitstable has nothing to do with HS2 as it is a local line. Thanks for your comment, and nice to meet you.

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