1129 GMT January 18, 2019
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 meters of track, telegraph.co.uk reported.
The company has used drones to create 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 program that dwarfs the operation by Sheffield city council that was halted in the face of huge public protest and condemnation from the environment secretary, Michael Gove.
Over the last fortnight, people around the country have woken to the sound of chainsaws and expressed concern at the lack of consultation and the scale of the destruction.
In one incident, police in Bournemouth were called by residents to complain that engineers were operating illegally as the felling is taking place during the nesting season.
At one west London station this week, an engineer felling five mature trees said they were carrying out a ‘pre-emptive strike’ in case branches or leaves fell on the line in future.
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.
“This went far beyond reasonable management of the trees. They took them all out, and destroyed the habitat for wildlife.”
Network Rail boasts of the green corridor along its tracks as a haven for wildlife, but in London, Dorset, the Midlands and Yorkshire thousands of trees and the vegetation beneath them are being cleared, leaving habitats devastated.
James Graham, from Manchester, said he saw thousands of trees being felled last week along a 10-mile section of the trans-Pennine route from Manchester to Leeds.
“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.”
In Sutton Coldfield, teams working for Network Rail have been felling hundreds of trackside trees. Elsewhere in the country, tree surgeons working for the rail firm are engaged in mass felling.
Network Rail admitted the vast majority of the trees are healthy. It defended the felling, saying its new tree database of hotspot problem trees has ‘revolutionized’ its approach to ‘vegetation management’ to cut delays and risks to passengers from tree branches.
The company said the average tree had between 10 and 50,000 leaves, any or all of which could fall on the line.
The timing has caused increased outrage because it is taking place during nesting season — between March and August — despite promises by Network Rail that no felling would take place when birds are nesting.