Monday, May 28, 2012

Whitstable protesters see off Network Rail

Congratulations to the protesters who have persuaded Network Rail to suspend work on clearing trees from an embankment near Whitstable in Kent.

As I discovered in 2003 when I researched and wrote an article for the Guardian about the clearance of the Wigston Triangle near Leicester, there is a good deal of local disquiet about the company's stewardship of the natural environment of railway land.

Nature is very forgiving: in the years since I wrote that article the Wigston Triangle has largely regenerated. But as this video from shows, Network Rail's approach can be brutal.


raiklwaygwyn said...

But if Network Rail is expected to leave all these trees in place can we have an end to "leaves on the line" criticism?

julie wassmer said...

I am Julie Wassmer, one of the women who chained themselves to the tree to prevent Network Rail beginning tree clearance work on the Cromwell Road embankment in Whitstable. This is not a 'leaved on the line' issue. If you take a look at the tree clearance at Grange Park in Enfield it goes back over 100ft from the lines. Another case that contacted our website last week was based in Rickmansworth in Herts where Network Rail has been destroying trees for 4 months, going back over 35 metres from the line. Even the contractors know that it's only necessary to go back 10 ft from the line for leaf management. This about something much more sinister - a clearance plan that, by Network Rail's own estimate will clear an area the size of the Forest of Dean in Glos. Here in Whitstable the company insisted there was an issue of safety relating to track instability caused by "tree roots sucking moisture from the soil creating instability" within the bank itself. It is the bird breeding season and the site is home to over 60 pairs of breeding birds, some of which are Red List (endangered) species. It is an offence to disturb nesting birds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 but yet Network Rail were insistent that the work would continue although told by the RSPB that nests, eggs and fledgelings would almost certainly be damaged or destroyed during the work. When we discovered that Network Rail had no special (Section 16) license to undertake this work as am emergency public safety issue we tried to stop them in every way, including undertaking a legal injunction as a prelude to a judicial review. But Network Rail has a strange status: they are a private company but in debt to the taxpayer to the tune of £24.5 billion and accountable to no-one, not even government. They come under the control of the Rail Regulator - but only for budget. This cannot be correct in a democracy so we decided that to exercise our right to peaceful protest in the glare of the media was the only way to push this company back. This is what we did - and we won a reprieve for the trees and the wildlife on this embankment. I suggest you read Hansard record of a debate on Network Rail's Tree Management Policy dated 3rd June 2003, also an article by Miles Kington entitled "Who's Afraid of a Few Leaves on the Line? You will see the wider picture - and what looks to be almost a hidden agenda for Network Rail. Regards, Julie Wassmer.

Anonymous said...

I can only add my voice to support the protestors. The daily commute into the city from Beckenham is starting to see such destruction which when I have written to the local MP and Network Rail referring to the Countryside & Wildlife Act (woods and streams have just been torn up and vandalised) their responses are unsatisfactory. The RSPB just said that sites have to be of SSI, but as Julie says there is protection throughout for nesting birds. I have now written to Boris Johnson, Jenny Jones etc and there is a similar protest group in Brockley as their area has been ravage with no consideration for the people whose houses back on to the railway either.