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Trackside in Grantham 'like Hiroshima' after 'extensive' felling of trees

A conservation charity has hit out at Network Rail over “excessive” clearances of trees and other vegetation trackside in Grantham.

The concerns made clear by Grantham-based Woodland Trust were echoed recently by MP Sir John Hayes, who likened the barren scene to “Hiroshima after the war”.

Network Rail came under fire in March this year when it cut down scores of mature trees next to the railway bridge in North Parade.

Grantham trackside (13682828)
Grantham trackside (13682828)

The felling of the trees prompted a number of complaints including a strongly worded letter from a local member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who described it as “tree carnage”.

Now, the Woodland Trust has spoken out, criticising the destruction of vegetation in Grantham.

Oliver Newham, lead external affairs officer for the charity, said: “The Woodland Trust is very concerned by reports from both staff and supporters of excessive lineside clearances of trees and other vegetation in the Grantham area.

Grantham trackside (13682834)
Grantham trackside (13682834)

“That [Network Rail] must make the line safe is not in dispute, but it is essential that such work is done in a proportionate way, one that treats the natural environment as an asset, not an inconvenience.

“We have been shown evidence of line clearances that have occurred substantial distances away from the rail lines, with areas left barren and this compounded by stump treating, to prevent regrowth. This will be particularly impactful to wildlife that rely on this habitat as a green corridor, such as bats, birds and other small mammals.

“We are not aware of any proposal to replace the trees removed on for instance another part of the network rail estate. This is of concern to us as well as on top of the canopy cover loss, trees in Network Rail’s ownership are important carbon stores, with the company having a valuable role to play if government is to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”

Grantham trackside (13682838)
Grantham trackside (13682838)

Voicing his concerns recently over the loss of trackside trees was Sir John Hayes, the MP for South Holland and the Deepings.

He has called for a meeting with Environment Secretary Michael Gove over the destruction of trees ‘on an industrial scale’ along the country’s rail tracks.

He says that pictures of empty space alongside Network Rail’s tracks could resemble “Hiroshima”.

Raising the issue in parliament, the MP said: “That we plant trees for those born later seems lost on the denizens of Network Rail who continue, despite a very good independent report, to destroy trees and ​shrubs trackside on an industrial scale, including in places such as Grantham.

“This is certainly unethical and much of it, given the effect on protected wildlife, illegal. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement by ministers to say how this decimation and destruction can be brought to an end before all that is bright and beautiful is made dark and ugly by the brutal bureaucrats of Network Rail?”

The John Varley review last year delivered recommendations for lineside vegetation management by Network Rail - but critics say that the organisation has not taken these on board.

Olivia added: “We have also been informed by neighbouring residents that they were not informed about the works taking place and that they have had no opportunity to influence outcomes. This is troubling, as the Varley Review (in to how Network Rail manages lineside habitats) was clear that communications should be improved.

“Trees are vitally important, not only for the neighbours who live along the railway, but also for the aesthetics. People in Lincolnshire do not want to go through a blank canvas, but see the best of Britain.”

Network Rail said the work it has undertaken was necessary to improve safety.

A spokesperson said: “Network Rail is constantly balancing the needs of the environment and its lineside neighbours with the needs and safety of the 4.8m people who use and rely on our railway every day.

“Each year we record hundreds of incidents of trains colliding with fallen trees and still more where they caused delays to services, costing millions of pounds.

“As a result, we have well thought out standards and policies in place that have been developed with the help of experts over many years that we believe strike the right balance and maintain a safe and biodiverse line side.

“We are also developing standards that will see vegetation on our lineside estate managed as an asset.

“This will see the business make better use of environmental data to improve net biodiversity on the railway and contribute to the Government’s targets on habitat and woodland creation.”

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