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DfT launches review as Network Rail told to stop axing trees this season

The government has launched a review of Network Rail’s tree-cutting and vegetation management in light of reports that the infrastructure owner was planning to axe millions of trees in an effort to prevent leaves falling on lines.

Meanwhile, rail minister Jo Johnson asked the organisation to suspend all felling during the current bird nesting season, except in cases where it’s safety critical.

Johnson’s review will consider how the infrastructure manager can best ensure the safety of railways while also protecting wildlife and preserving trees, as well as look to build on areas of existing best practice in vegetation management within the organisation.

It will also analyse whether Network Rail has the capacity and capability to manage vegetation in a way that minimises harm to wildlife, which may include providing more staff training – for example, in identifying approaches that would be better than felling.

The DfT consulted with the Tree Council and the RSPB in launching the investigation, whose findings will be reported back to the minister in the summer.

“It is right that Network Rail are able to remove trees that could be dangerous, or impact on the reliability of services. In the last year, vegetation management and related incidents have cost the railway £100m,” said Johnson.

“But I also understand that cutting back trees can alarm people who enjoy these environments – and can especially raise concerns over the effect on birds during nesting season.”

Network Rail, the fourth largest landowner in the UK, has reportedly made “significant progress” in the past four years in improving how it manages trees alongside tracks. But last year, there were around 1,500 incidents involving trees and bad weather that unleashed considerable disruption to passengers.

Despite this, wildlife charities have voiced concerns over what national media branded “secretive” plans to chop down trees along ‘hotpots’ across the network.


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