Statement on Network Rail’s removal of trees in Stamford Hill
In March 2021, Network Rail carried out vegetation management works along Hackney’s East and West Bank Nature Reserve due to the health and safety risks presented by autumn leaf fall. They cut down line-side trees and other vegetation. The works were large-scale and conducted without prior consultation or advance warning given to residents.
The works raised particular concern as they were undertaken during the primary bird nesting season and in a conservation area. Network Rail contractors also used glyphosate eco-plugs, which are attached to the tree roots to prevent regrowth. This is a chemical which causes harm to biodiversity and which Hackney Council has worked hard to drastically reduce its use of.
In a joint letter, Mayor Glanville, Councillor Woodley and Diane Abbott MP outlined their concerns about how Network Rail had treated nature and local residents. They agreed to meet Network Rail in August to discuss the issue in more detail.
Officers from Network Rail acknowledged that, given the extent of the works, the lack of community engagement was unacceptable. As custodians of a significant amount of land, they also recognised there is more they can do to protect nature and enhance biodiversity.
Network Rail advised attendees that they had taken steps to mitigate the disruption this work caused to local wildlife. This included:
- Conducting an ecological survey before the works took place verifying that there were no sensitive species in the area
- Having trained officers identify trees with nesting birds to ensure these were protected
- Designing a replanting scheme which will commence in the autumn/winter period to replace the biodiversity lost. Species replanted will present less risk to the rail lines, meaning there will be less need for the clearing of vegetation in the future.
In the meeting, Network Rail committed to improving its communication with local communities before carrying out this kind of work and promised to work in partnership with Hackney Council to ensure that the events in April are not repeated in the future.
Through a closer working relationship with Hackney Council, Network Rail hopes to utilise the Council’s knowledge and expertise of biodiversity in Hackney to protect and encourage environmental health. Hackney Council hopes to facilitate better relationships between Network Rail and the local community to strengthen the community’s voice and input into the management of biodiversity and nature in the Borough. Together the organisations will be exploring ways to further improve biodiversity, including community planting schemes.
Hackney Council is at the forefront of protecting the environment and promoting biodiversity. In the past few years, it has planted 2,500 new street trees, a new edible forest of 6,500 fruit and nut trees, and a Carbon-offsetting woodland of 3,500 trees. Hackney plans to plant a further 2,500 trees on our streets next planting season, and will plant a total of 35,000 trees across the borough by the end of 2022. The Council is also working on a Green Infrastructure Strategy to achieve biodiversity net-gain locally.
Last Year, Network Rail published their Biodiversity Action Plan. This includes a pledge to achieve no-net biodiversity loss on their land by 2024 and to improve the biodiversity of their land by 2035.
We were disappointed by the actions of Network Rail last April, which removed trees and vegetation alongside an important local nature reserve, a highly valued and important green corridor within a heavily built-up area. In Hackney, we take great pride in protecting our environment and we and our residents greatly value our beautiful green spaces, which play an important role in promoting biodiversity.
We’re grateful to our local MP Diane Abbott and Network Rail for meeting with us and for being open to identifying a way forward. We were pleased to hear Network Rail accept that their community engagement was not good enough and their commitment to ensure this will not happen again. We look forward to working closely with Network Rail towards our ambition of a greener Hackney with thriving levels of biodiversity. It is essential that our residents are a part of this effort and that community voices are central to any decisions made.
People in Hackney value their green spaces, wildlife and biodiversity. So, it was a great pity that there was such damage from these works. However, we are assured by Network Rail that both consultation and implementation will be much better in future, and we will be holding them to that commitment.
I know residents of Hackney feel strongly about protecting the natural environment in their borough. We’re the custodians of a number of green spaces in the area that are much valued by the community and support local wildlife.
Earlier this year we had to remove vegetation from some of these areas. Unfortunately, it had grown to the extent that it posed a safety risk to passengers and those working on the railway. We normally tell our neighbours about this kind of work before we begin, but in this case we didn’t nor did we explain why we were doing it, or how we’d mitigate against its impact. This was wrong and caused a lot of upset for which I’m sorry. I’m pleased we’ll be working with the Council and the local community to put this right and I’m looking forward to exploring ways we can further promote biodiversity in Hackney.