Residents campaign against tree clearance along West Brockley railway line

Scorched earth policy: tree cover has been removed from back gardens

Residents in West Brockley have launched a protest campaign against tree clearance by Network Rail along the railway line behind Avignon and Aspinall Roads.

Reader Oli explains:

Network Rail appear to be currently on a tree-cutting mission country-wide, and it's most recent victims have been the residents living alongside the railways in Brockley. I live on Aspinall Road and all the trees that previously ran along side the railway at the back of our garden have all been cut down.

We got a handposted note from Railtrack's contractors warning there would be some night work involving 'tidying-up railside vegetation', but it actually turned out to be whole sale mature tree cutting down.

Another member of the community, Maria Gonzalez, posted a note through our letterboxes this week summarising the situation better than I can:


a) We have lost our privacy: now we can see the properties on the other side of the railway and every passing train allows passengers to look straight into our bedrooms.

b) We are being disturbed by increased vibration/noise pollution coming from the trains.

c) We are distressed by this pointless annilation of nature. The new view from our windows is an awful scene of destruction and devastation. Additionally, there are more foxes on the street around us as they have lost their homes.

d) We are unhappy that residents had not been properly consulted. What's more, a 'round-robin' letter was delivered which explained that some vegetation was going to be removed. This seems deceptive when in the end all the trees along the line have been chopped down.

e) Our houses have been devalued.

All the above will be exacerbated when the Thameslink upgrade kicks in with the proposed increase in trains.

The contractors [have told me] that they were clearing all vegetation within 5 metres of the running rail. By law, they are allowed to do this up to 10 metres, with the exception of conservation area where the 5 metre limit is the maximum. They said that where there were residential properties they tried to adhere to 5 meteres even if it was not a conservation area.

With regards regrowth, they siad that the tree stumps had been treated with a substance that prevents regrowth. Therefore the current trees won't grow back. They have tried to leave a screen of vegetation where possible, but that won't help us with the view, especially from the first floor.

1) Other neighbours have been in touch with Lewisham Council. Are you one of them? We need to join forces

2) Gather photographic evidence of the trees cut. It would be helpful if you had a photo of how it looked before and how it looks now

3) Get in touch with Lewisham Council to complain

4) Complain to Network Rail - tel 08457 114 141. Ask for a reference number

5) Get in touch with Joan Ruddock, our MP. Her website is: http://www.joanruddock.org/ It'll be good to make her aware of our concerns and also our councillor Chris Flood (Socialist Party), and the Lewisham Green Party.

ANY OTHER IDEAS? WANT TO GET INVOLVED?
Please contact Maria by email: m_gonzalezrey@yahoo.co.uk


Oli adds:

We're cracking on with the campaign - Joan Ruddock MP is going to contact Network Rail and questions will be asked at the mayoral question time.

It would be great if you could post a quick thing on Brockley Central to see if anyone else was affected and would like to add their name to our petition.

The view from Oli's window (above) looks like clear-cutting in the Amazon and although we're not sure what can be done, we wish them well with their action.

66 comments:

Monkeyboy said...

I can only assume they believe they have an Engineering case for removing them? Some kind of Environmental assessment and justification would have to be made I'm sure. No reason why you shouldn't demand to see that assessment.

The Cat Man said...

This is just truely amazing...

..talk about 'pr' exercise turning into blatent lies - i mean, 'tidy-ing' up?

network rail needs a good slap in the face, how dare they.

nobbly brick said...

"every passing train allows passengers to look straight into our bedrooms"

dogging is *so* yesterday dahling...

Anonymous said...

You'd need a steady eye to see anything at that speed

psyche9 said...

I have read this and will be following this up and getting in touch.

I recently noticed a lot of very ugly tree clearance work had taken place along the line from Crofton Park, around the Nunhead area. A beautiful and wild area had become ugly, with mature trees removed. I hadn't travelled that route for a while so wasn't sure when this happened.

I understand that an area near to the track has to be kept clear, but this was extreme, with clearance going far further back than the point at which vegetation could have impinged on the line.

If you google things like 'network rail and tree felling' you get impression this is happening all over UK

Brockley Kate said...

I had been wondering if anyone else was as pissed off by this as I am! I'm not a resident of the roads affected, but I travel along the train route frequently and have been appalled at the loss of wildlife habitats. It is environmental vandalism, pure and simple. The scene from the southern end of platform 1 of Brockley station is very sad - one lone tree with a bird's nest in it, amid a sea of stumps.

Anonymous said...

I would sign a petition - please let us know once this is up and running.

nobbly brick said...

A petition wouldn't do any good, but perhaps allow the offended residents to feel as if they'd done something. But, it is distressing to see the damage wrought to many of the trees alongside railways. It often used to look as if the branches had been flailed off rather than trimmed.

I also remember reading somewhere that the railways - for good or bad - aren't allowed to use weedkiller so the weeds have free reign between the rails.

They would have a corporate excuse all lined up for anyone who queried them anyway, so be prepared for a "leaves on the line" excuse, or somesuch nonsense.

Tressillian James said...

This was done alongside the cuttings in Breakspears Road a few years ago - weeds grow back. Supposedly it is to stop leaves on the line

drakefell debaser said...

I have never quite understood the logic behind the ‘leaves on the track’ excuse.

A single train carriage weighs several tons (aprox 40 I believe) so then surely a leaf under this amount of weight would be pulverised between the wheel and the track? They may be wet and release moisture but then is this anymore of a hindrance than rain? The motors on the trains are about 400 horsepower too so surely that much umph could overcome a simple leaf?

Monjkeyboy said...

Leaves do cause trains to skid and loose traction in the same way as a 40 tonne truck would. But not sure if that is their reason?

Tyrwhitt Michael said...

I don't think leaves on the line is a traction problem as much a current transfer problem, from the live line to the motors. The mulch from thousands (not just one leaf)is quite a good insolator.

Or am I wrong?

Anonymous said...

They expel a particularly glossy kind of moisture that builds up and up and means the brakes do sweet FA after a while. A bit like if someone ran a line of treacle down the road - not much in a small area but a lot to build up over time.

Bill Ellson said...

Unless a stretch of railway track has been designated as a site of special scientific interest SSSI or similar then the railway can do what it likes. No requirement for any sort of environmental assessment .

Mulched up leaves cause wheel slippage and brakeing problems.

Up until the 1960s the railways employed vast armies of men to keep trackside vegetation under control, with every bit of line being attended to each year.

Nowadays it is only when the trackside is completely overgrown, that the vegetation is cleared using the cheapest methods possible. This leaves the frayed stumps etc. but they will grow back.

Oli said...

Hi -thanks for all the comments.

I think Bill is absolutely right - they don't maintain the tracks properly any more as that would be 'too expensive', so they use cheap destructive methods instead.

Someone asked what we want from this...

I think there's a few reasons why we want to make a fuss:

- This seems to be a UK-wide thing. It would be nice to warn other people in the country what is really meant when they say 'trackside tidying'

- We would like to embarrass Network Rail into taking more care with people's environments. They do indeed have absolute right to do what they want with their land, but they should be pressured into maintaining it sensitively.

- This isn't just a visual pleasantness issue, railway lines are well known to be wildlife sanctuaries (lord knows there's little else in the urban environment', and some of the people affected have seen an increase in foxes on the streets where previously they would have taken refuge in the 'woods'.

- Companies are supposed to be 'environmental aware' these days; Network Rail evidently couldn't care less.

The Cat Man said...

I think you have legal redress for this. 'Tidying' does not mean 'removal', 'felling' or 'flattening of ground'.

Clearly the residents have not been properly informed and I would imaging there is a case for arguing that Network Rail have been negligent.

I do not think you will get the trees back, but there is certain amount of negligence to be accounted for and clearly the residents should be compensated for this.

Don't forget, the government is independant of the judiciary. Just because Network Rail is in public hands, you still have redress and governments can do bad things...

I'll sign the petition if you let me know where to go to do so.

Headhunter said...

Looks like it's a bit late for action, sounds like they've completely cleared the vegetation. I always wonder about the leaves on the line thing. I understand that the leaves get pulverised and form a slippery surface, but I've travelled on trains across Europe and Asia and I have never, ever heard anything about leaves on the lines in any other country. Is it just our British leaves that cause trains to slip? Someone needs to speak to the BNP...

The Cat Man said...

quite! It's discrimination I tell you!!

Barry ls said...

It's a shame they can't do a bit of simple litter and flytipping clearance at the same time. The area approaching Crofton Park could do with a tidy up.

Sue said...

Were they self-seeded sycamores? They can be very invasive and there is sometimes an argument to remove them and replant with a wider variety of native species, which can have a higher biodiversity value in terms of attracting wildlife. Problem comes when network rail or whoever chop down the sycamores, then fail to either stump treat them or replant anything else and the same issue arises a few years later. Not my specialist subject, but my fellow Ladywell ward councillor Mike knows his stuff on this as an ecologist.

Nina said...

"You'd need a steady eye to see anything at that speed"

Yeah, in my experience trains never stop or slow down between stations.

psyche9 said...

Sue, I used to know these embankments (on both brockley and crofton park lines) well as I have spent about 15 years commuting; I hadn't travelled for a while and I was horrified by what I saw. We are talking about a whole range of trees, not just sycamores. I went south from crofton park earlier today simply to see what had happened in the other direction and, although the problem isn't as bad as it is at the Nunhead stretch, there had been large-scale tree removal south of crofton park. esp south of bellingham. I am used to seeing track-side clearnace but this is devastation. Of course, trees have to be removed from time to time; this is extraordinary though.

The Cat Man said...

Maybe the contractors get paid some sort of fee per tonnage removed - worth checking!

Did you know the contactors responsible for path maintainance are even allowed to sell on paving slabs they dig up for a profit? What does lewisham council do about it? - Nothing. Apparently its under review.

State the obvious said...

Cat Man - sort out your spelling will you please.............

Anonymous said...

Not sure I see the problem.

Rail company cuts down trees for a reason - and that reason isn't that they're evil or dislike trees. As a consequence, the odd brockley resident might get caught flashing their "mung bean" from their bedroom window? Get real. This ranks alongside the complaint over Speedicars' sign.

Headhunter said...

Another brainless comment from an anonymous...

drakefell debaser said...

Ok, but would you be as equally dismissive if your bedroom window overlooked a railway line and it was your mung bean that the Blackfriars bound commuters had to put up with?

Monkeyboy said...

The problem is that you move into a house with a view out your window of some trees which obscure big thundering trains. They get cut down with no notice or consultation. Yes NR wouldn't pay for it for no reason but it may be a case of applying guidelines incorrectly. NR should have a justification, I know that LUL have a process where they consult with local councils. They don't have too, they have wide ranging powers, but there is a level of corporate responsibilty that they sign up to.

Before you ask, I'm an Engineer for a Rail Company. They don't always make sensible decisions, ig they have an Engineeriong/safety case for doing it then that's fine - can we see it please? An argument can be had then, 'we like trees' won't cut it.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't buy a house by a traintrack. Same reason I wouldn't buy a house by a river and complain when it floods. My bean stays hidden.

psyche9 said...

This is being raised as a much bigger issue than residents living near the track.

I don't live anywhere near a track and I want to know why tree management by the company has suddenly taken such a different tack.

No-one is saying they that they are 'evil', (how stupid is that?).
But I don't go through life assuming that everyone always does things 'for a good reason' as, in my experience, that is not always the case.

Headhunter said...

Good point from Sue about Sycamores though - they are the weed of the tree world. If not kept under control they tend to push out native species...

The Cat Man said...

flashing the mung bean? Criky, I thought the dogging comments were bad enough.. :)

lb said...

It's probably worth pointing out that as a general principle, trackside vegetation has only been allowed to grow to these kind of levels since the 1960s. Before that, there were steam trains, that had a tendency to set stuff on fire.

And yeah, compacted leaves are incredibly slippery. I've nearly fallen over on wet leaves myself several times this week; now imagine the same leaves squashed to a paste between two smooth iron surfaces. It's a serious problem.

I'm a bit puzzled as to why the residents are mounting a campaign against tree clearance that has already been done. What do they hope to achieve - the construction of a time machine, perhaps?

Dama_de_Avignon said...

I leave on Avignon Road, one of the streets affected. Every time I see the tree stumps from my window I feel terribly sad. I am also extremely angry with Network Rail. They lied to us bluntly and we know that this is a common practice: Network Rail has recently done the same in Enfield.

One of my friends who lives in Jeffrey Road said they chopped down the trees at the back of his garden few years ago. The neighbours of Jeffrey Road managed to have a meeting with Network rail and they agreed to replant mature trees.

This is not only our gardens; a nice part of Brockley's green corridor has been destroyed. Would have they done this if we lived in Chelsea?

We are thinking about writing a petition to ask Network Rail to plant mature trees and to revise their negligent and deceitful neighbourhood “engagement” policy. We strongly believe that Network Rail can’t get away with routinely lying to people.

Very grateful for the support of Brockley Central bloggers and neighbours.

Headhunter said...

lb - yes, leaves can cause problems, but how is it that it only seems to cause problems in the UK? I have never heard of trains delayed by "leaves on the line" outside the UK and I've travelled extensively on railways

Brockley Kate said...

I would also be interested to know - if one of the campaigners or a local councillor could ask Network Rail - what kind of consideration, if any, is given to the time of year at which these works are carried out?

Obviously some times of year are better than others for wildlife, in terms of breeding and hibernation cycles.

lb said...

Well, I do actually have a fair bit of experience of continental rail travel, cheapskate that I am, and one observation I'd make is that the embankments and tracksides etc. very rarely have any trees on them in the first place.

Also, it does happen elsewhere, eg Holland. The English version of that page says it's a particular problem in the NE of the US, too.

Personally, I think that Network Rail's entitled to do what it likes to keep the service running; it's their land. Looking at the stumps in that picture you can see that the trees had been pollarded in the past, too, so clearly they had been cut back in previous decades.

lb said...

[BK] My guess is that they do it in the winter because the vegetation is at its lowest and the leaves have all fallen. Can you imagine them trying to do it in high summer?

Dama_de_Avignon said...

Sue and others interested,

Network rail has told us in a letter that a full environmental assessment had been carried out. The neighbours of Avignon/ Aspinall Road have then written to Network Rail to ask for a copy of this assessment; we are still waiting for it.

On one of your previous comments, you mentioned that fellow Cllr Mike is an ecologist and knows this stuff. Any chance he could give us a advice/a hand?

drakefell debaser said...

I leave on Avignon Road

An apt typo there Dama de Avignon.

lb said...

Assuming that the residents of these roads, having purchased properties facing a railway line, are upset by having to look at trains going past, couldn't they just plant some screening trees at the bottom of their own gardens, where Network Rail couldn't get at them? Silver birches or mountain ash would be quick-growing and attractive, for example.

Just a thought, and probably more productive than starting any number of 'action groups'.

Headhunter said...

lb - That answers my question! Interesting bit about "leaves on the line" being a modern problem:

"Trains which have brake pads that bear directly on the steel rolling surface of the wheel suffer less from this problem as the application of the brake effectively cleans the wheel where it is contact with the rail. Consequently freight trains tend to be less susceptible to the effects of slippery rail. The same brakes used to be the norm on passenger trains but they have been phased out in favor of lighter trains which use disk brakes, and in the case of electric trains regenerative braking, and the contact surface is not cleaned. [1] For this reason, "leaves on the line" is considered a modern reliability phenomenon, since steam trains almost always were equipped with block rather than disc brakes."

Monkeyboy said...

Just been looking through our Environmental rules/procedures at Metronet. Does have come guidance about trees but all very generic really.

We do, however, have a 'Badger Action Plan'!! which makes feel happy for some reason.

Anonymous said...

What date did this take place? It's a disgrace!

Sue said...

There is smthg called the 'Transport Liaison Committee' which meets monthly (I think) and cllrs, amenities societies and members of the public can ask questions of the various train and bus companies as well as network rail and TfL. Happy to ask a question on this point for the next meeting if you like. As it sounds like it's a fait accompli now, might be best to ask about a) what plans they have for replanting b) a copy of their environmental impact assessment as suggested c) advance notice of future works planned to be sent to relevant amenities societies and ward cllrs. (I know that when they carried out some work on the Hayes line last year, they did notify Ladywell residents who lived adjacent to the line).

Brockley and Telegraph Hill ward residents may also wish to flag the issue up with their ward cllrs, as I don't want to step on anyone's toes; contact details can be found on the Council's website. Dama D'Avignon: Mike's contact details are there if you wish to contact him directly, or try Nick Pond, Lewisham's Ecological Regeneration Manager.

Dama_de_Avignon said...

Thanks Sue,

I have sent an e-mail to Cllr Mike this morning asking for his help. I have tried Lewisham council before, extinguishing all available routes, with no success: they don't want to get involved in an argument with Network rail.

Yes, I knew of that Committee. My husband, who is very interested in transport, used to go, but he said that it wasn't a very useful forum as he hadn't seen anybody there from Network Rail for the last 2 years! Have you experienced differently?

Dama_de_Avignon said...

Anonymous, thank you for your posting on 23 Jan.

The chopping down took place last November. Since then, we have been trying to get in touch with Network rail, but nobody rings us back. We have also got in touch with Lewisham council, which does not want to get involved, and with the Socialist Alliance councillors and our MP Joan Ruddock.

We have received a useless letter from Network Rail which we replied to in December, but still awaiting for their answer.

Crofton Park Ranger said...

I'm a building surveyor and had a quick chat with our Environmental Audit dept. This is out of their area of expertise but they seemed to think that if it is Network Rail's land and there are no tree preservation orders (which could be another route to take) then netweork rail can probably do what they like.... Unless anyone can identify a protected species of newt/bat/badger etc...

I also have a friend who works for Natural England (in Bristol unfortunately) but will ask how for the process works and whether anything can be done.

I live in the Croftongate Way development near Crofton Park Station. The development sits at the intersection of the Crofton Park Line (South Eastern) and the Honor Oak Park/Brockley line (Southern).

Our flat overlooks the southern line and we havent seen any culling so far. Then again its a much bigger embankment compared to the other line...

The green view out of the window was why i bought the place!

Crofton Park Ranger said...

Response from my friend at natural England:

"Well...

In short, call your council and tell them about it and they’ll investigate it. The parks and gardens department is the best place to get the ball rolling. Make sure you ask them to get back to you with an answer.

Bats, a European Protected Species, can roost in trees so express concerns for them.

In conservation terms, some scrub clearance is good to help improve structure and diversity and must always be done at this time of year to save breeding birds – however the work should be informed by a management plan prepared by a professional ecologist.

Good luck!"

Crofton Park Ranger said...

Email to Lewisham Parks Authority:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I live in a property within Lewisham (Croftongate Way se4 2dl), which backs on to a railway embankment. The embankment is a dense habitat full of mature trees, shrubs, climbers, flowers and plants etc. You can have a look on google maps to see just how much is there.

I recently received a letter from Network Rail stating that they need to do some 'tidying up' to the vegetation either side of the tracks.

It has become evident that further up the line (where similar letters were sent to residents) all vegetation has been completely removed leaving nothing but stumps and sawdust.

A local community website has documented the destuction with photos:

http://brockleycentral.blogspot.com/2009/01/residents-campaign-against-tree.html

The embankments provide a much needed habitat for local wildlife and there may well be bats roosting in the trees.

I understand that the vegetation needs to be kept in check but this complete decimation of the natural habitat seems completely excessive and has the potential to wipe out a great amount of wildlife in one go.

At very least I feel an environmental assessment should be made of the impact on the local wildlife. I wonder whether this was something that you could get involved in or whether you could let me know who I need to speak to?

Kind regards and I look forward to your response.

Dama de Avignon said...

Dear Crofton Park Ranger,

We were where you are before (in November) and since then, we have learnt few lessons about Network chopping trees.

I’ll be more than happy to let you know what we found out and perhaps we’ll be able to join forces. If you let me have your e-mail address, I’ll get in touch with you.

Headhunter said...

The council seems to have got its knickers in a bit of a twist about that parkland down in Crofton Park/Honor Oak that Nick wrote an article about, the area of land with Stag Beetles and bats that a developer keeps applying to build on.

I posted an objection to the plans and since then I have received several replica letters stating that "as someone who lives nearby" (??I live about 2 miles away), I may wish to look at the plans submitted and register my views....

Errr, already have done and already have registered my view. Have received, I think, 3 identical letters now asking me to do something I have already done.

Anonymous said...

I bet they weren't even on recycled paper either.

Reply to them, enclosing a single mung bean with a skull painted on it.

M said...

Oh Unfunnymous - not the old mung bean gag that somebody came up with months ago and which was already out of date then?
I bet you still make jokes about the 'loony left' and find people avoid you at parties.

nobbly brick said...

I think Hugh started the mung bean thing...

Crofton Park Ranger said...

Dama,

I don't suppose you are the Maria in the article? If so I have sent you an email..

If not, I have set up a blogging account so I think you can contact me through that (not to keen to post an email address as i want to keep as spam free as possible).

Headhunter said...

Yeah, the mung bean thing is a bit tired now. Shall we move on?

The Cat Man said...

yes, quite. Bean there done that! Let's mung onto something else shall we? :0)

Hugh said...

Bean there, mung that.

Mung Warrior said...

The comments will stop when we can similarly leave environmentalist concerns alone for a sufficient amount of time.

Headhunter said...

God... Give me strength...

Crofton Park Ranger said...

(Mung) joking aside, that embankment is the closest thing I have to a garden - Imagine if one day someone came and cut down all the trees and shrubs in your garden and replaced it with loud trains full of high speed spectators...

PS I'm new to the site and would like to know why nothing has bean done to stop the mung jokes which keep sprouting up?

(Sorry, couldnt resist!).

psyche9 said...

It is quite possible they will do the same in that area down from Croftongate Way, as the tree fellers act fast. there has been some similar, though not quite such drastic, destruction south of Crofton Park. Have followed up, as suggested in the post.

PS: what are mung beans anyway? I doubt there are any sold in Crofton Park

Crofton Park Ranger said...

I have just had a look at Lewisham's Unitary Development Plan which is an overall strategy for planning policy and conservation which each council is obliged to produce every few years - all planning permission is supposed to be in line with it... Its generally concerned with whether buildings should be permitted or not so I don't know exactly how relevant it is BUT....

If you click on the proposals map it shows: http://www2.lewisham.gov.uk/lbl/planning/udp/maps/mapfr039.html

The area of embankment west of Aspinall Road as "Green Corridor OS5"

The Area North of St Asaph road is marked "Site of Nature Conservation Importance"

All of the line between Forest Hill and New Cross gate is a "Site of Nature Conservation Importance"

Further info is supplied within the Unitary Development plan - Schedule 2 Important Local Views and Landmarks - http://www2.lewisham.gov.uk/lbl/planning/udp/schedule2.html. Have a good read through the whole page as it mentions all "railside land"as an "site of borough importance - Grade 2"

Anonymous said...

My daily commute has now become so depressing seeing literally, on a daily basis, the wanton destruction from New Beckenham through to St Johns, where it seems to be worse than ever at the moment. Tonight I saw another whole section of land clearance, probably done over weekend, near Lewisham. I recently wrote to Lewisham West MP Jim Dowd - our MP asking for justification, of this land clearance all the way into London, as well as a huge housing project by New Beckenham station, which has totally destroyed some very old beautiful woodland, now home to a cement mixer and a crowded housing project, despite there being derelict land next door. I just received a reply from Network Rail, via him - quoting network rail policy. All these actions are contrary to the Wildlife & Countryside Act, as there will have been nesting birds so legal action could be taken, which is what is being used by Whitstable protestors, and I think in Enfield. According to news item tonight on Channel 4 news.

Ro said...

Here's a link to the Channel 4 story. Absolute vandalism.

http://www.channel4.com/news/tree-protest-called-off-after-network-rail-concessions

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