28 May 2012

Tree protest called off after Network Rail concessions

Campaigners – including three protesters who chained themselves to a tree – claim victory after Network Rail postpones planned tree clearance on a railway embankment near Whitstable in Kent.

Protesters held a demonstration on the Cromwell Road railway embankment in an attempt to halt the start of work to remove trees, which Network Rail claims could cause instability on the track.

The protesters, many of whom were local residents, are concerned that the works would take place during the bird-breeding season when many are nesting in the trees.

A five-hour long protest, during which three female protesters in their 50s and 60s chained themselves to a tree on the embankment, started at 7.30am with campaigners brandishing placards bearing slogans including “stop the slaughter of wildlife“.

The demonstration was called off after Network Rail informed campaigners in writing that it was halting the works until September, after the bird breeding season has finished.

‘Claiming victory’

The statement by Network Rail fulfils two of the protesters’ three demands. One campaigner told Channel 4 News that they would now concentrate on persuading Network Rail to agree to their remaining demand, for better consultation with residents and the use of truly independent conservation experts.

“Whitstable people are now claiming this as a victory,” said Julie Wassmer, who was among the three who had chained themselves to the tree. “Today, Network Rail are now aware that the people of Whitstable are not backing off.”

The rail infrastructure operator planned to start removing the trees because of concerns about subsidence caused by their roots.

An independent ecologist carried out an assessment this morning on behalf of Network Rail to determine how many birds’ nests were in the affected trees.

Fiona Taylor, Network Rail’s route managing director for Kent, said: “After a thorough inspection with an independent ecologist, the work to remove selected trees along this stretch of railway has been postponed owing to the suspected number of nesting birds.

“Because this work is essential for the future safety of the railway, we will return at a later date to complete it once the nests have been vacated. Residents will receive a minimum of 10 days’ notice before the start date and we will carry out a full inspection before the work begins.”

‘Useful reminder’

The trees had already been given a temporary stay of execution after plans to remove them in April were put on hold.

Mark Thomas, an RSPB investigations officer, said: “The attempts by Network Rail to clear trackside vegetation from a line in Kent is a useful reminder to everyone that the nests of all wild birds are protected by law during the nesting season.

“Thanks to protests the RSPB, Kent and British Transport Police, and not least local campaigners, Network Rail are aware of this.

We now trust they will plan their track clearance work outside the bird-nesting season where they will be able to carry out essential work without causing environmental damage and sparking the outrage of communities who care about their local wildlife.”