Strathbungo residents will be aware that Network Rail has been proposing to “manage” the vegetation along the rail line. Previously, “management” meant a policy of slash and burn for all trees along our line. When the Strathbungo Committee heard of the proposals, we acted quickly to talk to our MSP Nicola Sturgeon and other elected representatives.
As a result we succeeded in getting a postponement while we had a commitment for further discussions with Network Rail. These discussions have now taken place.
It is clear from these talks that Network Rail will definitely be working on the East Kilbride line including our stretch on Strathbungo. We have tried to establish that works should conform to recently established environmental standards that respect biodiversity and ecosystem conservation along the line. We therefore enclose our note of the most recent Network Rail meeting together with the Network Rail minutes. These proposals will ensure regular consultation on the work.
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The society would like to thank our MSP Nicola Sturgeon and Caroline Scott, her office manager, for their assistance in this process.
Read on for full statements from Network Rail and the Society.
Meeting Friday 22nd November 2019
At the footbridge, Strathbungo
Kevin Rooney – Network Rail sponsor for the East Kilbride project
James Morrison – Network Rail ecologist
Alastair MacFarlane – NR asset manager responsible for the vegetation specification
Niamh Hegarty – NR Senior Public affairs manager
Owen Campbell – NR Communications Manager
Jon Stokes – The Tree Council
Caroline Scott – representative of office of Nicola Sturgeon MSP
Fiona MacKinnon and Jane Carolan – for The Strathbungo Society
Strathbungo Society Statement
The Strathbungo Society thanked Network Rail for attending the meeting and for appreciate that senior staff were there to explain the plans and answer questions. This was very valuable. The attendance of Jon Stokes of The Tree Council was also very useful.
Network Rail clarified that tree management work on the East Kilbride line was necessary at this time because of the “cut and forget policy” previously followed which has allowed trees and branches to grow too close to the running rail. The work will also permit site investigation work prior to full proposals for the electrification of the line being drawn up. At present there is no budget for the project to go ahead. Strathbungo would welcome electrification as this is much healthier and greener than the present diesel. It was also noted that the potential loss of thousands of trees along this line alone, represents a major carbon release which is retrograde when a climate emergency has been declared.
There was a welcome and clear message from Network Rail that a change in approach was necessary and that steps were being taken now to treat the lineside as an asset because of biodiversity. The pressure behind this is The Varley Report and the subsequent government policy which requires Network Rail to halt the loss of biodiversity and then increase it from 2040 onwards.
Network Rail acknowledged that mistakes had been made in the past in the management policy for trees and vegetation and that this resulted in the alienation of communities who live beside the line. This was exacerbated by poor communication with these neighbours.
Previous management of trees on our particular line has meant practically every mature tree and many smaller trees were felled in 2004/5. The lineside along Moray Place was left very bare and ugly. Stumps were treated with glyphosate. Screening for residents from noise and diesel pollution was lost. What is there now is the growth of seedlings and saplings and coppicing of some trees like the chestnut at the end of Queen Square. No management of that growth has taken place since that time.
It was noted that Network Rail have moved to a new standard of management for trackside land following the publication of the Varley report and that it was claimed that operations in Scotland were “ahead of the curve” on the issue.
The society felt that there is still a disconnect between the aspiration to protect the biodiversity of the line and the proposals. In particular it is troubling that that the answer, from the previous meeting on the question of modifying plans on the basis of what was found in the ecological reports, is still “nothing”.
The society were keen to emphasize that our concerns are not just for this section of the line that is so dominant for Strathbungo but for the whole line and indeed for all other lines across Scotland and the UK.
The safety standard adopted by Network Rail requires that a six metre corridor from the rail must be kept clear of all trees and high vegetation.
Network Rail confirmed that the proposed works will leave a screen of trees along the inside of the boundary to offer some protection for householders. In the area near the boundary, only if a tree is dangerous, will it be felled.
It is understood that within the Strathbungo area the lineside between the rail and the boundary is often wide, in other parts of the line there is far less space to leave any trees and so coverage could be lost. To ensure that this was managed sensitively and kept to a minimum, an ecologist and arborist would be on site during the work.
There was discussion of the large stand of Aspen trees on either side of the footbridge on the north side of the line. It was agreed that no glyphosate or other herbicide would be used on the stumps of any individual tree too close to the line, as they are clonal and interconnected also do not coppice.
This was connected to the suggestion that this line could be a “demonstration” or research project trying new ways to manage the lineside. Network Rail will explore that as it could bring other budgets into play.
Replanting all along the line was discussed – especially in areas where large or a large number of trees are to be removed. Native species of small trees like rowan, hawthorn and holly were specifically mentioned as suitable replacements.
There was a question about planting at the same time as removal works and issues with budgets but the society rejected mitigation planting in other locations. Network Rail agreed to proceed on this basis.
Network Rail also confirmed that in future following the work being completed, the land around the line will be more actively managed. Management plans would be developed for each part of the line. This should offer greater passenger safety and make possible the encouragement of appropriate species.
Network Rail were aware that there are trust issues with communities but were keen to reassure us that we are currently in a transition period between previous experience of Network Rail in line clearance and what was being proposed. It was agreed that there would be regular meetings with the MSP and the society during the work. It was also agreed that while work was on site communications should be open and frequent.
The society stated that Strathbungo did not want to be one of the last lines to be managed under an old standard which ignored and destroyed biodiversity but wanted to be one of the first to demonstrate the promise of a new positive attitude towards the biodiversity of this asset.
Additional Information Requested
The Lineside Vegetation Management document (NR/L2/OTK/5201) provided by Network Rail mentions that a “social appraisal should be carried out”. We are keen to see any documents that relate to the effect of the loss of trees on the Glasgow/East Kilbride lineside communities.
Network Rail Statement
26 November 2019
We would like to thank the Strathbungo Society and Caroline Scott for taking the time to meet with Network Rail representatives to discuss tree and vegetation clearance on the East Kilbride route.
We hope that the below covers what has been discussed and agreed verbally during the walk-out and represents an agreed position that leads to the point where we can resume work on the project.
We will hope to gain clarity on ‘next-steps’ and time-frames for any resumption of work from the project team and will share this. It is the intention from this meeting, that this will be January 2020.
We acknowledge that this is subject to the Strathbungo Society representatives sharing this with the wider group and them being generally content with the approach proposed. The group stated that they would feedback by Wednesday, 27th November.
We also acknowledge that the discussions will be relayed back to Ms Sturgeon and we would hope that she is also content with, and supportive of, what has been agreed.
We acknowledge the contribution made at the meeting by Jon Stokes from the Tree Council and welcome his offer to continue to support both Network Rail and the Strathbungo Society as we move forward.
At the meeting NR advised that they have revisited the plans for this area with a view to how we can safely retain vegetation (trees) beyond six metres from the railway. As discussed, we cannot compromise on the six metre Scotland route standard but as noted, the volume of trees / vegetation within six metres is minimal and generic and low in biodiversity.
For trees beyond the six metres, we will consider these on a tree by tree basis. Though some will have to be removed, we will look to retain where we can. This will though mean height-reducing and cutting back trees to allow room for retained trees to grow.
We discussed retaining and enhancing fence line screening – which could include additional planting (selective tree species / hedge rows) to fill gaps out-with the railway fence line on Moray Place. It is anticipated that we can retain a circa 2-metre-deep tree screen through the conservation area as long as the tree is in good health, not leaning into the railway and out-with 6 metres. On Darnley Road there is more room for retention.
We look forward to engaging further with the community on options and welcome the suggestion of a quarterly meeting with the local community and elected members going forwards.
Through delivery of the electrification project NR advised that they will increase the diversity of lineside vegetation and habitat, improve the ecology and will ultimately deliver a biodiversity net-gain.
We will advise options for lineside planting to support natural regrowth and regeneration (hedge, hawthorn, wild flower).
We will discuss how we can support (where feasible / practical) local re-planting projects or initiatives off the railway. We welcome any comments or suggestions from the local community in this regard.
It is our intention that this would be the first project which embraced the new approach that is being defined by Varley. More widely, this project will support government aspiration to decarbonise the railways.
It is our intention to make a success of this work and seek the support of the Strathbungo Society to inform how this is developed and delivered and to measure the success of how we engage around the project.
On a practical level, we would seek input from the society into potential ways to achieve net gain, re-planting lineside and to suggest any local initiatives we could work with to deliver environmental benefits.
Some practical commitments from us include
- We will safely retain as many trees as possible beyond the 6m area measured from the rail
- NR will not apply herbicide beyond 6m
- No herbicide application on Aspen – and monitor any regrowth within the 6m corridor
- We aim to include mitigation on site rather than somewhere else as far as is practically possible
- We will develop a good practice approach that is transferable to other work / projects
- NR will look to replant within the boundary hedgerow species in areas of total tree loss – noted that Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Holly are good candidates.
Background to the issue
In 2019 Network Rail notified residents along the East Kilbride line of vegetation management work. Past experience, and current experience elsewhere around Glasgow, suggested “slash and burn”, or more correctly “slash and chip” approach was to be used, clearing all vegetation with little consideration for wildlife, biodiversity or environmental damage, as rail safety was prioritised above all else.
After concerns were raised by the Strathbungo Society, a moratorium was obtained, postponing work on the East Kilbride line, although we understand work has continued on other lines.
Meanwhile, public disquiet across the UK had grown following articles published in the Guardian in April and May 2018, detailing Network Rail’s approach to vegetation management, and leaking a Network Rail policy document (later conceded to be only a proposal, and never policy) proposing “enhanced level of clearance”, and extending the tree-free trackside zone from 5m to 6.5m.
On 10th May 2018, Jo Johnson, then Minister of Transport, responded to public concerns by commissioning a review of Network Rail’s approach. He appointed John Varley, and experienced land manager, whose report (the Varley Review) was published in November 2018. Varley made six core recommendations:
- The government must set out a clear policy position for Network Rail in terms of delivering for the environment
- Appropriate governance must be put in place at organisation, route and project level
- Network Rail should publish an ambitious vision for the lineside estate
- Network Rail must value and manage its lineside estate as an asset
- Network Rail must improve its communication with affected communities
- Network Rail should lead a cultural change for valuing nature and the environment
The time is right for Network Rail to not only be one of the safest railways in Europe but the greenest, too, by valuing nature and providing a railway for people and wildlife.
The Government published its response to the first recommendation on 23 July 2019.
Network Rail has its own statement on the report.
In November 2019, RailStaff, the UK Rail Industry’s trade paper, published an interesting update on progress to date. Well worth a read.
So where now?
So the question is whether Network Rail are serious in their intentions, and their high hopes for change have filtered down to the staff working on the trackside. Network Rail’s response to the East Kilbride line issues, suggests, just maybe, they have, but there is work to be done before trust can be restored in an organisation with a poor track record for community engagement.
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