Network Rail Vegetation Management – 2019-20

We have amalgated a series of posts into one, so you can follow the development, or jump straight to the latest update. Older posts on the subject can also be found by searching the site for “Network Rail”.

Background to the issue

In September 2019 Network Rail notified residents along the East Kilbride line of vegetation management work. Past experience, notably in 2005, 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.

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:

  1. The government must set out a clear policy position for Network Rail in terms of delivering for the environment
  2. Appropriate governance must be put in place at organisation, route and project level
  3. Network Rail should publish an ambitious vision for the lineside estate
  4. Network Rail must value and manage its lineside estate as an asset
  5. Network Rail must improve its communication with affected communities
  6. Network Rail should lead a cultural change for valuing nature and the environment

He concluded

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.

November 2019

When the Strathbungo Committee heard of the proposals, we acted quickly to talk to our MSP Nicola Sturgeon and other elected representatives. Consequently, a moratorium was obtained, postponing work on the East Kilbride line, although we understand work has continued on other lines.

As a result we succeeded in getting a postponement while we had a commitment for further discussions with Network Rail. These discussions tookplace in November 2019.

It was 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.

The society would like to thank our MSP Nicola Sturgeon and Caroline Scott, her office manager, for their assistance in this process.

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.

Previous Network Rail vegetation management in January 2005

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.

Going 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.

Project net-gain

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.

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.

June 2020 Update

On 22nd June Network Rail wrote to neighbours about the resumption of tree cutting on the East Kilbride-Glasgow line, which was suspended due to Covid. The letter makes little or no reference to the previous discussions held between Network Rail and the Society, which raises concerns about their intent. Do they intend to stick to their promises, or not?

The letter to neighbours is available below, along with the Society’s response.

20 06 22 Network Rail Letter (pdf)

20 07 03 Strathbungo Society response (pdf)

We have since had a reply by email from Owen Campbell of Network Rail, which is reassuring, and reproduced below.

Hi Jane
I hope you are well.
As I am sure you will acknowledge, we have all been blown somewhat off-course by the unprecedented global events that have impacted on us. However, it remains our firm intention to fully engage with the Strathbungo society and other interested stakeholders as we carry out the vegetation clearance and throughout any project which may follow.
Our recent notification was similar to the one that we distributed in February to highlight the resumption of work and, as it was sent out across the whole route – some 10,000 addresses, is necessarily generic.
It could not address the detail of the discussions we had with the society however we can confirm that where the railway narrows and the six metre corridor takes us to the boundary, we will work to retain a screen by selectively targeting and removing only those trees which pose a safety risk either now or going forward.
More widely, we will also honour each of the ‘practical commitments’ which we outlined in earlier emails.
As work resumed, we had our ecologists and those of our contractor in place to specify, monitor and ensure that the work was being delivered appropriately. This will continue throughout.
It is our intention to ‘manage’ the railway embankment to control regrowth and ensure the corridor is safe for the railway and supports a habitat and environment that is no less diverse than at present. Including establishing or enhancing the hedgerow boundaries
And while mitigation for the trees cut will entail planting outwith the railway corridor, we remain open to the idea of doing this in the locale of where the trees were removed – without importing any future risk to the railway.
We will share any further information and updates with the community as early as we can and will work to maintain the consensus we had reached on how the delivery of this work will proceed.
I hope this response provides suitable reassurance.
Best regards

October 2020 Update

An update as QTS staff are on site and starting work on the lineside vegetation.

Following the series of meetings described above, we had a variety of commitments form Owen Campbell (see above), including maintaining the tree line on the Moray Place side and sticking to the six metre rule where it is geographically possible (as on the Darnley Rd side), the non use of glyphosate, the use of arborists to identify treee species, and the commitment to replant with native species where it proves necessary to remove damaged or diseased trees.

Fiona MacKinnon has had a series of informal chats with the workmen and is relatively happy that where they are are working now they have been able to reassure her that that those guidelines are being observed. They have told Fiona that they have not been briefed on how they will be working when they move to the Moray Place side of the line.

The Society has therefore written to our new contact, asking;

  • That the commitments that Owen Campbell gave the society will remain in place
  • That the Society has regular communication over the project and is provided with more precise information over project timescales
  • That there are outstanding discussions over the Strathbungo railway bridges

The works come under the East Kilbride Corridor Improvement programme, part of the Scottish Government’s plans to decarbonise the railways. This excerpt is from the Rail Services Decarbonisation Action Plan (Transport Scotland):

Work on the Glasgow to East Kilbride services/route is already being taken forward as a potential early electrification scheme in this rail control period (2019- 2024). Currently diesel trains (class 156s) run on this very busy commuter route.
Based on average current diesel fuel consumption the electrification of this line or use of alternative traction trains would save at least 1,086 tonnes of CO2 annually. An even bigger impact will be secured by running more, longer electric trains and integration of this improved service with bus and active travel networks and expanded park and ride facilities. The growth in passengers attracted from private cars will help further decarbonise the wider transport network.

There is some more info on the East Kilbride Line plans in this Rail Insider article.

So it looks like electrification of the line is finally coming, having been on the plans for some 40 years. No more dirty diesels, but what that means for the future of the old Strathbungo Station and the footbridge remains unclear – clearance is unlikely to be satisfactory for overhead electric cables.

A local resident on Moray Place got this more detailed reply from Network Rail:

Dear Emma

Thanks for getting in touch regarding vegetation work currently taking place on the railway near your property.

We will be working at this location again during the next two Saturday nights (31 Oct and 7 Nov). There will also be an additional shift to carry out works on a large tree adjacent to 48-54 Moray Place, but this is dependent on street lighting being switched off, with a date to be confirmed.

This vegetation work is required to meet the six metre Scotland route standard, but it will also allow us to undertake site and geological investigation (SI/GI) which will help to define a programme of enhancements which will deliver on the aim of growing capacity on the route.

Our contractor works in collaboration with our ecologists, who undertake robust surveys of the lineside vegetation to check, for example, bats roosting within our boundary. Our ecologists also monitor the progress of our contractor to check they are following our Environmental Management Plan.

Following on from drop-in sessions held last year and earlier this year, there were a number of issues raised by the local community which we sought to address.

We revisited the plans for this area with a view to how we can safely retain vegetation (trees) beyond six metres from the railway. 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 are 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 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.

I hope this information helps alleviate any concerns you have.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to get back in touch.

Kind regards,

David O’Neill
Community Liaison Manager, Scotland
Network Rail

Statement from the Chair of the Society, October 2020

Society Chair, Jane Carolan, writes:

While the plans outlined by Network Rail for the Moray Place side of the railway are welcome, it seems that they have forgotten the context in which those decisions were taken.

When the plans were first announced in September 2019, the Society were extremely concerned that the previous experience of vegetation clearance would be repeated. At that time indiscriminate destruction of vegetation decimated plant and wildlife along the track. We were aware that the publication of the Varley Report had sought to eliminate this approach and replace it with one that took a more sympathetic approach to the ecology of the trackside, particularly recognising the place of trees in dealing with the greenhouse gases. A series of meetings took place between the Society and a Network Rail team led by Owen Campbell, Senior Communications Manager. These started under the auspices of our local MP Nicola Sturgeon at her office, continued with a site visit along Moray Place and subsequently at a meeting in the Bungo. This was accompanied with a voluminous correspondence.

The result was the approach that is now being taken. The work was delayed while we discussed it, and this meant the work did not happen during the bird nesting season.

They have promised that they will attempt to leave any safe trees or shrubs at the top of the embankment by our new fence along Moray Place, rather than cut everything, and replant where necessary.

They did not use glyphosate on the unusual Aspen trees between the footbridge and Susie’s. This is because they are all connected underground and killing one could kill the others.

Network Rail is a very unusual organisation that has powers to override many normal checks and balances. They have a history of ignoring the communities who are their neighbours and so a questioning vigilance is always needed.

Presently they have the old station building in their sights, wanting to demolish it with no real indication why or what will replace this much loved landmark which is the epicentre of three Conservation Areas. Consultation has been promised only after a huge outcry and public petition but they still went ahead and obtained a Building Warrant to demolish which makes “consultation” seem meaningless.

1 Comment

  1. Ian Usher

    I have complained to Network Rail about unacceptable timing of this work – last night was the 3rd or 4th time in last few weeks we have had work being done with chainsaws between 11pm and 3am. Never any notice when it will happen I am fed up!!! Would encourage others to complain as well, tweet @NetworkRailSCOT or phone 03457 11 41 41

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