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Tree felling review: ‘Passenger safety is as vital as wildlife’

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Review chair John Varley has called on Network Rail to be not only the safety railway in Europe but also the greenest as a report into the infrastructure manager’s tree-felling practices has been released.

The Vegetation Management Review – which was launched in May in response to public concern that Network Rail’s approach to managing the trackside environment was harming wildlife – has called for Network Rail to implement a cultural change focused on valuing nature and the environment as well as improving communication with affected communities.

John Varley is currently the director of Clinton Devon Estates and oversees the management of 10,000 hectares of land across east and north Devon, covering a range of operations, including farming, forestry and the maintenance of residential and commercial assets. He said: “The profile of today’s line-side vegetation is a product of the evolution of the railway over decades. If laid out end to end it would stretch over halfway around the circumference of the earth.

“This is a valuable and nationally important natural asset. Taken together, my review’s recommendations should lead to a significant improvement in the environmental impact of the railway, while reducing cost, and safety and performance risks.

“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.”

Rail Minister Andrew Jones added: “Network Rail already demonstrates good practice in many locations but it is vital this is mirrored across the network, which is why I have asked the organisation to put together a plan which addresses these issues in the next six months. This is about culture change across the organisation as a whole.”

Over the next six months, Network Rail, which is the one of the largest landowners in the UK, will develop a costed plan to deliver the aims and recommendations of the report. This includes a commitment to improving the way it operates to better protect nesting birds, before next year’s nesting season.

Last year there were an estimated 1,500 incidents of rail disruption due to trees and bad weather.

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