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Desolation along the railway line
Remains of destroyed trees bring desolation to a Walthamstow railway line
Picture: Waltham Forest Echo

Public Meeting to "Consult" Residents (Retrospectively), Fri 23 April

At a public Zoom meeting chaired by Stella Creasy MP last night representatives of Network Rail tried to justify their failure to consult residents of houses along the sides of the railway – or anyone else – before the frantic-paced felling of hundreds of trees along the Walthamstow Central to Wood Street section of their railway track. The shocked reaction of residents was the subject of a Waltham Forest Echo article by Local Democracy Reporter Victoria Munro:

People living beside railway lines in Walthamstow have criticised Network Rail for cutting down mature trees to prevent service disruptions.

Households overlooking the London Overground route between Walthamstow Central and Wood Street were told “essential vegetation management” would be done to prevent “leaves falling onto the line” and other issues.

Some expected this to mean trees would be pruned, but were horrified to see all but one or two completely removed by the rail company’s contractors.

A spokesperson for Network Rail said it needed to balance the environmental concerns in felling so many trees with the “needs and safety” of passengers.

Residents felt they had been treated with contempt over the lateness of the warning that work was about to commence and the inadequacy of the description of what was planned. "Some expected this to mean trees would be pruned, but were horrified to see all but one or two completely removed by the rail company’s contractors." “It just seems to have gone so far beyond what was necessary. There does not seem to have been any attempt to just trim the trees. They have taken them right down to the bottom.”

On this occasion there wasn't even a pretense of any kind of consultation with the people affected. Residents whose houses had a pleasant rural view of woodland one day found that it had become a view of an industrial wasteland the next. Local resident Sam Scott described the destruction that had taken place as more like deforestation than tree management and said that the amount of jargon in the December letter announcing the planned "maintenance" was so great that he believed it to be deliberately misleading and dishonest.

Representatives of Network Rail claimed that there had been an environmental survey prior to the work but it had not been published and they were unable to produce it or quote from it at the meeting. There was reference to plans to replace the mature trees with new saplings of smaller species whose leaves they believed would be less troubesome, with the implication that this would replace the benefits of the original trees, but in the words of arboriculture expert Russell Miller in his report on the town square trees:

"New trees do not replace old trees. Replanting is an essential part of tree population management but it is very misleading to claim that a newly planted tree can 'replace' an existing mature specimen. Replacement suggests like for like, or equivalence. However there is no equivalence when removing a mature tree and planting a young one. The ecosystem services of carbon capture, pollution mitigation, shading, air cooling, wind break, flood control, etc. are all vastly greater with a big old tree than any new planting. Replacement, if it is to mean equivalence, would require a planting ratio in the order of 100:1, and even then many benefits would still be missing for decades to come."

To make the assault on the environment even worse the trees were destroyed right at the beginning of the nesting season, and among the non-human inhabitants of the region who lost their homes were squirrels, voles and other small mammals, foxes, innumerable insect species and, it is believed, bats.

The sound-deadening qualities of the trees have gone, making the residential properties along the side of the track much noisier, as well as clearing the way for the diesel fumes of the rolling stock and making access to the tracks easier for children and others. Privacy has been lost for househlders, and there is concern about the possibility of mud slides without the healthy tree roots to stabilise the sloping banks.The litany of damage to the local environment and neighbourhood simply goes on and on.

How did things get so bad that such major work was needed? When asked by Victoria Munro of the Echo the answer was, essentially, that things hadn't: “We carry out this sort of maintenance on a yearly basis and our work is compliant with all the applicable environmental laws.” Strange therefore that one of their representives explained at the meeting that "The reason it was done all at the same time ... stems back to the demise of Rail Track ... Since Network Rail took over we have been years and years behind what we should have been doing." A bit of honesty at last it would seem. They allowed it to get so critical that their only option seemed to be a massive panic culling of all the vegetation. No time to do it carefully or properly. Just pick up a chain saw and follow me ...

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