Emma Dixon warns that our few remaining wildlife corridors are under threat
Published: 22 June, 2012
ISLINGTON has the least green space per head of any London borough. Yet green spaces – parks, trees and wildlife areas – have been shown to be vital to our mental and physical health and wellbeing. They can also help to reduce crime and enhance community cohesion.
Green space can be vital as wildlife corridors and for protecting and enhancing biodiversity. Most recently, we’ve become aware of a new threat to our trees and gardens from Network Rail, whose actions in St Paul’s Road, Drayton Park sidings and at Ashburton Triangle (opposite the Emirates Stadium) are little short of a chainsaw massacre.
Last weekend, residents awoke to find that huge swathes of trackside trees, shrubs and vegetation had been removed at a time when birds are nesting.
We have now discovered that Network Rail has a nationwide tree clearance programme which threatens an area the size of the Forest of Dean so, worryingly, it looks like there may be more to follow.
So far, National Rail has refused to even explain to us why it is carrying out this work. Railway sidings are recognised as important wildlife corridors, so the damage is not limited to the birds and wildlife killed and displaced at the time.
Then there’s the threat from insurers who would prefer to cut down our trees to avoid paying out on subsidence claims. Recently, four London plane trees in Richmond Avenue, Barnsbury, were threatened when a large private house which had been significantly altered by the householder showed signs of cracking.
In our drying climate, trees will increasingly be under threat if the approach taken in this case is followed elsewhere. It should be for householders and their insurers to bear the cost of making good subsidence problems caused by alterations they have undertaken. Any other approach threatens the local landscape and is contrary to the public interest.
Then there’s the threat from property developers; land in Islington is valuable. While there is clearly a severe housing crisis that needs tackling, partly through the provision of affordable new homes, it is a concern that there doesn’t seem to have been any debate about where that housing should go, or an investigation into the availability of brownfield sites, meaning that precious green space is at risk.
So far the “secret garden” in Highbury, an ancient grassland site, has been lost. When you look at the prices of even the “affordable” homes there (£500,000 for a three-bed flat) it looks as though residents have lost a precious asset and not got much of the promised housing for local people who need it.
I’d like to see the council do more to protect our precious green spaces and trees by standing up for residents against the interests of big business, be they wealthy property developers, insurers or privatised utilities.
We must fight to keep our few remaining areas of green land for the benefit of everyone in Islington and for future generations.
• Emma Dixon is a Green Party campaigner.