Green campaigner Emma Dixon and RSPB inspector Tim Webb
Published: 13 July, 2012
by PETER GRUNER
WITH just hours to go before the axe fell, British Transport Police took action to protect birds nesting in trees Network Rail planned to cut down at an Islington railway embankment.
Residents living close to the Overground line, between Highbury and Islington and Canonbury stations, received a letter from Network Rail at lunchtime on Saturday giving 12 hours’ notice that tree work would begin at midnight.
With time ticking away, a resident emailed Islington Green Party, which has been embroiled in battles with the rail company over the removal of trees around the Emirates Stadium.
What followed was a race against time to stop the work. It involved Green Party activist Emma Dixon and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) inspector Tim Webb.
The work was due to take place in the ironically named Heaven Tree Close, near Canonbury station.
Under the Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to remove trees where there are nesting birds and doing so can incur massive fines.
Ms Dixon said: “By luck, there was an RSPB inspector attending a party in nearby Dalston who I managed to contact on the mobile. He agreed to cycle over immediately and inspect the area where the trees were going to be removed.”
RSPB inspector Mr Webb said: “I heard the sound of birds, including crows and blackbirds, and was convinced they were nesting in the trees. This is the breeding and nesting season.
“There is a very good reason for a law against cutting down trees at this time because chicks obviously can’t fly away and there are obvious consequences.”
The RSPB contacted British Transport Police. At 8pm, with just four hours to go before the work was to begin, transport police advised Network Rail not to go ahead.
Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, who has raised the issue in Parliament, has written to Network Rail. Mr Corbyn said: “In Islington, councillors, officers and residents have received numerous assurances from the company. Yet new works continue without reference to what has gone before.
“It appears all our efforts will be in vain unless the company establishes clear policies and lines of communication both within its organisation and with residents and councils.”
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “We need to carry out vegetation management along this section of track to trim trees which are in danger of encroaching onto overhead power lines.
“The work was postponed last weekend but will be rescheduled and we will ensure local people are informed with as much notice as possible.”
NETWORK Rail could face possible criminal action in the courts over the “massive destruction” of trees in Drayton Park, near the Emirates Stadium.
British Transport Police, who were asked to investigate, said that, although they did not believe a crime was committed, they are submitting a file to the Crown Prosecution Service for its consideration.
The claims are that nesting birds protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act were disturbed during the work last month.
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, welcomed the decision to refer the matter to the CPS. He said: “Network Rail have wantonly destroyed trees and nesting sites in my constituency.”
A British Transport Police spokesman said inquiries had found that shrubbery and trees causing damage and health and safety issues to the line had been removed. “Officers were satisfied that, following consultation with the RSPB and Natural England, Network Rail carried out suitable bird surveys as well as daily visual checks for nesting birds before work was undertaken,” he added.
Inquiries had “found all correct procedures had been followed with no crimes of disturbing nesting birds taking place”.
Network Rail route managing director Phil Verster said: “Clearly, there was no intent to do anything other than manage our railway requirements. Given the concerns expressed, I have postponed all current vegetation clearance in this area with immediate effect.”