Published: 22 June, 2012
by PETER GRUNER
ONE of Britain’s biggest charities has accused Network Rail of hiding behind a shield of Health and Safety excuses after destroying birds’ nests on railway land in Islington.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says that while public safety is paramount, the rail company has taken “a heavy-duty demolition ball to crack a peanut” in its approach to maintaining the borough’s sidings.
All tree and shrub removal work has been halted following last week’s Tribune report of protests by residents and a demonstration outside the Network Rail’s King’s Cross headquarters.
The backlash took place after workmen cleared trees, shrubs and scrub from a stretch of trackside land close to Arsenal Football Club’s Emirates Stadium.
Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn has been granted a 30-minute Commons debate on the issue after reports of similar action by the rail company in other parts of the country.
Highbury Green activist Emma Dixon believes active nests were destroyed, contravening the Wildlife and Countryside Act. British Transport Police are being asked to investigate the claims.
Chris Corrigan, the conservation charity’s regional director for south-east England, said: “We have offered to work with Network Rail to prevent similar breaches of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. This case in Islington suggests that for them the Act is meaningless.”
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “We removed vegetation in the Drayton Park area (consisting of buddleia, brambles, shrubs and young trees) up to 10 metres from the railway line. In addition, we cleared vegetation from the top of the embankment, including the area surrounding the substation. These works were part of operating a safe and efficient railway. A daily visual check for nesting birds was undertaken.”
Mr Corbyn’s motion, which will be discussed next Wednesday at 4.30pm, reads: “This House is deeply concerned at the insensitive behaviour of Network Rail toward the natural environment, nesting birds, the local community, and Islington borough council; notes its unannounced clearing of vegetation adjacent to the railway lines in North Islington near to the Arsenal stadium and the Gillespie Park nature reserve; notes that this is an important wildlife corridor which enhances the ecology of London as a whole; and notes despairingly that Network Rail did not fulfil undertakings given in September 2011 to work with local communities and the local authority before undertaking vegetation works.”