Bird protection on the line
Network Rail, which manages an estimated 20,000 miles of railway line, has come into conflict with the RSPB, local residents and even British Transport Police over the destruction of trackside vegetation that provides a home for an estimated 1.5 million birds' nests. Although the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act protects all wild birds and their eggs and nests, Network Rail is potentially contravening the law by removing scrub and felling trees containing nests. The destruction of nests during the bird breeding season (March until August) is generally regarded as a criminal offence. Darren Moorcroft is head of species and habitats for the RSPB.
Commenting on the scale of the destruction and the impact on birds, Darren said: "Network Rail has a vital role in protecting public health and safety and we recognise this will mean removing trees occasionally. However, Network Rail also has a duty of care to local wildlife and residents. As a minimum, we expect Network Rail to comply with the law, but with such a vast estate it could do so much more. Creating wildlife habitat rather than destroying it by hiding behind health and safety would help nature to flourish and it would also go a long way towards establishing a better relationship with the estimated 20 million people who live within 500 metres of a railway line."
Mark Thomas is an investigations officer with the RSPB. He said: "In the last two months, RSPB has been informed about a number of cleared areas including high-profile incidents such as at Whitstable and Islington, where members of the local community even chained themselves to rail-side trees in an attempt to protect their valuable green space and breeding birds. At Whitstable, work was postponed after a British Transport Police wildlife crime officer intervened and challenged the necessity to undertake the work during the bird breeding season."
The RSPB has written to Network Rail wanting to share good practice and it is urging Network Rail to be responsible custodians of their valuable wildlife corridors. Mark Thomas added: "Network Rail has a real opportunity to improve its ways of working. It is in no one's interest for Network Rail to fall foul of the law, but this is what they currently risk doing."