Guest post by Emma Wallace, Green Party Candidate for the Brent and Harrow GLA Constituency
Emma Wallace at the scene
Residents living next to the Metropolitan and Chiltern lines straddling the boroughs of Harrow and Hillingdon, have witnessed a series of distressing environmental actions carried out by TFL this new year. Over the last two weeks, TFL contractors have been arriving daily with chainsaws, strimmer’s and tree chippers and removing huge stretches of trees and vegetation running along the Metropolitan line between Pinner towards Northwood Hills. This act of environmental vandalism has meant a biodiverse, green corridor has now been severely reduced, impacting nearby residents’ health and mental well-being, as well as removing habitat for local wildlife.
Destruction of habitat and wildlife by TFL Contractors
Simon Joshua, founder of Harrow Biodiversity and Environment, has visited and reported about the destruction near the Hazeldene Estate, Pinner, located just metres from the Metropolitan and Chiltern lines. He writes:
“Green corridors are vital, protected habitats for many wildlife species. They enable them to forage, travel to find new populations and areas to reproduce in. Isolated pockets of green are infinitely less beneficial. Motorways, roads and railways provide ideal, protected green corridors and provide a haven for many species that would otherwise not be able to survive in today’s urban areas. Most of these areas remain inaccessible to people and therefore are relatively undisturbed.”
The green corridors running along the Met line are a rich habitat for a diverse range of wildlife, from owls, kites, woodpeckers, jackdaws, robins, parakeets and numerous other birds, to badgers, hedgehogs, foxes and other mammals.
These species, many protected by law, are increasingly forced into these small green spaces, as a result of the loss of suitable habitat through increasing development in London. Now that mature trees of 20+ years have been felled along this Met line embankment, squirrels lack a place to forage, birds have lost their nest sites, woodpeckers have lost trees for feeding and nesting and the perch for the local owl has gone. And as Simon Joshua states, “TFL claims that the removal of trees is vital for safety. Apparently, it is not about leaves. The trees being removed are not old, not diseased and not in danger of falling down. How many incidents have there been in the past ten years along this stretch of the railway?” Listen to Simon talk about the damage that has occurred along this stretch of track in Pinner, HERE.
Local resident Karen Pillai, who lives on the Hazeldene Estate, had set up ‘Pinner Green Junior Wildlife Group’ for local children to learn about the wildlife in their neighbourhood and help preserve the environment they live in. They had also started a biodiversity project with the support of local MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, David Simmonds and local councillors. The children are absolutely devastated that the wildlife now has nowhere to live and their green environment has disappeared.
Witnessing the destruction over the last two weeks, Karen Pillai asked the contractors whether an ecological survey of the area they were clearing had been completed or if they were aware that the trees they were felling contained birds’ nests. Their response was to laugh at her. The contractors who carry out TFL’s Trackside Vegetation Management, ‘Cleshar Contract Services’, were awarded a £10-25 million pound contract until March 2022 LINK. It appears that these contractors have little awareness of the environmental value of these track-side spaces they have been given to manage, the importance of trees or the legal obligation to protect many species that live here.
Impact on residents’ health and well-being
Whilst the loss of wildlife is tragic in itself, it is also the impact to resident’s health and well-being that is of huge concern. The local community were not informed by TFL that these works were going to be carried out, consequently have not had an opportunity to raise concerns or ask for a consultation of the works to be carried out. They are now left without trees to protect them from the pollution, light and noise from frequent trains passing, both on the Met line and the Chiltern Railway.
Karen Pillai writes:
“These trees protect us from pollution as we are bordered by the tube line which produces emissions and the busy main road on the other side. Systematic removal of our protection from air pollution puts those who live on our estate at a higher risk of lung disease and also more susceptible to illness. Deforestation also has links to pandemics, because nature acts as a buffer protecting us from many illnesses including Covid. This is why parks and green spaces were deemed safe last year, during the pandemic. We live in a high pollution area and there is a high incidence of asthma and lung disease in children because of traffic pollution. Some of the work was carried out last year and we thought that was the end of it; but now they are removing more trees and green cover which will make it worse.
The trees also provide a barrier from the noise of the constant tube trains and dampen the continuous roar. Trees provide us with shade and help offset flooding and land slippage. Our flats already suffer from severe damp, without removing the bordering trees that help to drain it. The trees also support each other and removing the undergrowth increases the risk of larger trees falling.”
On the right lines? Report
In January 2012 The London Assembly Environment Committee published a report entitled ‘On the right lines? Vegetation Management on London’s Railway Embankments’ LINK. This report highlights how London Underground trackside land totals 10% of all green space in the city and has huge environmental importance. Darren Johnson, then Green Party Assembly Member and Deputy Chair of the Environment Committee, wrote about the embankment vegetation:
“Not only can it provide privacy and enhance the attractiveness of neighbourhoods, it also shields residents from disturbance and dust generated by passing trains. Moreover, London’s biodiversity benefit from the habitats and wildlife corridors that line-side vegetation provides across the length and breadth of the capital. It is a vital green asset for Londoners.”
The report goes on to point out that there has been much public concern about TFLs line-side maintenance over the years, including the excessive removal of vegetation, the disturbance to wildlife and the lack of correspondence with residents. The report makes three key recommendations, including “that local residents are accurately informed as to the nature of the works, how long they will take and how the wildlife is going to be effectively protected. Many residents living alongside railway lines are passionate about the trees and wildlife at the bottom of their gardens and I would like to see line-side managers make common cause with residents to treat these green spaces more as assets and not as a maintenance liability.”
A problem across the whole of the TFL Underground Network
Reading the On the right lines report more than nine years on, it appears that little has changed and the recommendations have unfortunately not been implemented by TFL. Along with the recent events along Pinner’s Met line, there have been frequent reports of unnecessary tree felling and excessive removal of undergrowth by TFL across the more than 55% of tube network that is above ground.
In 2019, there was an online 38 Degrees petition started by Chris Sullivan, calling on Sadiq Khan and Transport for London to ‘Stop Destroying the Trees on the Piccadilly and Metropolitan Line’, focusing specifically on the Piccadilly line stretch between Rayners Lane and Ealing Common: LINK
In February 2019, residents living near Chigwell to Grange
Hill stations on the Central Line complained about the lack of consultation and
the unnecessary felling of trees to be carried out by TFL over an 18 month
period. This report states that 60,000
tonnes of vegetation were to be removed: LINK LINK
In May 2020, residents near Wimbledon Park on the District Line reported “very aggressive men with chainsaws” causing major environmental damage, reducing privacy to their homes and affecting their mental well-being during a pandemic. They were also not consulted about the trackside work LINK.
The London Mayor’s Green Promises
In 2018, Sadiq Khan set out a bold vision in his ‘London Environment Strategy’ to protect, increase and improve London’s green infrastructure and make London the world’s first National Park City LINK. The mayor has since launched many Green initiatives to encourage people to get involved in London’s green spaces and help address the climate and ecological emergency.
In November 2020, he announced he was investing more than £10 million in green projects, including £700 000 to the ‘Mayor's Grow Back Greener Fund’, awarded to a range of community projects to create and improve green spaces LINK. Khan has also invested almost £5 million pounds in tree planting projects in London since 2017. Whilst these initiatives are admirable in their efforts to make London a greener city, wouldn’t it be more logical to try and preserve the already biodiverse, green urban spaces we have running alongside our tube network? This would save money and ensure that wildlife and vegetation that already exists has a home for years to come. The money saved could also be invested to proper training for TFL contractors on vegetation management and trackside biodiversity and habitat protection?
In June 2020, Lib Dem Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon asked the Mayor to set out the “overall policies that TfL adopts towards tree cutting and felling alongside London Underground lines.” LINK Sadiq Khan listed a number of reasons why tree felling track-side may occur, stating that “TfL is also committed to enhancing biodiversity where possible." He also stated that “Sites are assessed prior to and during works, and if a nest is found the work is stopped and a buffer zone of vegetation is left in place.” Both these statements have been contravened by the actions carried out by TFL along the Metropolitan line this January.
Future actions for TFL?
With this excessive removal of vegetation along the Met Line, we have lost another rich, green space in London that would help mitigate the effects of climate change, air pollution and provide a place for wildlife to live. The environmental vandalism carried out by TFL and their contractors reveals a disregard for our climate, population and wildlife, of which we share the planet. I call on the London Mayor and TFL to immediately stop the excessive removal of habitat from trackside embankments and ensure that biodiversity surveys are carried out before work begins, that local residents are informed and given time to feedback concerns, and that the contractors are trained on effective vegetation management.
Simon Joshua also suggests that “there may be an opportunity to correct the ecological disaster that we have witnessed. The council has already given permission to plant along their side of the fence line. It may take a decade to come close to what has been exterminated this month, but we could plant an area that would benefit residents of the estate and homes but also encourage wildlife to return. In order to do this, we require financial compensation to provide trees and plants to replace what TFL has destroyed.”
Please contact the below TFL representatives and make your thoughts know about the recent actions:
TFLs Chief Safety, Health and Environmental Officer, Lilli Matson
TFLs Head of Track for London Underground, Duncan Weir