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Managing Trees and Vegetation in your area

Managing Trees and Vegetation in your area

Scotland’s Railway makes up more than 17 percent of Britain’s rail network, some 3,504 miles of lineside. The management of trees and vegetation protects the operational railway line and helps keep passengers safe, trains punctual and reduces risk for lineside neighbours. Our tree and vegetation management process involves careful planning and is a coordinated effort across our business.

  • Why do we need to manage trees and vegetation?

    If not managed, overgrown trees and vegetation close to the railway can become dangerous and pose safety risks to trains, our passengers, railway staff and contractors, lineside neighbours and adjacent land users and owners.

    Lineside trees and vegetation can obscure signals, interrupt power supplies, reduce visibility, cause injuries, and damage or even derail trains. In autumn, train acceleration and braking can be adversely affected in locations where leaf-fall is significant in volume. Incidents caused by trees and vegetation cost Scotland’s Railway (and the taxpayer who fund us) significant sums, as well as causing disruption and sometimes severe delays to trains and passengers.

  • Where tree and vegetation management is required

    We routinely clear trees and vegetation from the area immediately next to the track. Where trains run at higher speeds, in cuttings or on embankments, or where there are signals, level crossings or overhead line equipment, we may need to clear trees further back. This will also include clearing trees confirmed as in a hazardous condition

    To maintain our railway, and also on land further away from the operational line, there are times when we need to clear areas of trees and vegetation to help our trackside teams examine or repair earthworks and structures or as part of larger programmes of work, such as to prepare for overhead line electrification. To reduce the problems caused by leaves falling on the railway in the autumn, we target the maintenance or removal of certain broadleaf tree species.

    This image shows how we evaluate the threat of trees and other vegetation to the railway and is generic for level ground and where there is a wide railway verge. The ‘immediate action’ zone describes the area where vegetation is acted upon due to either coming into contact with trains or overhead line equipment, affecting the sighting of signals and level crossings, or obstructing safe walking routes for staff. Trees and vegetation in the ‘action’ zone are managed where they would present a safety risk to the railway if they fell, along with any trees that present a particularly high leaf-fall risk in autumn. The ‘alert’ zone is the area that requires ongoing maintenance and mitigation against any safety risk from larger trees, and areas where there is a particularly high density of leaf-fall. (Please note that on sites with a narrow verge or on slopes it may not be possible to safely retain trees due to geotechnical, tree failure and autumn risks).

  • Our approach to each project

    First, we carry out specialist ecology inspections of the proposed area on both sides of the railway. An additional thorough desk-based check using our specialist mapping software is also conducted. This helps us decide how to safeguard nesting birds, other protected species (such as bats) and to obtain permission to work on designated sites. Our teams will then start working along the railway line where possible during the day, or at times at night, to cut back trees and vegetation to safe levels. We’ll cut back trees that pose a safety risk, the distance of these trees from the tracks will vary depending on site specific risks. If there are trees outside our boundary that could pose a safety risk to the railway line, we’ll talk to the landowner to agree a plan of action with them to keep the railway safe.


  • Protecting the environment and improving biodiversity

    We take our environmental obligations extremely seriously and we manage our lineside with safety, performance and biodiversity in mind. We aim to create compatible areas on the land directly beside our railway optimised for invertebrates (such as pollinating insects) and non-woody plant species. This type of habitat once established is diverse as it also supports birds, mammals and reptiles to visit and forage. We have a team of ecologists to advise us on protected species and habitat management.

    Where possible, we try to protect and maintain the environment the railway runs through. However, when we must prune or remove trees we fully comply with the law. For example, during the nesting season we monitor and protect active bird nests until the young birds have fledged.

    Where there is enough room and it is safe to do so, after pruning or removing trees, we leave smaller branches as habitat for wildlife, such as hedgehogs and amphibians. Depending on tree species and availability of distance away from the tracks and other railway equipment, we may allow tree stumps to regrow. Where we cannot do this, woody stumps are treated with an eco-plug containing a measured dose of government approved herbicide to stop unwanted regrowth and prevent leaching into the environment. More information on the eco-plugs can be found here: http://www.ecoplug.com/product-information/ecoplug-faq.

    Our approach is based on guidance and best practice from a range of conservation groups.

  • Could works be carried out during the day instead of at night?

    Our preference would be to undertake tree and vegetation management works during the day and will only proceed at night when there is no other alternative. We try to carry out our works at the least disruptive time possible and as there is a requirement for chainsaws and tree-climbing, daylight hours are always preferable from a safety perspective.

  • Will cutting down trees affect noise levels?

    In specific situations, trees can reduce noise. Belts of dense evergreen trees up to 50 feet deep and 30 feet tall, with dense shrubs at ground level can reduce some noise. However, the reality is that this very specific environment does not exist along our railway and what is in place does little to reduce noise. While we appreciate the feeling of disturbance can be heightened when a sound source becomes more visible, it is important that these works are carried out to ensure the safety of our neighbours, passengers and staff.

  • Does Network Rail need permission to fell trees?

    Network Rail is a statutory undertaker mandated to operate a safe and reliable railway and does not require permission to fell trees if they are on our own land and pose a risk to the safe operation of the railway. Where we need to work out-with our land or there is a Tree Preservation Order or the location is within a Conservation Area, there can be obligations to notify or obtain permission from the Planning Authority.

  • What you can do to help us

    If you are a lineside neighbour and you need to cut down trees on your own land, or are concerned about trees on your own land that could potentially affect the safety of the railway, please contact our Asset Protection department: assetprotectionscotland@networkrail.co.uk or call (Monday to Friday during normal working hours only) : 0141 555 4087. If there is an urgent need to contact us out with these hours, please call the National Help Line on 03457 11 41 41

If you have any questions, please contact us:

Call: National Help Line on 03457 11 41 41

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