Sandra Laville’s article (Mile after mile of stumps: anger at trackside tree cull, 30 April) once again highlights decisions about tree care and management being made without a full understanding of the roles of trees and other vegetation in the landscape. Network Rail’s clearance of trees is being justified as necessary to reduce the risk of accidents (falling branches and trees) and delays (caused by leaves falling on the track). While these aims may be valid, this “scorched earth” policy exposes the underlying soil, leaving it vulnerable to rain, erosion and even land slippage.
In the days of the “lengthsman”, a person responsible for maintaining a stretch of line, vegetation growing into the running area was cut back as necessary by pruning or felling, and stumps were allowed to regrow. In this way the immediate operational area, including visibility of signals, was protected. This left the majority of the vegetation within the responsibility of the railway intact. As a result, the underlying soil was not exposed to the impact of rain, and roots held the soil against water escaping from water-bearing strata that had been exposed by construction of the railway.
Country diary: return of the parish lengthsman
Trees do produce and shed leaves. During much of the day these falls are of limited significance because the vortex caused by the passage of each train disturbs fallen leaves, many of which are blown off the track. It is overnight that falling leaves are able to accumulate on the line. Clearly running overnight trains simply to disturb these leaves is impractical. Litter, including leaves, becomes trapped in low vegetation. As such, retention of low-growing, woody vegetation (eg brambles) along the track should ease the “leaf problem”. This vegetation used to pose a fire hazard, particularly where steam trains were running. Diesel and electric trains do not pose the same risk.
Leyburn, North Yorkshire
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