UK: Terms of reference for a review of how Network Rail can best ensure the safety of railway operations while also protecting wildlife and preserving trees were published by the Department for Transport on July 12.

There are estimated to be more than 10 million trees within 60 m of the railway. Network Rail has ongoing vegetation management programmes, but in response to public concerns over the effects on birds, on May 10 Rail Minister Jo Johnson asked it to suspend all felling during this year’s nesting season, except where safety critical.

The review is to be chaired by John Varley, a director of Clinton Devon Estates which manages 10 000 ha of farm, forestry, residential and commercial land.

It will consider all aspects of Network Rail’s approach to vegetation management, including the rationale and effectiveness of existing policies; where best practice exists and whether it can be implemented more effectively elsewhere on the network; whether capabilities are adequate for identifying and optimising opportunities to enhance the natural environment; whether more skills are needed to identify alternative approaches; scope for innovation such as improvements in adhesion management; and environmental reporting and public communications.

A Network Rail spokesperson told Railway Gazette that the infrastructure manager was ‘constantly balancing the needs of the environment and its line side neighbours with the needs and safety of the 4·6 million people who use and rely on our railway every day.’ Last year there were more than 400 incidents of trains colliding with fallen trees, and another 1 000 incidents which caused delays to services, costing the industry over £100m.

‘We have well thought out standards and policies in place that have been developed over many years with the help of experts that we believe strike the right balance and maintains a safe and biodiverse lineside’, Network Rail said. ‘Most of the time when putting those standards and policies into action we get it right, but sometimes we don’t. To help us improve we have formed close partnerships with the Tree Council, the Woodland Trust and others expert in the field. We welcome the government’s review and the opportunity it presents to further improve.’