Canterbury City Councillor visits lineside vegetation works in Whitstable, Kent

During routine de-vegetation works, COOMBES were joined by Canterbury City Councillor Ashley Clark, and David Alderson of Network Rail to explain how the work has been planned not only to keep the tracks safe, but also how to help preserve and enhance biodiversity along the lineside estate.

Vegetation management plays an essential role in keeping the railway running safely, but can cause a brief spell of disruption for lineside residents.

During routine de-vegetation works, COOMBES were joined by Canterbury City Councillor Ashley Clark, and David Alderson of Network Rail to explain how the work has been planned not only to keep the tracks safe, but also how to help preserve and enhance biodiversity along the lineside estate.

The meeting also highlighted the importance of communicating with lineside neighbours, and conveying not just what is being done, but why. Councillor Ashley Clark commented -

“I was pleased to see the lengths to which Network Rail and COOMBES have gone to ensure this has been done properly. They’ve taken out what has to be taken out but they have been leaving as much as they could. It’s important to get the balance right between nature and safety, but safety has to remain paramount.

“We all appreciate nature and its importance, but it’s about getting that balance right and communicating with local people so they understand what the railway is doing and why. We saw today people were offering cups of tea and were pleased to talk to us, which shows how important it is that the relationship between the community and the railway is harmonious."

Managing the trees, shrubs and plants along the railway need to be done for a number of reasons, including:

  • Storms can cause trees to fall on the railway, causing delays or could even be struck by trains if not cleared immediately.
  • Vegetation can cause problems with train drivers seeing signals and people at level crossings spotting approaching trains.
  • Overhanging trees drop their leaves onto the tracks, this leaf fall creates a layer that is similar to "black ice", causing trains to lose traction.
  • Certain types of trees, such as oaks and sycamores, absorb moisture unevenly from the trackbed, causing dips in the track. As such, Whitstable has implemented a 30-mph speed limit.

Network Rail project manager David Alderson said: “We cut back trees and shrubs to seven metres from the track but in areas where there are houses and gardens we leave a screen where we can. While there may be an immediate change of view, the work actually allows smaller plants to grow through. We want to manage the use of our land in a way that protects, preserves and enhances wildlife, as well as protects trains and passengers.

“The key thing is that we communicate to people what we’re doing and why it is important and I appreciate we haven’t always been able to do that. We want to be a good neighbour to people.”



We have learned over the years that the key to the successful outcome of any job starts with our investment right at the planning stages, working together with local communities, lineside neighbours, landowners and Network Rail’s Stakeholders. It also enables us to support the community economically wherever possible.

This site walkout was one example of how valuable collaboration worked together for the good of the neighbouring community, at the same time, facilitating decent lineside Vegetation Management practice for signal sighting and overall track safety.



Craig Mills, COOMBES Environmental Manager, said: “It makes such a big difference when our teams are up trees or working in cuttings that people know why they are doing it. Some people will want the trees cut back, but their neighbour might not and the key thing is to explain to people and work with them, so even if they don’t agree with what we’re doing, they understand it.”

“Managing vegetation actually enables improvements in biodiversity, as it allows important species that would have been dominated to grow up. In fact, today we saw evidence of that already happening in Whitstable.”
“It was great to hear our neighbours talking to their local councillor with us this weekend and I hope people have a better idea of what we are doing.”

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