On a cold and foggy December morning, Pauline Buchanan Black, Director General of The Tree Council and Jon Stokes, the charity's Project Manager and renowned hedgerow expert, traipsed across the Grange Park embankments, notebooks and cameras at the ready. They were visiting at the behest of Network Rail, following campaigning by local residents; to inspect the site and assess the success of the tree and hedge replanting, undertaken at the end of 2011.
A week later, they were back on site, for a two hour debriefing with a group of local residents who have been lobbying Network Rail; accompanied by senior managers from Network Rail, including Dr Neil Strong, Network Rail's own tree specialist, who first presented Network Rail's replanting proposals back in February 2011.
Network Rail had originally promised to review the replanting in the Autumn of 2012; it has taken a year of persistent badgering to arrive at this point. Network Rail is a paid up member organisation of the Tree Council, therefore it could be argued that the Council is not a wholly independent arbiter. Nevertheless, it was an open and candid meeting, with Network Rail's Regional Manager Richard Owen, admitting to the devastation which resulted from the "scorched earth policy".
The Tree Council's conclusions were not good; the plant survival rate is below the standards used by leading tree bodies, including the Forestry Commision and the report identifies poor site preparation and maintenance of the site since planting.
Here is a summary of the findings
"The concept behind the planting plan appeared well thought through and in the main, executed as shown on the plan, The survival rate for hedge plants surveyed across the site was 88% and for trees, 68%: this is below comparable standards set by DEFRA and the Forestry Commission. The main cause of death appear to be a combination of poor ground preparation; lack of water, light and nutrients because of competition from grass and weeds; and poor planting techniques. To increase the chances of the project meeting its aims, we recommend a rigorous management to improve conditions and restock the dead plants."
The table provides a summary of the replanting, showing the high failure rate among the trees, with 83 of them reported to be dead, largely due to contractor errors and lack of maintenance. What a waste of money.
Points arising from the report and the meeting
* The report states that "assessments were made on 1275 hedge plants and 258 trees throughout the site" . However it also reports that "4374 hedge plants and 411 trees were commissioned". The figures confirm what local residents have te always suspected, that the planting was well short of what was originally promised, with less than half the hedging plants actually planted and 150 fewer trees. The report alludes to this, by reference to the planting of two to three rows of hedge row plants, "not the ten or so shown on the plan cross section. The discrepancy will not affect the development of the hedge, but the local residents may have expected a more dense band of planting"
* It would seem that the contractors and Network Rail were at fault in not preparing the ground sufficiently, improving the quality of the soil prior to planning and using mulch to conserve water and reduce weeds.
Weed control non existent. If grass growth continues, the death rate will Weed choking tubes. This has caused some trees to rot and die.
increase and the growth rates will decline.
* A number of trees and whips were planted at the wrong depth and have become water logged.
Holly isn't surviving in the tubes. It is dying back as it is too wet inside. Hedge whips planted too deep resulting in the death of plant material.
Holly needs a mess guard on this site to ensure survival. Blackthorn particularly suffering - 3 dug up for reference.
* Many trees were not supported with the correct size of tree tie and "a variety of inappropriate materials have been used to tie the trees to the stake".
* Nursery labels should have been removed as these can constrict growth.
Excessive weed growth which has not been controlled. No sign of mulch, Ties are too low and the stakes have been wrongly specified for the size of tree.
spraying or other ground treatment. They should have been at least 30cm taller, ideally 60cm taller, to ensure tree
stability. Rubbing of the stem is evident at top of many stakes due to poor
* There was evidence of scars on the trunks of some of the trees, where they may have been damaged by a mechanical digger
Across the site, tree ties have been broken, because they were inadequate Evidence of major scars, suggesting poor planting practice. The damage to a few
for the size of tree. Planters have used a mixture of ties used to secure the of the trees is so significant that they should be considered as failures, even if they
hedge guards, which are entirely inappropriate, and some gardening ties which are currently alive.
again are too small for the size of tree. This has resulted in the trees leaning,
falling and snapping.
* Hedgerow growth has been minimal in the past year, largely due to lack of maintenance, in particular weeding around the plants and lack of water.
The Tree Council team has made a number of recommendations, including the use of herbicides to reduce weed cover around the hedging; improvement of the soil along the Green Dragon Lane boundary, where the soil has been too compacted to allow for healthy plant growth and the replacement of dead trees.
A proper schedule of maintenance needs to be drawn up, taking 2013, rather than 2011 as the base year, which must include watering, if this site is to have any chance of recovery in the next decade.
As the planting has not been as dense as outlined in the original plan, it is hoped that further planting will take place, that Network Rail will honour its earlier commitment, especially as the lack of maintenance and poor practices have lengthened the time it will take to restore the site to becoming one again a wildlife corridor.
Network Rail has accepted the report and recommendations. Regional Director Richard Owen, who is taking responsibility for all the work proposed between Palmers Green and Enfield Chase stations, (the Grange Park embankment replanting plus the new maintenance work), has given a categorical assurance that only minimal maintenance work is proposed. There will be no removal of mature trees or large shrubs. Contractors will be fully supervised to ensure that these guidelines are adhered to.
He also acknowledged that Network Rail has lost the trust of its "line-side neighbours" and this reputational damage needs to be rebuilt.
Yes, we have heard this before, but there is more accountability and transparency promised. It will take several years before this former wildlife corridor reverts to nature; the speed at which this happens is down to nature and contingent on Network Rail fulfilling its obligations made in December 2013, not February 2011. Only time will tell.
The Tree Council report can be read here.
On a cold and foggy December morning, Pauline Buchanan Black, Director General of The Tree Council and Jon Stokes, the charity's Project Manager and renowned hedgerow expert, traipsed across the Grange Park embankments, notebooks and cameras at the ready. They were visiting at the behest of Network Rail, following campaigning by local residents.