Fury as Highbury rail siding is razed to the ground

The felling of trees and vegetation adjoining a railway line has been described as a “biodiversity massacre” by residents living nearby.

Network Rail, which owns and manages the sidings at Drayton Park Station, Highbury, cut back the area on Saturday – but residents and councillors claim that eco-rich scrubland and bird habitats have been destroyed.

The organisation said the work was needed “to enable a safe emergency evacuation route” from the station.

But Pat Tuson, 66, of Bryantwood Road, claimed the area was protected.

She said: “This is a wanton and reckless destruction of an important and ‘protected’ nature conservation area in Islington taking place during the bird breeding season.

“Much the same thing happened here around 10 years ago and a greenspace manager informed us that he’d obtained an undertaking at the time that the railway authority would not do this sort of thing again without first notifying Islington Council of their reasons.”

Ms Tuson, who lives with her partner Chris Ashby, 65, believes 16 species of bird – including house sparrows, robins and woodpeckers – were potentially nesting at the site or depending on it, as well as insects, mammals and bats. Liberal Democrat Highbury East councillor John Gilbert said the sidings were a “wildlife refuge”.

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A spokesman for Network Rail said the work was needed to meet safety regulations and, while nothing on record indicated the land was protected, the organisation would work with the council should it feel conditions had been contravened.

But contractors would have checked for evidence of nesting birds, he said.

He added: “We recognise that its removal, particularly when it is believed to provide a habitat for species, is an emotive subject. However, safety is our number one priority and there are many instances where vegetation presents a hazard to operating the railway safely.”

An Islington Council spokesman said: “We’ve asked for more information about how this work was carried out and why. We will be working with Network Rail to help them look at ways of managing nature conservation on the site without affecting safety.”