Irish Rail has defended its practice of vegetation management after accusations that it committed acts of 'deliberate destruction' in cutting down trees along the train line in Co Offaly.
Before and after pictures showing the complete removal of trees from a stretch of railway have been widely shared on social media in recent days. It prompted criticism of Irish Rail's approach to managing the ecosystem along the rail network, with the Green Party particularly vocal on the 'wanton destruction' of the trees.
It is an offence to destroy hedgerows and trees from March 1 to August 31. The trees in question were removed over several weeks in April, with Irish Rail insisting it was done under section 49 of the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001, with allows it to "cut or lop" trees, hedges or shrubs if they undermine safety or operability.
Irish Rail's corporate spokesman Barry Kenny said the provision of a "safe rail system" is the company's primary objective.
Despite requests to @IrishRail to cease this activity, they continued with their destruction of mature hedgerow & trees in #Offaly, and now there is nothing left. A habitat destroyed. Nests, chicks & biodiversity mulched to the ground. It’s late April. Before & After. #ecocide pic.twitter.com/VqcnzyseU2— Pippa Hackett (@pippa_hackett) April 26, 2019
"Tree and vegetation related incidents can have a profound adverse impact on the operability and safe passage of trains," he said.
Irish Rail said that it is sometimes "not practical or safe" to carry out vegetation work during the winter months and that doing so outside the legal hedge cutting season is done in exceptional circumstances.
"In this particular area on the Dublin to Galway line, the trees had grown very high causing visibility issues, and had caused damage to fencing allowing animal incursions," Mr Kenny said. "We’ve seen a number of serious incidents over the past year of animal incursions."
Pippa Hackett, the Green Party's spokesperson on heritage, said that workers were seen removing trees over a number of weeks.
"Concerns were highlighted directly to Irish Rail a week previously when it began the decimation of the mature hedge on the other side of the track," she said. "Yet, despite pleas from members of the public, they returned the following week, to completely destroy the hedge on the opposite side.
"I have seen many incidences of severe hedge trimming, even hedge removal during the cutting season, but never have I witnessed such wanton hedgerow destruction at the height of the nesting season, with hedges on the point of bloom. Nests, chicks, and biodiversity have been mulched to the ground."
Mr Kenny said that works are ongoing in many areas due to safety concerns.
"We have ongoing planned works, and other safety-critical works and within available resources this was the first opportunity to undertake this – it was crucial to complete both as a preventative measure ahead of any storms and ahead of the summer season."