Both the council and volunteers were not warned about the felling in March. Photograph: Lorraine Tillett

Network Rail has promised to tell residents in advance about tree-felling after it cut down hundreds without warning at a Stamford Hill nature reserve.

The rail operator’s tree-felling programme at the East and West Bank Nature Reserve, a Site for the Importance of Nature Conservation, caused upset in March and concern about nesting birds.

The council-owned reserve is managed by volunteers but Network Rail is responsible for the railway cuttings.

According to the Town Hall, the reserve between Stamford Hill and Dunsmure Road was home to five to ten per cent of the borough’s mature trees.

Network Rail said the trees had grown so much they “posed a safety risk to passengers”, so cleared them.

The move left volunteers “angry and distressed” and they said they thought the rail company had an agreement to leave the embankment to flourish.

They accused Network Rail of “poor practice” for felling trees during the nesting season.

Glyphosate eco-plugs were also attached to the tree roots to prevent regrowth, said the council, which has worked to cut its own use of the pesticide because of the harm it causes to biodiversity.

The reserve is closed to the public and was designated a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation in 2002,  which made it more significant than any Hackney park, and second only to the Lea Valley and the New River Reservoirs, according to the council.

Volunteers fitted owl, bird and bat boxes in the reserve, which is home to 40 species of birds, including tawny owls, peregrine falcons, nightingales and greater spotted woodpeckers, along with 70 species of plants and flowers.

Mark Walker, route infrastructure engineer for Network Rail’s Anglia Route, said: “I know residents of Hackney feel strongly about protecting the natural environment in their borough. We’re the custodians of a number of green spaces in the area that are much valued by the community and support local wildlife.

“Earlier this year we had to remove vegetation from some of these areas. Unfortunately, it had grown to the extent that it posed a safety risk to passengers and those working on the railway.”

He said the company would work more closely with the community, adding: “We normally tell our neighbours about this kind of work before we begin, but in this case we didn’t nor did we explain why we were doing it, or how we’d mitigate against its impact. This was wrong and caused a lot of upset for which I’m sorry.

“I’m pleased we’ll be working with the council and the local community to put this right and I’m looking forward to exploring ways we can further promote biodiversity in Hackney.”

In a recent  meeting with Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville, local MP Diane Abbott and Town Hall parks chief Cllr Caroline Woodley, the company explained that it had surveyed the wildlife before the work started.

Staff earmarked trees with nesting birds to prevent them being felled.

It will also be putting in new plants this autumn to replace what was lost.

It is picking species that it says “will present less risk to the rail lines”.

The politicians welcomed Network Rail’s pledge to work more closely with the community and prevent a similar incident.

In a joint statement, they said: “We were pleased to hear Network Rail accept that their community engagement was not good enough and their commitment to ensure this will not happen again.”

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