Angry residents have accused Network Rail of “butchering” a trackside wildlife haven with its maintenance work.
Trees up to 40 feet high and shrubs and bushes that had been growing for decades have been decimated at the side of the track in Hartburn.
As the dense undergrowth is reduced to wood chippings, locals say it is driving out wildlife, including birds, bats and hedgehogs.
Many homes neighbouring the train tracks on Linden Avenue are also finding their privacy is being lost.
Network Rail apologised for failing to let households know the work – part of a national campaign to improve rail safety and performance – was due to take place and said the work has been stopped until this is rectified. The firm also assured that contractors regularly check for nests before trees are removed.
Shirley and Jeremy Staton, of Devonshire Street, which runs up to the line, were outraged that the work was being carried out during what the RSPB says is the main breeding season for nesting birds.
Said Shirley: “We have blue tits, robins, all sorts of birds around here, as well as hedgehogs and bats. It’s atrocious what they are doing there, lots of people are angry about this.
“You couldn’t even see the rail line because of the undergrowth before, and they haven’t informed people this was happening.”
Another Devonshire Street resident said: “It’s disgusting, it’s a mess. They were fully grown trees around 40 feet high, not just shrubs. We even had a big white owl living in there.” Another local man said: “That’s not maintenance, that’s butchery.”
Residents have now contacted James Wharton, Tory MP for Stockton South. He said: “Network Rail does need to maintain the track and land it manages but they should properly inform residents and undertake work in a thoughtful manner.
“I have had to deal with a number of complaints in and around this part of Stockton about them in the past and will be taking this up with them in no uncertain terms.”
A Network Rail spokesperson said: “Upon investigation it has emerged that the contractor appointed to carry out the vegetation clearance behind Linden Avenue failed to notify residents by letter in accordance with Network Rail’s policy. As a result we have stopped work on site until this is rectified. Network Rail would like to apologise to all those impacted by this error.” He said Network Rail takes its responsibilities under the Wildlife Countryside Act “very seriously”.
“The assigned contractor for this work carried out a pre-walkout of this section for nests and also carries out a start-up inspection of work area on a daily basis,” he said. “A nest was recently found and has been isolated and marked up to be protected.”
Network Rail says the section of track is being cleared to mitigate issues including leaf fall, diseased trees and signal sighting.