Beating graffiti with trees

Network Rail tree planting (NR)

Network Rail is more usually engaged in cutting back the greenery around the trackside. However, the British infrastructure management agency has turned to vegetation in a novel way to tackle the plague of graffiti. Network Rail has stopped pulling out the growth at the trackside and taken to planting trees in a vandalism hotspot in Bermondsey, in the south of London.

On their Southern Region and Route, Network Rail has planted 35 trees at an unsightly graffiti hotspot in London. They say it is in a bid to deter criminal taggers from vandalising the railway and to save thousands of pounds in cleaning costs. It is the first time Network Rail has trialled using trees to prevent graffiti and vandalism, which has become an eyesore for the railway and its neighbours.

Longest job title on the railway

Bermondsey Dive Under is a complicated junction on the approaches to London Bridge station – and one of the busiest locations on the entire UK rail network. The tree planting at the junction, says Network Rail, aims to stop graffiti at this south east London hotspot. It also hopes to save money, which has cost taxpayers 150,000 pounds (176,000 euros) in cleaning costs in the past two years.

maybe a little too much, but that should stop any unauthorised tagging. Image: Bence Balla, Unsplash

There are safety and disruption benefits as well, but Network Rail also says that it’s creating new habitat for wildlife living around the railway. “Using trees to provide a screen that blocks taggers from repainting is a new approach”, said Jon Ruch, Network Rail’s head of security, route crime and resilience for the Southern region. “[It’s] also fantastic news for the environment.”

National plant out

“Our teams have been working incredibly hard over the past year or so to remove more graffiti, as we want to make the railway a more inviting place”, added Ruch. “We spend around 750 thousand pounds [885 thousand euro] per year on targeting graffiti hotspots and have cleared almost 700 sites since the start of the year right across the Southern region. If we can stop it, that’s vital funding that we can invest into making the railway more reliable.”

This latest tree planting follows the launch of a one million pound (1.2 million euro) scheme by Network Rail Southern region in April to set up local planting schemes in Kent, Sussex, south London, Surrey and Hampshire over the next three years. The initiative is in partnership with national conservation charity The Tree Council. The first year target of 10,000 trees and shrubs by the end of March 2022 has been more than doubled. Network Rail says thousands more will follow by 2024.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for and

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