NETWORK Rail has responded to concerns raised by Dawlish residents at the removal of trees at Lea Mount.

There had been criticism of the tree felling and questions about whether there may be replanting to replace those lost.

Walkers say the area is looking very bare since the trees were removed.

Photos taken by resident Allison Foster show the extent of the work so far.

Mayor of Dawlish Rosie Dawson has raised the issue with Network Rail who responded saying the work at Lea Mount was part of the Phase 4 of the South West Rail Resilience Programme, which involves installing soil nails and netting on the cliffs between Dawlish and Holcombe and catch fences near the railway line.

A spokesman said: ‘We’re sorry to hear that residents are upset by the removal of trees.

‘We are carrying out the Government-funded work under our permitted development rights to make the railway safer and more reliable by reducing the risk of material falling from the cliff on to the tracks.

‘As part of the preparation, we have needed to remove vegetation from the cliff face so that the netting can be installed and the trees at the cliff top so that the workers can safely gain access.’

The company says at Lea Mount, there will be a small compound where contractors will prepare the grout that is used to secure the soil nails and a temporary haul road that allows us to take materials to the cliff.

These will remain in place until Spring next year.

The spokesman continued: ‘As this particular area is in a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), we have sought the agreement of Natural England to carry out this work and all plans have been shared and discussed with Teignbridge District Council, who own the land at the top of the cliff at this location.

‘Vegetation on the cliffs does grow back through the netting; however we appreciate that this takes time and that the cliff face does look stark for a while.’

Work at Parson’s Tunnel carried out previously has led to vegetation already starting to grow back over the rockfall shelter area.

Any matting seen on the cliff is temporary as Network Rail says it is important for the distinctive red cliffs here to be able to be seen through the mesh.

However, in areas outside the SSSI, coir matting will be laid under the stainless steel netting to encourage regrowth.

He said: ‘We have endeavoured to make the local community aware of the work and why it is needed.

‘We will need to close the footpath in Lea Mount to carry out some of the work but we have agreed with the district council that this will take place after the main holiday season.

‘We will do our best to give people as much advance warning as possible.’

The pillboxes which date from the Second World War will not be affected by the work.