Graffiti artists tend to like large flat surfaces to spray their tags onto, but if the concrete wall has been blocked off by a row of trees, it becomes less likely to be spray painted. That at least is the theory, and it’s being tested in Bermondsey, South London.

Network Rail has just planted 35 trees at a graffiti hotspot at the Bermondsey Dive Under – a junction where one set of rail lines tunnel under another — and with large amounts of flat concrete walls close to roads has become a magnet for the graffiti taggers.

This is the first time Network Rail has trialled using trees to prevent graffiti and vandalism on the railway.

Network Rail says that it has spent £150,000 in cleaning costs over the past 2 years at this site, so the planting of trees is hoped to reduce that, while at the same time creating new habitat for wildlife living around the railway.

Jon Ruch, Network Rail’s head of security, route crime and resilience for the Southern region, said: “Using trees to provide a screen that blocks taggers from repainting is a new approach, which is also fantastic news for the environment.”

The trees that have been planted along the Bermondsey Dive Under are Western red cedar (Thuja plicata),  a long-lived tall evergreen tree that’s often planted as evergreen hedging in gardens, or for timber. The tree’s dense foliage attracts many birds and insects which find shelter in the fissured bark.

It’ll take time for the thin trees to spread out to form a long line of graffiti blocking wall of greenery, but apart from their anti-vandalism and environmental benefits, the permeable but irregular shapes of the tree branches and leaves also help to break up the noise from the railway behind rather than just bouncing it off a solid wall, so that the overall noise volume is reduced.

This latest tree planting follows the launch of a £1 million 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, working 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 and thousands more will follow by 2024.


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One comment
  1. Alan Simpson says:

    The more trees the better, as far as I’m concerned. However, they do need to be looked after too. About 20 years ago TfL planted many small trees in front of the grafitti wall alongside the Central line between Leytonstone and Leyton. Barely a handful of those trees are alive today.

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