THE people who look after protected land in Wolvercote are hoping to plant new trees to shield it from a neighbouring railway development.

Network Rail wants to reinstate a disused freight line that runs north from Oxford station, parallel to Port Meadow and Wolvercote Common.

The preparation work involves removing trees along the boundary and earlier this year an officer for Oxford City Council ordered it to stop because of complaints it could affect nesting birds. But the work is now back under way, raising concerns about the effect it could have on the historic land.

Michael Buck is chairman of the Wolvercote Commoners who are responsible for managing the common. He said: “Originally there were trees there which shielded the railway line but they were taken down on Network Rail’s side.

“We have not decided to do anything yet but we have been talking about planting trees on our side and we have to check with English Nature to make sure it is OK to plant on an ancient meadow.

“At the moment you can see the trains going past from the meadow.”

Wolvercote Common is north of Port Meadow and the two are separated by a ditch which carried a stream during Saxon times.

Meanwhile the Freemen of Oxford, who were given Port Meadow in 10th century by King Alfred, have decided against screening the view from their land.

Chairman Howard Crapper said the committee considered screening off the meadow to block off the “awful-looking” overhead lines but decided against it as it would reduce the amount of space available for grazing.

County councillor Jean Fooks represents Summertown and Wolvercote and, as last year’s Sheriff of Oxford, was responsible for halting the work so Network Rail could hold discussions with the city council.

She said: “Any planting would have to be approved by the Secretary of State because the land is a scheduled monument and a site of special scientific interest but that shouldn’t stop it. When the alternative is having trains rushing by without anything in between other than a metal fence you can see the point of it. From what I understand Network Rail would be ready to help fund it.”

Sam Kelly, a spokesman for Network Rail, said: “Britain’s economy relies on freight and this scheme is a key part of our plans to improve capacity on the railway – the greenest and most efficient method of transporting goods.

“We are talking to Natural England, the Environment Agency and local groups about our plans.”