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Why we’re investing £24.4million on tree cutting this year

Posted on 5 December 2014 09:48 AM by rose05S

Electricity has an incredible journey from the power station, where it is made, to reach your home.

It silently oversails some of the most forested areas in England to power cities, towns and villages which rely on electricity being there at the flick of a switch. Keeping vegetation clear of these power lines is a full-time job for my 130 tree cutters in Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

Tree cutting happens all year round to make sure your lights stay on. This year proved to be particularly challenging with a warm, wet spring meaning some species grew by three metres. Everything grew like billy-o and that has an effect on overhead power lines.

Over the winter hundreds of mature trees were uprooted like matchsticks in saturated ground and gale-force winds and our teams were incredibly busy. A healthy tree might withstand a northerly wind at 70mph, but not easterly gusts at 40mph, depending on the terrain, gradient and wind direction. To further increase resilience this winter we have cut vegetation outside our normal cutting swathe, targeting trees which are potentially within falling distance of our power lines.

Keeping our trees clear of electricity lines
This year alone we will invest £24.4million keeping a clearance between trees and power lines in the South East and East of England. You have probably spotted our power line corridors in the countryside and wondered how and why they were made. Apart from keeping our trees clear of electricity lines they also let our engineers reach pylons and poles for repairs or line patrols. When you consider how many people depend on this equipment for warmth, light and comfort it’s essential work, though rather like painting the Forth Bridge – our work is never finished.

Using laser beams
We use laser measurement tools on our highest voltage lines to accurately measure distances between the trees and the power lines to get the right clearances. Giant mechanical tree shears with powerful arms grip the tree trunk and cut at any height. We take into account the species, growth rate and dead, dying or diseased trees in the span so they can be worked on differently.

We cut trees around our high voltage power lines every three years and around low voltage lines every four years. People often tell us when trees are growing into overhead lines. Wherever possible we try to wait until the circuit is due for cutting, unless it affects reliability, so we can cut the circuit along the entire length, as this is a more efficient and effective way of working.

UK Power Networks doesn’t own the trees and landowners don’t always let us cut them. Occasionally landowners want to cut their own trees and we urge them to contact our general enquiry number for safety advice. We’ll visit the site to discuss whether the power line needs to be switched off during the work.

Good knowledge of the countryside
Our tree cutters have a good knowledge of the countryside and want to protect what’s there. Although our work happens all year round in special circumstances we will delay tree cutting due to nesting birds, crops, ground conditions or environmental issues such as dormice and badgers.

Tree cutting isn’t our only line of defence in protecting our infrastructure from the elements. We’ve invested millions replacing low voltage wires with covered conductors. Aerial Bundled Conductors (ABC) guard electricity lines from branches to prevent power cuts.

Next time you see us working in your community please remember we do care about trees, wildlife and the countryside. But I’m also a realist and when I go home I want to be able to switch the lights on, have a shower, watch television and cook my dinner. The only way we can do that is by maintaining a reliable overhead power lines.

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