Network Rail to begin biodiversity trial on West Highland Line

NETWORK Rail is to begin a new trial project on the West Highland Line in a bid to improve lineside biodiversity.

It will see trees and vegetation be removed, with native trees and shrubs – including holly, hawthorn, blackthorn, rowan, hazel and elder – replanted.

Surrounding wildlife is set to benefit from the replanting, with Network Rail adding that the trial proving successful would aid its work towards targets which will see no net-loss of biodiversity by 2024.

As well as replanting, habitat piles will be created throughout the site to enhance the already present natural features and bat and bird boxes will be installed throughout the site.

As a first step, from January 24 for approximately 10 weeks, all woody vegetation within a minimum of four-metres of the track will be cleared, then any trees that could strike the line if they fell will be pruned or cut down to remove the risk to the railway.

Network Rail said such works are required to help keep passengers safe and improve train performance by reducing the impact of leaf-fall. It said unmanaged vegetation can pose a ‘serious’ risk to rail safety.

Ahead of work, surveys have been carried out for breeding birds and other protected species as well as to identify a number of trees to be retained for biodiversity reasons, such as those with bat roost potential.

Kirsty Armstrong, Network Rail project manager, said, “We look after thousands of miles of railway embankments and constantly work to manage trees and vegetation so that what grows lineside is safe and does not cause delays to trains. Our new approach will compensate for what is removed through managed replanting and transform low value land into areas that will become species-rich, but also safe for the operation of services.

“We will be carrying out as much of the work as possible during the day to minimise the amount of disruption to our neighbours. There will, though, be sections closest to the line where we have no alternative but to work at night. Our teams are always mindful of the impact their work can have on lineside neighbours and do what they can to minimise noise from site. We want to apologise in advance if anyone is disturbed by the work.”