Our estate, which is about 52,000 hectares in size, is also used by many different types of wildlife.
Often referred to as the ‘green corridor’, the land around the railway is home to a richly diverse variety of species. We do everything we can to protect it.
The ‘green corridor’ is relatively undisturbed thanks to a lack of public access. For example, common lizards, grass snakes, deer and water vole make their homes close to the railway in East Anglia, while slow worms have been spotted in the south-west of England. Pipistrelle bats also often live on the railway, roosting in trees, tunnels and bridges.
Joined-up approach to conservation
We are dedicated to minimising our impact on wildlife. Our in-house ecologists work alongside external experts to carry out detailed surveys helping us to identify the animals, insects and plants in the area that might be affected by our railway maintenance and upgrade work.
This means we can plan the best time of year to do the work – such as by avoiding breeding seasons – and get the licences and permission to work where protected species are present, making provision to minimise any impact.
We work closely with national conservation groups, natural environment regulators and authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, frequently consulting them before starting work, and calling on their experts when needed.
Educating our workforce
It’s our trackside workers who come face to face with wildlife most often. We give them the training they need to help identify the wildlife they might come across so they can record sightings and then report to one of our environmental specialists. Our in-house ecologists also provide identification checklists and awareness briefings.
The video below, about identifying the habitats of Great Crested Newts, is part of a series provided for railway workers by the Track Safety Alliance, an industry-wide group created to develop and share best practice, largely focused on improving the health, safety and wellbeing of track workers.
Using the latest technology
We’ve developed an app to make identification even easier for our teams on the ground. Our workers and contractors can also use the app to submit records, including photos and a description. Records are automatically georeferenced to where the record was made.
Our workers have submitted hundreds of records since the app was launched in September 2016. These records go to a team of experienced ecologists who can verify sightings and provide feedback. Once a sighting of a protected species is validated it’s also logged for future reference.
The next stage is to build this layer of data into our imaging and survey tools for scoping out an area before work takes place. Adding wildlife data will make it even easier to assess the potential impact of our work on legally protected species, so we can take steps to minimise or avoid it.