Government Sets out Strategy for Biodiverse Railway Lineside

UK: The Department for Transport has produced guidelines of how it expects Network Rail to manage lineside vegetation while continuing to ensure the safety of passengers and services.

Biodiverse Railway Lineside
Engineers help clear overgrown vegetation © Network Rail

Lineside Vegetation Management

Following the recommendations from an independent review chaired by John Varley, a non-executive director of the Environment Agency and CEO of Clinton Devon Estates, the report commissioned in May 2018 investigated Network Rail’s lineside vegetation management.

Valuing nature – a railway for the people and wildlife‘ review made six strategic recommendations which the Rail Minister, Andrew Jones, has accepted. They include:

  • The government must set out a clear policy for position for Network Rail in terms of delivering for the environment
  • Appropriate governance must be put in place at organisation route and project level
  • Network Rail must public an ambitious plan for the lineside estate
  • Network Rail must value and manage its lineside estate as an asset
  • Network Rail must improve its communication with affected communities
  • Network Rail should lead a cultural change for valuing nature and the environment

The report recognised good work was being carried out in places by Network Rail, but that it needed to become commonplace across the railways estate.

Rail Minister, Andrew Jones said:

As we strive for a cleaner, greener railway, we must also work hard to enrich our unique biodiversity. The good work Network Rail is already doing ensures that we strike a balance between effective management, protecting passengers and reducing delays.

The policy was drawn up with the collaboration of the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs as a part of their 25-year Environment Plan in which Network Rail are challenged to achieve no net loss in biodiversity by 2025 and deliver a net gain in biodiversity by 2040.

Former Environment Secretary, Michael Gove said:

This strategy clearly sets out how Network Rail should manage and maintain their trackside trees, and I hope it will be a catalyst for greener and more environmentally ambitious transport policy across the country.

Chair of the Review, John Varley said:

I’m impressed with how much Network Rail and government have achieved in the last seven months. There is a now a clear policy, a vision and a commitment to protect and enhance biodiversity, while continuing to keep safety centre stage. Whilst I do not underestimate the challenge in delivering my recommendations over the coming months and years, the leadership, commitment and progress I have witnessed, gives me much confidence.  I am delighted that there is now much wider recognition of the need for responsible stewardship of the railway’s natural assets.

Network Rail will produce a vision statement and biodiversity plan by December 2019 in which it will outline how it will achieve these goals.

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