Biodiversity on the Historical Railways Estate
The Historical Railways Estate is a haven for many species of native wildlife.
The Historical Railways Estate is an unusual collection of structures spread across all parts of Wales, Scotland and England, where many species of native wildlife thrive. Whether it’s an historic viaduct spanning an untouched wetland, a cool dark tunnel, or a tranquil wild spot, we look after some very important diverse, rare and rich habitats.
As we maintain, repair and monitor these structures, we work with professional ecologists who identify the species on our sites and advise us on how to minimise our impact on local ecologies and wildlife. We do whatever we can to improve the biodiversity and sustainability of our sites for native wildlife, birds and plants.
Railways were often built next to waterways such as rivers and canals. Many of our structures offer ecologically valuable – and sometimes rare – habitats to native water-based and water dependent species.
Great crested newts use the settlement ponds often used to offset flooding near rivers and waterways that border our estate. Sometimes the undisturbed wetlands nearby host rare water birds, offering them quiet migratory spots to gather.
Wildlife loves to set up home in undisturbed sites. Plenty of our sites are either rural and undisturbed by humans or fenced off for security. This means we have some very peaceful spots for wildlife to settle in. Delicate and rare plant life can flourish, and animals who are sensitive to noise and disturbance – such as badgers – frequently find refuge on the historical railway estate.
Tunnels and bridges are fantastic habitats for all kinds of nocturnal species – especially bats. We work closely with various local bat groups and with the Bat Conservation Trust. Whenever we inspect our sites, ecologists check what are living in or near the tunnel or bridge in question.
If there are bats around, we avoid their roosting and breeding seasons when we plan any necessary work. And we make sure we provide alternative roosting spots and foraging opportunities for bats if we do ever displace them – some of the bat habitats we’ve installed have been incredibly successful, even for rare or endangered species.
Some of our structures are among the last few roosting spots for some very rare species of bats.
Sometimes we need to remove greenery that grows on and around the structures. Often, this is so we can inspect them – we use a laser-scanning technique to survey them to see whether or not the structure is moving over time, and this means we need to strip away anything growing nearby so the lasers take accurate measurements.
Sometimes, it’s because roots from plants and trees are getting into the structures, their foundations or the surrounding land, which can make them unstable.
We always clear the minimum we need to, so that we make as little impact as possible on the local environment.
We only do this work when we have to – we don’t just strip away greenery to ‘tidy up’ the structures. And once we’re finished removing any greenery, we use the brush to create wildlife habitats on site.
Find out more about how we maintain and assess our structures.
Our work on biodiversity
The ecological work on the Historical Railways Estate forms part of our ongoing commitment to support and improve biodiversity across the land, projects and sites that we manage.
We know that infrastructure can compromise the quality of the environment. For wildlife, it can fragment important habitats, and put pressure on plant and animal populations, particularly where they're already under stress from other factors such as changes in land use and climate change.
So we manage our networks to provide areas of habitat, relatively free from human access, that may be scarce in the surrounding landscape. We also use our networks to connect fragmented habitats in the wider landscape, enabling plant and animal populations to move and interact, and so become stronger and more resilient.
We know each site is unique, so we take a local approach, working with partners to recognise what is special and distinctive about the habitats, plants and animals at the sites that make up the Historical Railways Estate, and then putting measures in place to best support their health and growth.