A strategy for safe and biodiverse railway lineside to “protect and enhance” the amount of plants, trees and wildlife alongside Britain’s rail lines has been announced by the Department for Transport (DfT).
Ministers expect Network Rail, the government-owned company responsible for managing rail infrastructure, to achieve no net loss of biodiversity by 2024, and a net gain by 2040.
The firm has been ordered to produce a biodiversity action plan by December to set out how it will meet these goals. This follows recommendations from a DfT-commissioned review led by John Varley.
Figures released by Network Rail show hundreds of trains hit fallen trees each year, while leaves on the line makes it harder for trains to brake and accelerate, leading to slower journeys.
Plants are cut back and trees felled when it is believed they are growing too close to tracks, but there have been concerns about the environmental impact of these actions.
Rail Minister Andrew Jones said Network Rail’s existing work ensures a balance is struck between effective management, protecting passengers and reducing delays, but declared that it must go further to ensure “a legacy of a greener, vibrant and more diverse railway”.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “Trees are not only a source of beauty and wonder, but are also carbon sinks, a way to manage flood risk and a habitat for precious species.
“This is why we are so intent on ensuring the right balance is struck by all those who manage these vital natural assets.”
Mr Varley said there is now a “clear policy, a vision and a commitment to protect and enhance biodiversity, while continuing to keep safety centre stage”.
Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said: “The Varley Review has been a welcome opportunity for us to develop an ambitious plan that both supports our core purpose of delivering a reliable and safe railway for passengers and increasing biodiversity on the railway.
“Our commitment is to manage lineside vegetation as a natural asset and enhance the habitats in a way that supports the sustainability of the rail network and the communities we serve.”