Re-establishing the railway hedge – a boundary to the national network for people and nature
Network Rail operates 32,000 kilometres of railway across Britain on an estate covering 52,000 hectares running 25,000 trains per day at up to 200 kph. The original construction of the railway included provision of fences or hedges to demarcate the boundary and which, over time and with legislation changes, have become methods to prevent trespass by people and animals.
Over those same 170 years, the management of vegetation, including the hedges, on the railway estate has changed from regular, labour-intensive management to a fault-led, reactive regime. The original grassland habitat has undergone succession and, in many places, has become semi-mature, naturally regenerated woodland that has undergone unmanaged coppicing over the last 80 or 90 years. Management of the trees and other vegetation is necessary for safety reasons, but this can create conflict with some of our seven million lineside neighbours.
Initiatives to improve performance on the east coast main line in April 2018 lead to the removal of trees alongside the railway at Hadley Wood, Hertfordshire. The resulting furore was key in instigating the Varley Review of Network Rail’s lineside vegetation management.
This paper will describe the interactions between Network Rail, the Tree Council and the Hadley Wood Rail User Group which ultimately resulted in the laying down of a trial to re-establish a hedgerow alongside the operational railway comparing techniques of direct seeding, whip planting and natural regeneration. The paper will describe the initial results after a couple of growing seasons. The paper will also look at the opportunities that sustainable land management on the railway estate can have for local communities and biodiversity, as well as contributing to nature recovery across Britain.
Dr Neil Strong studied forestry and ecology as an undergraduate (Edinburgh) and a post-graduate (Portsmouth). He is biodiversity strategy manager at Network Rail providing expertise and support on sustainable management of the lineside necessary to improve the biodiversity of the rail network. He has previously worked on management of lineside assets including vegetation and fences. His current focus is delivering guidance and tools to integrate the management of biodiversity on the rail network into existing practice. This work has to take account not only of environmental but also social obligations on an estate where trains pass at up to 200kph.