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Day 20: Walking the line

Posted: Tuesday 20th June 2017 by 30DaysWild2017

GWSR restored track near BroadwayGWSR restored track near Broadway

Disused railway lines have often become nature reserves but what happens when a line is reopened?

Across the United Kingdom disused railway lines have been put to very good use as public amenities. Many wildlife trusts have turned sections of lines into nature reserves, sometimes providing a corridor for wildlife right into towns. Many stretches of disused lines have become foot and cycle paths, nature reserves in all but name. One of the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s first established reserves is along the disused railway line at Brotheridge Green. It now links between a number of other reserves and runs close to the new Nash’s Meadows reserve mentioned in Blog 10.

Rosebay WillowherbWhat happens to the wildlife when a disused line that has been left more-or-less to itself for 40 years is brought back into use? A unique opportunity to see what is happening is presented by the reopening of the railway line between Toddington in Gloucestershire and Broadway in Worcestershire by the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Steam Railway. Track restoration is in its final stages with new track bed reaching close to Broadway, close to the Worcestershire Trust’s Broadway Gravel Pit Nature Reserve.

This is a stretch of line that I have walked for a very long time. It used to be the nearest place to home where Nightingales and Turtle Doves could be heard. Sadly both species stopped coming here before the destruction of their habitat began.

Restoring the line has meant habitat destruction on a large scale.A marvellous corridor of large double hedges with scattered large trees that ranMusk-mallow for miles through the countryside has been obliterated, cut down, and grubbed up in places. Some colonies of Common Lizards in piles of old ballast have been bulldozed. Assurances that they would be relocated came to nothing. It seems that volunteer steam railway enthusiasts are just as oblivious of the destruction to wildlife they bring as any other infra structure developers. Perhaps they are worse since new developments come today with green infra-structure requirements.

Entering on railway property is trespass but until the line opens I am continuing to walk my favourite section of the track to follow its wildlife. Although the high hedges are gone (presumably to give a view from the train) many of the shrubs are coming back. There has been vigorous coppice regrowth of Hawthorns  and Blackthorn and where the ground has been disturbed along the old track bed area many important plants are showing themselves. Some bird species are benefiting from the scrubby growth particularly Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats, Linnets, and Goldfinches.

Perforate St John's WortThe plants are very interesting since they include a numbers of species that we would expect to find on heaths and even dunes. On the old ballast they are finding a place since this provides well-drained, infertile ground and the recent disturbance has reinvigorated some of them. In the surrounding fields these plants are completely absent. So the railway despite its recent upheaval remains a haven for wildlife uncommon in the farmland through which it runs.

Once the line is open careful management of the cuttings and embankments on this stretch could continue to provide a place for these wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. It would be hoped that the hedges would once again be allowed to grow tall with only occasional trimming. That will aid nesting birds as well as wintering thrushes. These rail-side hedges used to provide a fantastic resource for Fieldfares and Redwings. Maximising the wildlife value of this new railwayViper's Bugloss will need an ecological management plan that is carefully implemented. It might then be possible to see this stretch of line become again as important as it was before its reopening, perhaps worthy of the name of nature reserve.

Wild MignonettePhotographs show, top to bottom, Rosebay Willow Herb, Musk-mallow, Perforate St John’s Wort, Viper’s Bugloss, Wild Mignonette, some of these are usually associated with disturbed ground on chalky soils. The old track ballast provides the right soil conditions. Find out more about these plants at Plantlife.









Graham Martin, Chair of the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, opinions are my own not those of the Trust., @GrahamMartin99

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