Replanting marks successful completion of West Highland Line vegetation project

Network Rail has successfully completed a project to improve safety and performance on the West Highland Line between Craigendoran and Helensburgh.

Trees and encroaching vegetation were removed along more than two kilometres of the line to reduce the impact of dangerous leaf and tree fall.

If left unmanaged vegetation can pose a serious risk to rail safety as trees can fall onto the line during bad weather or when overgrown, branches and foliage can obscure signals from a driver’s view.

In autumn, leaves on the line can affect train wheel traction to the rail which affects braking distances and acceleration, and interferes with signalling systems.

Following the clearance work, native trees and shrubs were re-planted alongside around 1,200 new berry bearing plants in an effort to protect wildlife, the environment and nearby communities.

It’s all part of a trial designed to help Network Rail realise its ambition of seeing no net loss of biodiversity by 2024, with an overall net gain by 2035.

Kirsty Armstrong, Scheme Project Manager for Network Rail said: “While our priority is the safety and performance of the railway, this project has been planned and delivered to protect wildlife and promote biodiversity.

“We’re making positive efforts towards managing our lineside areas in a more environmentally-friendly way as part of our commitment to a better, greener railway.

“We’ve taken a number of proactive steps to offset the impact of tree removal and created a mixture of habitats which support a range of species alongside the railway.

“It sets the standard for sustainable management of the lineside environment for the future.”

With the introduction of new berry bearing trees and shrubs, the lineside area will become a more diverse corridor with native species that benefits the surrounding wildlife. Hawthorn, holly, blackthorn and elder trees native to the area, have also been planted, and these are better suited to the railway environment due to their slow growth rate, low height and minimal leaf-fall impact.

Bat and bird boxes have been installed to increase the availability of bat roost and bird nest sites within the railway corridor.

In addition, habitat piles – logs stacked on top of each other to simulate fallen trees - have been created along the railway corridor. This is designed to add to the existing natural features and to offer sheltering opportunities for insects, hedgehogs and nesting birds among others.

The new lineside environment will be routinely maintained to manage the regrowth of plants and trees. And Network Rail will monitor the biodiversity and offsetting measures that are in place to make sure wildlife and communities are protected while railway performance is improved.

Notes to Editors

The species diversity between Craigendoran and Helensburgh will be improved as the project will see Network Rail re-plant and routinely maintain this area to manage the regrowth of woodland, improve biodiversity and offset the impact of the work on the environment.

Several environmental measures were implemented at this location to compensate for the vegetation management work.

These measures included:

  • Maintaining a large proportion of the existing natural corridor and creating additional features throughout to enhance the habitats and the biodiversity on site. This will help support nesting and foraging birds, roosting bats, sheltering reptiles, small mammals and hedgehogs.
  • Installing eight bat and eight bird boxes along the route to increase the availability of bat roosting and bird nesting sites.
  • Using ethical tree guards instead of conventional plastic ones, as a more environmentally-friendly option.
  • Multiple habitat piles were created from felled materials to support invertebrates, small mammals, including hedgehogs, and nesting birds. These were signposted using biodegradable signs.