The Department for Transport (DfT) has set out a clear strategy for how it expects Network Rail to protect and enhance the UK’s lineside environment, while ensuring the safety of passengers and services.
The strategy follows recommendations from the independently chaired review led by John Varley, a non-executive director of the Environment Agency. First commissioned by the department in May 2018 to look at Network Rail’s lineside vegetation management, Valuing nature – a railway for people and wildlife, has outlined a number of proposals to protect and increase biodiversity.
The new policy has been drawn up in collaboration with the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs’ 25 Year Environment Plan. This ambitious document challenges Network Rail to achieve no net loss in biodiversity across the network by 2024, deliver a net gain in biodiversity by 2040 and produce a vision statement and biodiversity action plan by December 2019 detailing how it will meet these goals.
These targets build on the good practice Network Rail already deploy across the network to ensure vegetation does not delay journeys.
Rail Minister, Andrew Jones, said:
I’m pleased that we have agreed an ambitious strategy for enhancing the important vegetation and wildlife alongside our railways.
As we strive for a cleaner, greener railway, we must also work hard to enrich our unique biodiversity. The good work Network Rail is already doing ensures that we strike a balance between effective management, protecting passengers and reducing delays.
We must now go further and ensure we leave a legacy of a greener, vibrant and more diverse railway.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:
This strategy clearly sets out how Network Rail should manage and maintain their trackside trees, and I hope that it will be the catalyst for greener and more environmentally ambitious transport policy across the country.
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.
Chair of the review, John Varley, said:
I’m impressed with how much Network Rail and government have achieved in the last 7 months. There is a now a clear policy, a vision and a commitment to protect and enhance biodiversity, while continuing to keep safety centre stage. Whilst I do not underestimate the challenge in delivering my recommendations over the coming months and years, the leadership, commitment and progress I have witnessed, gives me much confidence. I am delighted that there is now much wider recognition of the need for responsible stewardship of the railway’s natural assets.
Chief executive of Network Rail, 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.