Nature Between the Fences

As the seasons change, the flora and fauna between the railway's fences adapt to survive, grow or reproduce.

Each season this page, will tell you what nature is up to between our fences.

Nature between the Fences - January to March 2023

 The last Santa Specials have steamed successfully into history and were very well received. Our railway is now in a closed season until early March, giving all departments a chance to review, repair and restore.

Between the fences and from a moving train, we had a chance on one of the snowy days to review just how much wildlife is about by looking out for foot/paw prints in the absence of our usual boot-marks.  One of our team was able to recognise deer, badger, rabbit and a host of birds.  The railway is a busy corridor, come rain, shine or snow.

 We continue to find new and old badger setts along our railway; it is a magnet for our black and white friends, who are encouraged to “move on” humanely and find new lodgings. We keep hoping that by now must have found all of them.

Our fencing survey is another review and repair task for the winter season.  The dying back of the undergrowth, along with our own cutting, shows where we may have gaps and old, broken fencing.  We have contractors who usually repair these essential barriers to keep humans and farm animals from trespassing on our land.  However, this does not always stop a few people from going, in some cases, to great lengths to gain access to our track.  Please remember, the railway is not a playground for humans: there are too many heavy things moving about.  Please stay on thesafe side!

 This season has seen the team completely clear the head-shunt at Broadway, so that we can see the state of the cutting and what needs to be mown in the growing season. We have also received some new fruit trees to plant and restore an old orchard.

 Another significant step forward is the acquisition of an industrial chipper, which will mean that we no longer smoke our neighbours out with burning the brush that we cut down. Here, I quote one of the team:

 “This chipper news really excites me.  The Bible mentions that the old men will dream dreams: well my mind has gone into overdrive as I dream of a revolution in the way that the team operates.  I recognise that it will take time to fully train the team in the operation of the machine and we will need more drivers to transport the kit but no more will we leave carbon blots on the landscape; nomore will we have to notify the fire brigade; no more will we have to stop loading the fire at about 2.30pm; no more will we leave hot embers for the wind to blow about and rekindle a fire; no more in hot summer weather will we have to leave piles of debris that is susceptible to lineside fires.  So, it could mean a revolution.”

 By the way if anyone keeps pet rabbits or gerbils, there will be plenty of chippings so keep hold of your plastic bags.

 We continue to work as several teams under the “Estates” banner and support each other to provide a concerted effort to clear as necessary to keep crossings and signals safe and visible and expose the many culverts that need clearing and fences that require surgery.

 We remain committed to promoting our 15-mile wildlife corridor from Cheltenham Race Course to Broadway and this next Spring should show that our efforts, in cooperation with our ineside neighbours, has produced swathes of wild flowers along the line. Our tree contractor has removed thirteen old and potentially dangerous pine trees from various sites along the line.  These will be replaced in February and will be planted between Broadway station and the head-shunt, north of the platforms.

Our vegetation and fencing contractor has cleared the vegetation on the Cotswold, downside to allow the primroses, snowdrops and other wildflowers to flourish.  The Malvern, upside has been left to allow the wildlife to continue using their tracks and also to breed. This also helps the birds in the nesting season. A one-metre strip has been cut at the top of the embankments, allowing us to observe any early cracks in the ground which may lead to embankment slips.   At present an area from Peasebrook to Gotherington has been cleared.  They will continue to clear as far as Southam, and should be finished before nesting season commences.

 One hundred and fifty various trees have been planted at four locations.  These are a mixture of fruit trees at theorchard, flowering and bird cherry at the navvy camp (located at the southportal of Greet tunnel) and red sorbus near Winchcombe Station and at Hayles Abbey Halt.

 At a meeting with the Environment Agency this week, we discussed adding a new balancing pond at the former orchard. We also discussed expanding the existing balancing pond, discovered recently at the former navvy camp. They agreed to fund both projects and suggested that we have two ponds on each site, instead of one: a permanent pond which will retain water levels to sit above abalancing pond - which will rise when the area is in flood - and lower into aneighbouring field’s drainage system. The top pond will overflow into thebalancing pond during heavy rains and remain full during all other times of the year. There will also be a series of channels dug. Although these are to reduce flooding and improve drainage at both sites and do not primarily impact on our biodiversity plans, the top ponds will be planted up with marginal plants to attract butterflies, bees and dragonflies.

 Four banners have been purchased and will be erected at two sites. The first will beat the orchard and the second at the navvy camp.  They will be erected so passengers can see them as they can when travelling. The banners on the orchard site will be placed on the downside and the navvy camp on the upside.  The banners will have our railway logo printed on them as well as a scene, depicting an oak tree, a bird, badger, rabbit, fox and deer.  The slogan will read: "Supporting biodiversity in the Cotswolds for the future"

 A series of posters will be displayed at our various stations and a feature has been included in the DAYS OUT brochure.

Two birdboxes and one bug hotel will be placed at Hayles Abbey Halt and another bug hotel will be placed at Gotherington Station.  We  arealso having two signs made up, like the one situated behind platform two at Winchcombe Station, which will read "Butterflies, bees and other insects alight here.”  The name of each location will finish the signs and they will be placed below the bird and insect boxes.

 Glorious Cotswold Grasslands have also expressed an interest in donating alarge amount of wild seed, in order for us to establish three wild seed areas in Dixton, Toddington and Broadway cuttings.

 As a team, the board has voted to put us forward for the Heritage Railway Association environmental awards for 2022. This is in recognition of our valuable work in not only identifying the need to improve and preserve our biodiversity, but for the hard work we put in week after week.  Well done to all our volunteers.  We should be very proud.

 We hope you enjoy the views of Nature between the Fences.

 More terrific lineside photos are availableon the page set up by Mike Peers on the image-hosting website,flickr.

Prepared by Dr. Ian SPogson and Mike Peers, Estates Manager, with contributions from the whole of the Estates Team.