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 – April to June 2023

Spring has sprung in glorious fashion on the G&WSR.  Our work to create a real wildlife corridor from Cheltenham Racecourse to Broadway Stations has paid off and that is official!  As noted in my last Nature between the fences, we were surveyed by Glorious Cotswold Grasslands, who looked in Dixton, Toddington and Broadway Cuttings and as they say on Strictly Come Dancing – “The results are in!”  We were found to have created a habitat rich in diverse wild flowers, with no fewer than 84 species discovered, now that the brambles have been cleared.  Their donations of wild seed have clearly helped.  Some of the names of grasses are so English, from: Agrimony, Bugle and Meadow Foxtail to Salad Burnet and Yellow Flag Iris.  

As a team, the Board voted to put us forward for the HRA (Heritage Railway Association) environmental awards for 2022. This was 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.  We were runners up, so clearly we are moving in the right direction and well done to all my volunteer colleagues.

Our new chipper has proved itself a real game-changer in the way we attack and deal with the unwanted growth on the trackside.  Now we do not burn, but chop and the chips are used around the bases of our newly-planted trees to protect the roots and hold water.  There is always a down-side to human activity and we have swapped smoke for noise – the operator and anyone in the vicinity has to wear protective face shields, hard-hats and ear defenders.  This makes spotting approaching trains a lot more difficult, and we have developed a new set of disciplines to ensure safe working.

The Drainage team has also been extremely busy.  The closed season gave them (and all departments) time to access places not possible during the running season and to conduct projects such as managing the course of the river Windrush, so that the water moves quickly and without causing flooding under the Railway and off towards the Severn.  Managing the water that courses off the Cotswolds and meets the barrier of the G&WSR is a serious business and we have recently rediscovered old and created new balance ponds for the management of water.  We have sited some ponds in the area of the old Navvi camp at the southern portal of Greet Tunnel, where there will be signage and other help for visitors to try and imagine what life was like building the Railway.

The ponds will have other purposes and thus will create habitat for wildlife, as well as supporting the many new trees that have been planted along the line.  Butterflies, bees and dragonflies are expected to be attracted to the ponds.  The Environment Agency has helped us with funds and guidance to create these watery areas.

We have extended an old orchard at the foot of Chicken Curve, just to the north of Winchcombe.  It was looking a little neglected and with some expert help we have picked trees to provide blossom and fruit for the future.

At Broadway, replacements for aged pine-trees have been planted between the station and the head-shunt, north of the platforms.  One hundred and fifty various trees have been planted at four locations.  These are a mixture of fruit trees at the orchard, flowering and bird cherry at the navvi camp and red sorbus at Winchcombe and Hailes abbey halt.  The latter looked really healthy, especially on the Malvern side when we returned to do a little tidying up in March, just before the season opened.

There have been many wildlife sightings by the teams, as well as the grasses and we have seen kestrels hunting, also in the air several buzzards and red kites, and a flock of house martins, plus a rare green hairstreak butterfly and the following:


birds-foot trefoil, blackberry, black medick, bush vetch, buttercup, common vetch, cow parsley, cowslip, cranesbill, dog rose, early purple orchid, elder, forget-me-not, grass vetchling, hawkweed, mullein, old man’s beard, ox-eye daisy, red campion, rock rose, sorrel, speedwell, thistle, vetch, wild vine, willow herb, common orchid and bird’s foot trefoil which is particularly attractive to different types of moth and butterflies. (Author’s note – old man’s beard can be so strong that a 75kg old man (me) can swing on it!)

Butterflies and moths

Brown argus, common blue, dingy skipper, five-spot burnet moth, large skipper, small copper, speckled yellow, yellow shell, Common Blues both male and female, Dingy Skippers, Coppers, 5 Spot Burnett both again male and female moths.

There was also evidence of the handiwork of a resident Stoat!  We notice that the birds like to perch on the posts we have used to support the new trees planted.

We have also launched the “Go Wild at Winchcombe” event in August aimed at the young, to repeat an event we ran last year to encourage more interest in our wildlife.   Please see elsewhere on the website for details (https://www.gwsr.com/events/go-wild-at-winchcombe).  Hopefully, the observant of you have seen the signs at Winchcombe and other stations saying: "Butterflies, bees and other insects alight here.”  Do take time at Winchcombe, for example, to look on Platform 2 at the bird-boxes, bug hotels, log piles and other insect residences we have created.

Dr. Ian S Pogson and Mike Peers, Estates manager, with contributions from the whole of the Estates Team

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