Nature Between the Fences
*UPDATED 31 OCTOBER 2021*
As the seasons change, the flora and fauna between the railway's fences adapt to survive, grow or reproduce. Each season this page, written by a knowledgeable member of the railway's Lineside Clearance Team, will tell you what you might see between the fences while travelling on the train, if you look carefully.
Lineside Clearance Team Diary - Autumn through to Winter 2021
The Lineside Clearance team has now been re-organised under our current boss to be part of the larger Estates Team, which includes the Drainage and Fencing Teams, with whom we literally overlap.
Each team has a unique and close relationship with the wildlife and growth alongside our Railway. We now enter the season where Mother Nature allows for decay and subsequent re-growth come Spring. We have seen the last of the birds fledging their nests and we were privileged to have in our hands (but quickly re-united across the tracks with parents), two young birds that were hiding in the dense blackthorn.
We did have a claim from the Drainage team that an otter had been seen in one of their culverts. This was disputed by others not present, but the clean water off the Cotswold escarpment and the large size of some of our culverts mean that this is entirely possible. One culvert, 17A, is large enough to be classed as a bridge and is the next one up the line from New Farmers Accommodation bridge (19).
Should you have a mind to go along the Winchcombe Way Cotswold walk, at the end of Working Lane in Gretton is the huge culvert confluence of 25A and B. It takes little imagination to conjure up what nocturnal activities must take place in such a quiet, richly fertile place. Please, however, do not be tempted to cross fences onto railway land unless a posted Public Right of Way exists. We suffer from many transgressors and have to waste time repairing fences and rescuing trespassers. We have suffered much from such people at the southern end of our line at Hunting Butts tunnel, beyond Cheltenham Race Course station. Encouraged by brainless miscreants on social media, we have had adults and children as well as the usual aerosol-sniffers and graffiti artists putting themselves in danger. STAY AWAY, please. If you want to know what is down there, ask a member of staff and then visit Winchcombe to see the rolling stock removed from storage for restoration.
So, as we move into the “sleeping season” we can continue to cut back vegetation having one last spurt to grow across our railway. Please can someone tell us why brambles, which have a plentiful supply of room and soil below, sent “ankle-biting” tendrils across to the dry ballast? No food and little soil there, but these obstacles lie in wait for all of us walking in the “cess”, that bit of the trackbed just off the base of the ballast bed, where point rodding and signal wires run.
We have a few shortened days now to work on the line before the growing season starts again and a long list of places to clear culverts, remove diseased elms and ash, trim those pesky brambles and fix damaged fencing. The weather will close in and darkness will fall while we are still ready to work!
Please do enjoy the railway safely.
During the late summer, amongst all the various flora and fauna we have seen the following (with thanks to Rose Phillips):
blackberry, broad-leaved willowherb, burdock, cow parsley, evening primrose, great willowherb, herb robert, old man's beard, ortine, ox-eye daisy, plantain, privet, ragwort, rosebay willowherb, scabious, slender thistle, small melilot, spear thistle, stinging nettle, teasel, toadflax (see picture).
More terrific lineside photos are available on the page set up by Mike Peers on the image-hosting website, flickr.
Dr Ian S Pogson
Lineside Clearance Team.