Nature Between the Fences
*UPDATED 3 July 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 - Summer through to Autumn 2021
Along the 14 miles of the GWSR, we have a corridor of wild and managed nature. Up to this year, the focus has been upon clearing the line-side so that we can see and expose the cuttings, embankments and bridges, plus tunnel aprons. Sometimes we find things to depress, such as unwanted slippages and sometimes things to delight that Mother Nature leaves for us to see or hear.
Ofttimes, we have a combination, like a newly discovered badger sett, which is a thing of beauty, but can seriously weaken the earthworks supporting or surrounding our railway. Safety must be a priority. Badger setts can often be inhabited by rabbits after the badgers have moved on and become greatly enlarged. We always work with recognised experts to deal with our badger friends.
From this year, as we have generally tamed the heavy overgrowth on the railway land, we have toned down our clearing activities. From this summer, we shall leave about a metre high uncut immediately alongside the railway, except where this interferes with signal wires or points rodding. The railway must be able to function.
We shall be strengthening the relationships that we have built with our farming and other neighbours. There can be conflicting requirements and desires from each side of the railway fence. Our direct facing activities means a lot of careful negotiation takes place.
Traditionally, we cease most clearance operations from the nesting season all the way through to its end in late September.
We are so well-blessed with abundant flora and fauna and perhaps a simple list of some of our findings will interest the naturalist in you all, as we have found:
Black medick, blackberry, broad-leaved willowherb, buttercup, comfrey, common poppy, cow parsley, hawkweed, hedge bedstraw, herb robert, honeysuckle, horsetail, mullein, opium poppy, ox-eye daisy, plantain, red campion, rock rose, small melilot, small-flowered buttercup, sorrel, sow thistle, St John's Wort, stinging nettle, teasel, thistle, vetch, white campion, white clover, white deadnettle and stinking iris.
Animals and birds that we see include roe and muntjac deer, foxes, all manner of robins who inspect our work closely, blackbirds, thrushes, soaring buzzards and mocking crows, an occasional heron, skylarks and the odd kestrel.
* NEW *
Our Lineside Volunteers receintly discovered a wren's nest inside an anti-tamper padlock pouch on one of our access gates towards the northern end of the line. A cozy home and a wonder of nature.
We hope that the summer has been a good one for raising young and that we have done our work sympathetically to ensure their continued survival. We now try to leave plenty cover for the animals and birds so this can happen.
We have joined forces with the drainage and fencing teams to give a more connected service to the railway and these activities also impact upon nature, so again we are trying to balance the operational needs of the railway with what you the public wish to see and what the residents of our 14-mile "garden" need to thrive. As ever, balance can be quite fine, but we are trying to maintain that.
More terrific lineside photos are available on the page set up by Mike Peers on the image-hosting website, flickr.
Dr Ian S Pogson