What is biodiversity?
Put simply, biodiversity is the variety of plant and animal life. Healthy and biodiverse ecosystems provide a wide range of services that are of benefit to humans across four broad categories.
Human activities can have a significant impact on biodiversity and ecosystem health through a number of mechanisms, including: direct habitat loss or degradation, over exploitation, pollution or climate change. Network Rail has influence over a large area of land and some of our land assets support nationally rare species, such as the large blue butterfly or the Bristol Whitebeam tree.
Why is biodiversity important to Network Rail?
In September 2017 Network Rail published an updated Environment Policy which includes the statement “We will manage our land sustainably including consideration of our impacts on biodiversity”.
As the fourth biggest landowner in Britain, Network Rail has the potential to affect many UK habitats and species, including many that are protected by legislation. This means that while Network Rail meets its obligation to provide a safe, timely and cost-effective railway network, we must also take account of the impacts that we have on local and national biodiversity.
In urban areas it is not uncommon for communities and local authorities to rely on the railway network as a key component of their greenspace, despite not having direct access to these spaces. These vegetation corridors also provide a very important ecological function by joining up fragments of greenspace that would otherwise be isolated and vulnerable, allowing wildlife to interact and disperse. However, pressures from continuing urbanisation and the expansion of the railway network could threaten the vegetation and habitats found beside the railway. When managing woodland for safety reasons, Network Rail managers have to be mindful of the impact that removal of trees can have on our lineside neighbours as well as that of the biodiversity.
What is Network Rail’s approach to biodiversity?
Network Rail’s approach to biodiversity is broadly divided into two strategies, and each has a corresponding guidance note in the side-bar of this page:
- Planning and managing ecological risks
Network Rail has a legal obligation to manage our biodiversity appropriately. Our ability to manage biodiversity is dependent on having good knowledge about where species and habitats are found. This information enables us to understand the constraints and plan the necessary controls, consents or permissions before we undertake work. Network Rail works closely with the environmental regulators in Wales, Scotland and England to improve the way it works with protected and invasive non-native species.
Network Rail is starting to use data mapping solutions to collate and manage ecological data, such as the EcoReporter app, GeoRINM Viewer, and the Biodiversity Calculator. Improved data significantly impacts how well we identify and manage environmental issues. For example, failing to conduct desktop-assessments and site-based surveys of proposed work sites , to identify nearby protected species in advance, can result in costly delays and risks of prosecution if legal breaches are alleged.
Network Rail has a framework contract with four ecological consults who are approved to provide advisory services and surveys to project and maintenance teams. The suppliers are contractually deployed to cover regional territories and should be used whenever Network Rail needs access to independent, competent ecological service providers.
A standard Network Rail Statement of Works (SoW) form is to be used when commissioning the services of one or more of the framework consultants. Use of the SoW form will encourage a clear, mutual understanding of the services being sought and enable more accurate, transparent pricing of consultancy works. Please see the SoW template as an attachment to this page.
For information on our European Protected Species Licenses, and access to the submission form, please see the page in the side-bar.
- Biodiversity accounting
Biodiversity accounting means assigning numerical values to different areas of ecological habitat based on habitat type, condition, distinctiveness, and difficulty to recreate. This enables the creation of a balanced scorecard to compare the pre-works numerical score with a post-works score based on habitat areas retained, areas lost or degraded by development, plus areas enhanced or created through mitigation or biodiversity compensation, or offsetting.
Attachments supporting the implementation of biodiversity accounting, as well as the biodiversity calculator itself, can be found in the side-bar of this page.
For specific biodiversity concerns please contact the National Helpline on 03457 11 41 41 or follow this link for a number of ways to get in touch.