There's a rail-line at the bottom of my garden. I welcome the comforting rumble of trains carrying people to and from Liverpool Street. I also welcome the wildlife roaming the embankment; and the blankets of spring bluebells; the birds turning their heads as trains approach; and the cloaking canopies of the oaks and the glorious London plane tree. They support crows, jays, squirrels and so much more wildlife that losing it would diminish the quality of my life.
So it is with deep regret that I hear of clearances by Network Rail where entire embankments are scraped back to bare earth and stunted trunks, under the guise of "essential health and safety" work. What makes it all even more irksome is the timing of such vandalism... er. I mean work .. carried out in the middle of the breeding season when so many birds are on eggs or frantically feeding helpless chicks stranded in their nests.
If there is an urgent need for work, Network Rail can apply for a licence and no one will argue against action addressing public safety.
I've been working with, and supporting the efforts of, Transport for London for some time now to make the most of their trackside land, which accounts for an awfully large percentage of London. Working within tight financial constraints they've come up with some pretty good ways of supporting wildlife without compromising the integrity of their public service. In fact, the habitat work enhances their public service by supporting wildlife that keeps our world ticking over in so many ways.
Railways are the silver ribbons weaving their way through our urban lives, anchoring a wanderlust for the bucolic landscape of our imaginations to the steely reality of our lives. They are our escape routes and our deliverance. They are valued, loved and very much ours, even if we never stray onto their bramble pocked banks. It's not wasteland. It's our land. As another big UK company once put it, it's good to talk and I for one am a passenger waiting to go places with Network Rail. If only they'd mind the gap and hop onboard.
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