East West Rail Alliance putting the environment first: East West Rail habitat creation

Wednesday 10 Nov 2021

East West Rail Alliance putting the environment first

Region & Route:
North West & Central
| North West & Central: Central

More than 150,000 trees have been planted so far in a pledge to restore habitats and help tackle climate change during the building of new railway line between Oxford and Cambridge.

East West Rail Connection Stage One is currently being built between Oxford, Bletchley and Milton Keynes by Network Rail and the East West Rail Alliance.  The first phase of the project between Oxford and Bicester was completed in 2015 and construction is currently underway to build the second phase between Bicester, Bletchley and Milton Keynes.

In a first for a major rail infrastructure project, the plans for the construction between Bicester, Bletchley and Milton Keynes committed to not only restore any habitats disrupted during construction but to also create 10% more so wildlife, trees and plants can thrive in future.

This work directly aligns to a major aim of the COP26 summit in Glasgow. The purpose is to protect the natural environment and contribute to the conservation of nature.

To date, 100 hectares of new habitats over 20 different sites have been created and 150,000 trees have been planted.

Species relocated and protected include otters, badgers, bats, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians including great crested newts.

Mark Cuzner, East West Rail Alliance project director, said: “We’ve been committed to having the smallest ecological impact possible while building this exciting new railway which will one day link Cambridge and Oxford from East to West.

“As this phase of East West Rail is being built in the main on mothballed railway lines which had become important wildlife corridors, we had to think sensitively and carefully about how we could protect species which had made their home on the former railway lines. That’s why we made a railway first commitment to put back 10% more habitat as part of the project, and it’s really encouraging to see how this is already paying off for biodiversity along the route.”

Ian Parker, EWR Co programme delivery director, said: “Protecting the environment is at the centre of everything we do, and a fundamental part of our decision-making. We’ll build on the great work that’s already underway on delivering biodiversity net gain for the section of railway between Bicester and Bletchley/Milton Keynes, and continue to work closely with local community groups, environmental bodies and local highway and planning authorities to keep a sharp focus on priority habitats and the natural environment as we continue with our designs for the whole railway.”

Those ‘ecological compensation sites’ we have created are maturing well, with East West Rail Alliance ecologists closely monitoring how they are doing. Successes so far include:

  • 100% of the 27 artificial badger setts constructed have been occupied by badgers and 22% have already been used for breeding.
  • A purpose-built bat house is being used by roosting bats
  • The compensation sites are used by at least seven species of bats for commuting and feeding.
  • 100% of the ponds created for great crested newts show signs they are living there.
  • One of two artificial otter holts is regularly being used.

Serving communities between Oxford and Cambridge, East West Rail intends to bring faster journey times and lower transport costs as well as ease pressure on local roads, by encouraging more people to use the train instead of private cars.

This supports the rail industry’s current ‘We Mean Green’ campaign to show that travelling by train is the greenest mode of public transport there is – choosing rail instead of the car can cut harmful carbon emissions which are the primary cause of climate change by up to two thirds.

Notes to Editors

About the East West Rail project

East West Rail is planned to be delivered in three Connection Stages:

  • Connection Stage One: Oxford to Bletchley and Milton Keynes
  • Connection Stage Two: Oxford to Bedford
  • Connection Stage Three: Oxford to Cambridge

Network Rail was responsible for developing the first part of the East West Rail, connecting Oxford with Bicester, and is a partner in a construction alliance to deliver Connection Stage 1 of the project, where East West Railway Company (EWR Co) and Network Rail are acting as the Department for Transport’s joint sponsors.

EWR Co is now developing the route to enable services to run to Cambridge via Bedford and plans to seek statutory powers under the Planning Act 2008, following a period of extensive consultation.

Commitment to achieve 10% Biodiversity Net Gain

The project section between Bicester and Bletchley/Milton Keynes committed to deliver a 10% biodiversity net gain and this was secured by planning condition as part of our Transport and Works Act Order. It is the first time that a major rail infrastructure project has committed to achieving this target. We have worked with Natural England since 2018 to test their Biodiversity Metric as it has been developed and we are currently assessing our final construction position using the latest version of the metric (Version 3.0) which was released in July 2021.

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