RARE PLANTS AT AVON GORGE TO BLOSSOM WITH RAIL CONSERVATION WORK: Network Rail engineers clearing overgrown vegetation

Monday 28 Sep 2009

RARE PLANTS AT AVON GORGE TO BLOSSOM WITH RAIL CONSERVATION WORK

Region & Route:
Wales & Western: Western
| Wales & Western

Two rare types of plant will have a better chance to survive on the railway near Avon Gorge this autumn, as Network Rail and Natural England embark on a special exercise to help them flourish in the wild. 

Around 100m of overgrown vegetation along the Portishead railway line will be removed this week, so that Hornungia petraea and Pontentilla neumanniana will have sufficient room and sunshine to sprout healthily. 

Currently, the plants’ favoured rocky habitat is being shaded out by ivy and other fast-growing shrubs. 

Jack Hitchcock, route infrastructure maintenance director for Network Rail said: "Over 30,000 hectares of vegetation near the railway provides habitats to many plants and animals and there are 408 sites of special scientific interest on our land. We take conservation and environmental issues very seriously and always take extra care to protect these areas when we carry out our work on the railway.

“If today’s effort pays off, it will bring a splash of colours to this area as both plants flower next spring.  This will also give us the confidence to expand the scale of our effort to further encourage biodiversity in this area, so that more rare species can blossom.”

Chris Westcott from Natural England said:"The Avon Gorge is a very important place for wildlife, not only is it home to peregrine falcons, ravens and bats, it is also a very special place for plants. In fact, it is home to 27 nationally rare and scarce plants making it one of the most important botanical sites in the UK. This wide variety of wildlife along with important geological features have resulted in the gorge being nationally and internationally designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). It’s great that Network Rail are able to complete this scrub control works which will be particularly beneficial for three of the gorges rarities.’

Besides Hornungia petraea and Pontentilla neumanniana, Network Rail’s land in this area is also the only place in the world where the rare Sorbus tree species can be found.

Hornungia petraea and Pontentilla neumanniana are extremely rare in Britain and they can only be found in limestone areas. 

Hornungia is particularly unusual because, unlike many annual plants, it grows in autumn and germinates only in spring.

Hornungia petraea is a small herb and member of the cabbage family.  It is also known as an ephermeral as it disappears a few months after it has finished flowering.  It has the common name of ‘Hutchinsia’ after the Irish botanist, Eleanor Hutchins. It is only found in 40 10km square across Britain.

Pontentilla neumanniana’s common name is spring cinequefoil and is a perennial plant that grows on grassland on shallow soils over limestone outcrops.  It is only found in 74 10km squares across Britain.

Network Rail is a member of the Tree Council and a member of the Worldwide Fund for Nature's forest and trade network.

Notes to editors

Journalists and photographers are welcome to join us onsite on Tuesday, 29 September, 10am, to find out more about this exercise.  Please contact Mavis Choong on 07 515 620 384 or mavis.choong@networkrail.co.uk to arrange.

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