REAL biodiversity enhancement

The REAL Alliance, currently undertaking the East Coast Main Line (ECML) Power Supply Upgrade project, has made a commitment to biodiversity net gain - promising to leave biodiversity in a better state than before at its flagship site in Hambleton.

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Hambleton Junction is a key site for the project, as it is located at an intersection of the ECML and Transpennine routes. Major works will be undertaken at this site, to help supply sufficient power provision and future services to both routes.

To link the temporary 2.3km haul road to the compound at Hambleton Junction, the Alliance needed to construct a 21 metre bridge, to span the main water course at Selby Dam.

The Selby Dam watercourse embankments are optimal habitat for water voles. After discovering a burrow and feeding station at the site, indicating that it is actively occupied by the endangered species, the Alliance carried out a water vole habitat suitability assessment of the proposed bridge crossing, which confirmed good suitability for water voles.

Before proceeding with the bridge construction, a CL31 Water Vole Displacement Licence was obtained, and a water vole mitigation strategy was implemented, to prevent the water voles from returning to the area. The vegetation re-growth was kept below 10cm, in accordance with the licence, and a thick geo-membrane was installed along both banksides, within the ‘displacement area’.

To offset 54 metres of water vole habitat lost during displacement works for the bridge construction, the Alliance installed 72 metres of pre-established coir roll with aquatic plant seedlings – a method that is considered best practice for water vole habitat creation, as the salix coir rolls contain high quality native plant species commonly used for ecological restoration projects.

Simon Hughes, environmental manager, said: “Biodiversity is under threat, with many of our native plants and animal species in decline. It is therefore important to protect and enhance the railway landscape, as it is home to a richly diverse variety of species.

“At our Hambleton Junction site, we are committed to delivering biodiversity net gain. This requires developers to ensure habitats for wildlife are enhanced and left in a measurably better state than they were before they were developed. 

“Our works will ensure wildlife thrives, and at the same time, address the need for construction work. Network Rail’s ambition is to look after nature by protecting, maintaining and enhancing biodiversity across the railway landscape by 2035, and these collaborative works aid that ambition.”

The creation of aquatic habitats for water voles is just one of the many ways in which the Alliance hopes to enhance natural habitats and support protected species, to compensate the loss from construction work. The projects wider Ecological Mitigation, Compensation and Enhancement Plan also includes tree, shrub and grassland planting, bird and bat boxes, and landscaping the site.