Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Supplementary memorandum by English Nature (FOR 21A)


  Thank you for your letter of 12 December. We very much welcomed the recent opportunity to give oral evidence to the Transport Committee's railways inquiry and are pleased to provide the Committee with more details as requested in your letter.


  The Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) owned and managed by Network Rail are afforded the same protection as all of the 4,000 plus such sites in the series. SSSIs are the country's very best wildlife and geological sites and are of national importance covering about 6% of England's land area. Over half of them, by area, are also internationally important for their wildlife and designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) or Ramsar sites. Since 2000 they have been given greater protection under the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000.

  Network Rail is a Section 28G "public body" under CROW and, as a result, has a duty to take reasonable steps to "further the conservation and enhancement of SSSIs". We are currently working with Network Rail to reconcile our respective datasets and agree the number of sites and "units" managed by the company. Our best estimate at present is that Network Rail owns or has an interest in some 170 SSSIs (the figure rises to over 330 if Scotland and Wales are included). Approximately 55% of its sites are in "favourable condition" which is broadly in line with the national average as published in our recent SSSI condition report. Network Rail has made a major commitment to the delivery of the Government's PSA 2010 target for 95% of SSSIs to be in favourable condition by this time, and we welcome this as it is the main "player" in the transport sector with an interest in the SSSI series.


  Overall, we consider that there is a strong environmental case to be made for rail, though as indicated below there is not a large amount of available research to go on. The SRA and the Railway Forum with assistance from Transport 2000 have set down some (recent) views on how railways contribute to sustainable development. On the evidence available we consider that rail is less environmentally damaging than road transport or air travel in terms of land-take (a double railway track occupies a 12m wide strip, a three lane motorway a 47m wide strip) and emissions, particularly CO2 and NOx—the position is less conclusive for noise.

  It should be noted though that there is a strong likelihood of local environmental impacts in terms of loss or damage to designated sites from new infrastructure. Inevitably new linear infrastructure has the potential to affect wildlife sites through fragmentation and land-take. Other effects include fuel/diesel spills, the use of gritting and de-icing trains, the use of pesticides/herbicides/insecticides, and the generation of waste/effluent/detergent. The location of any terminals or depots can be a significant issue in environmental terms, especially with a long distance railway route. Mitigation measures can be an effective means though of reducing the severity of potential environmental impact, for example, tunnelling to reduce habitat fragmentation. This has been demonstrated with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

  There is, however, relatively limited evidence of the environmental impact of rail as we discovered when we commissioned a brief piece of research into this topic last year (English Nature Research Report No 473B) entitled "Rail construction and operational effects on biodiversity and geological interests: a scoping paper for English Nature". We would recommend that more research into the environmental impact of rail operation and construction is undertaken, especially with local impacts. We would also urge the SRA to develop a more robust approach to appraisal inline with the mechanisms used for the recently completed Multi-Modal Studies.


  As part of our environmental management activities, our "People and Nature" programme and our sustainable tourism initiative we are looking at how we can improve non-car access to our Spotlight National Nature Reserves (those we feel are best suited to accommodating more visitors). We are currently working with Sustrans, the cycling charity, to pilot cycle access to a number of reserves and starting to look at how public transport, including rail, can be used as well. As highlighted in our evidence session, we believe that rail has the potential to provide more sustainable access, especially between large population centres and where people are travelling long distances to sites. Some of our reserves, such as Castle Eden Dene NNR near Peterlee in the North East, can be accessed from the rail network with a short bus or taxi trip at the other end. Areas of geological interest such as the so-called "Dinosaur Coast" in Yorkshire can be easily accessed by rail at Whitby and Scarborough. There is, however, much still to do in this whole area and as yet we have not developed any means of measuring success in this area.

  We would also draw attention to an article which is due to appear in the next issue of GNER's Livewire magazine for rail travellers; this is due out in the next few weeks. This looks at the opportunities for passengers to "view"/enjoy wildlife and wildlife sites as they travel between London and Edinburgh.


  Our Position Statement on transport advocates the need for improved public transport, including rail, and highlights the need for effective multi-modal interchanges. We believe that projects should be designed from the outset to include such considerations. A good example is the recent West to East Midlands Multi-Modal Study final report which includes a proposal to build a new station at Coleshill between Birmingham and Leicester and plans for a Park and Ride, a bus interchange and an airport link.

  There are potential environmental dis-benefits from such interchanges which should be borne in mind. These include traffic congestion in and around the areas involved and resulting air pollution effects.

  I trust that this additional briefing will be of help to the Committee and inform its further deliberations and final report. Thank you again for inviting our views.

Shaun Thomas

General Manager

5 January 2004

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