St Albans Way: green corridor in the city
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Redundant railway lines provide transport routes for people and wildlife across the county. Countryside Management Service projects officer Ellie Beach explains work to create a green corridor through St Albans
There are miles of redundant railway lines criss-crossing Hertfordshire’s countryside. Once the domain of trains, these routes still have a vital role to play in helping people travel without using their cars, and contribute to a wider network of non-motorised transport corridors. A legacy of the Beeching Cuts of the 1960s the routes have become shaded by trees and vegetation, once prominent historic features are hidden, and signage is poor, all of which makes access to and use of the routes challenging.
The Alban Way – a former 6.5 mile long branch line between St Albans and Hatfield – is one such route that has now been reinvigorated for both people and wildlife. Bringing these much-loved corridors back to life gives local communities the opportunity both to enjoy them and to make use of them on a daily basis. Having written a five-year Greenspace Action Plan (GAP) for the route, Countryside Management Service (CMS) has been working closely with owners St Albans City and District Council, to implement the actions.
Over the past few years, CMS has been successful in securing more than £165,000 of external funding towards improvements along the St Albans section of the Alban Way. The funding has allowed for some of the aspirations in the GAP to become reality, and although challenging at times, the rewards from the projects have been worthwhile.
Works began with vegetation management to open up this once dark and overshadowed tarmacked route by managing trees with coppicing and pollarding, to rejuvenate and diversify the woodland. This is now an annual process dependant on funding – carried out each winter to avoid bird nesting season on a rotation. This work was followed by an access improvements project including resurfacing paths, improving access along, to, and from the route, and the restoration of historic features.
The station-to-station project looked at linking St Albans Abbey station and St Albans City station via the Alban Way as an alternative, non-motorised route. Rather than travelling through the town centre people can now enjoy a pleasant walk, cycle or jog along the Alban Way.
Signage and interpretation has been a major part of these projects. On-floor signage has been used to prevent the clutter of aerial signs, while installation of informative interpretation panels, with the help of Smallford Station and Alban Way Heritage Society volunteers, explain the history of the route. The signage was a big hit, from the day they were put down young children enjoyed reading out the names of roads that access the route. The interpretation panels, robust, modern and designed to blend in with the surroundings, have also received lots of positive comments. At the two stations, map based and directional signage has been installed to give clear routes to the Alban Way.
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Volunteers have played a major role in making these projects a success. Large numbers of CMS weekday practical conservation volunteers have given up their time to carry out a variety of tasks including planting native hedges, cutting back vegetation and installing signs and interpretation panels.
The projects along the Alban Way have not only benefited people but improved the habitat corridor for wildlife as well. The linear nature of the route and good adjacent habitats such as hedgerows, lakes and the river Ver provide suitable habitat for a variety of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates. The trees and scrub provide ideal breeding and over-wintering sites for the birds that also feed in nearby gardens. The woodland management will help improve these habitats. In late spring and summer, warblers such as blackcap and chiffchaff visit the route to breed and on the farmland nearby yellowhammer and skylark can be heard singing.
Small pockets of bluebells, dog’s mercury and other wildflowers act as a food source for butterflies and moths. Speckled wood and large white can be found in the dappled shade among the tall herbs and low scrub. Others, like marbled white and comma prefer the more grassy areas. Dragonflies and damselflies can also be seen hawking along the route catching insects.
On warm summer evenings bats can be seen using the Alban Way as a corridor for feeding and flight. Pipistrelle, Daubenton’s, brown long-eared, noctule and Natterer’s have all been recorded in the area. Other mammals such as foxes, hedgehogs, badgers, muntjac deer, moles and small mammals frequent the route.
To find out more about the Alban Way and to download a leaflet, visit stalbans.gov.uk/albanway.
To get involved in practical conservation in Herts, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01992 588433.