Keeping the railway safe for snakes in the grass

Adders enjoy the sunlit slopes of railway cuttings.

Network Rail is helping to protect snakes and lizards which have made the railway their home in Cumbria.

South and west facing railway embankments and cuttings provide ideal conditions for cold blooded reptiles to bask in the sun’s warmth. However, Shap cutting had become overgrown with birch and brash providing too much shade for certain species to survive and thrive.

With that in mind, Network Rail has been sensitively clearing trackside vegetation to provide perfect sunbathing conditions for reptiles, including Britain’s only venomous snake – the adder.

A female adder at Shap cutting.

The notoriously shy species belongs to the viper family. Female vipers incubate their eggs inside their bodies, giving birth to live young. This means they rely even more on the sun for warmth and for their snakelets to survive.

Matthew Thomas, Network Rail ecologist, said: “When you think of animals living beside the railway, snakes and lizards aren’t perhaps the first ones which spring to mind. But like for so much other wildlife, embankments and cuttings – rarely visited by humans – provide a perfect sanctuary.

“We used special equipment to quietly clear overgrown trees and plants to provide perfect sunbathing conditions for our cold-blooded Cumbrian creatures at Shap. It’s all part of Network Rail’s commitment to protect the environment while running a safe and reliable railway for passengers and freight.”

The trees and overgrown plants were cleared using quieter equipment and by hand to minimise disturbing wildlife as much as possible

As well as clearing the trees, habitat piles made from logs were built to create refuges for other creatures on the railway cuttings.

This work should provide a perfect habitat for wildlife to thrive at this location for years to come.

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