Abandoned railway lines to offer unique insight

A unique biodiversity survey of selected abandoned railway lines in Donegal will commence at the end of June. The rail network which was closed to traffic in the 1950s and the abandoned public and industrial railway corridors of Donegal have enormous potential as a tourism product in the form of walking and cycling trails or so-called GreenWays.

A unique biodiversity survey of selected abandoned railway lines in Donegal will commence at the end of June. The rail network which was closed to traffic in the 1950s and the abandoned public and industrial railway corridors of Donegal have enormous potential as a tourism product in the form of walking and cycling trails or so-called GreenWays.

All biodiversity features of the selected railway corridors will be digitally mapped using specialized computer software. Ecologist John Wann says the biodiversity interest of sections of the railway network will be considerable due to the lack of disturbance for the past half century, giving wildlife the opportunity to reclaim the railway corridors by a natural colonisation process.

Already, a few miles of the western end of the Burtonport to Letterkenny line has been opened to walkers while Galway County Council is currently developing a GreenWay project along the old Clifden to Galway railway line. These new walking/cycling routes can potentially help to maintain or create jobs in the hotel, B and B and restaurant sectors in areas of high rural unemployment along the railway corridor routes.

However old abandoned railway lines in addition to their industrial heritage interest can in their own right support important biodiversity features. Therefore before these railway corridors can be developed as walking and cycling trails or even brought back into service as heritage railways, they must be surveyed to identify biodiversity features of importance so as not to inadvertently damage these natural heritage features.

John Wann told the Democrat: “Railway embankments can support species-rich grassland including a number of locally rare orchid species as well as badger setts. Rock outcrops that form the fabric of railway cuttings can also support interesting plant communities. For example the more shaded sections can provide optimum physical conditions for a diverse range of ferns and mosses. The lack of maintenance of the railway track drainage systems since the closure of these lines can result in reflooding of sections of the lines allowing such habitats as wet grassland and bog to reclaim the track bed.”

There has been no comprehensive county-wide survey of biodiversity along abandoned railway lines in Ireland. A county-wide abandoned railway biodiversity survey in Donegal would therefore represent the first of its kind in Ireland and would encourage surveys in other counties, he explained. John currently has secured funds to survey a limited mileage of abandoned railway line. He is therefore looking for donations from business owners or the public whose ancestors were employed on the Donegal railways no matter how small so that the total mileage surveyed can be increased. Contact John on 048-93378250.