We’re making new homes for the endangered hazel dormice in Devon. It’s part of our commitment to protecting the environment around the railway.
An endangered species
The railway isn’t just home to infrastructure like track and stations. The vast lands surrounding the railway are important habitats for plants and animals. One of which is the hazel dormice – a legally protected species.
The population of dormice has fallen by 52% since 1995 according to conservation charity the Woodland Trust. One of the biggest threats to dormice has been the loss of the woodlands and hedgerows that make up their habitats.
This is why we’re leasing seven acres of land – two fields – from Devon’s Okehampton United Charities, which manages land locally and makes grants to nearby groups.
Making new homes
We’ll make habitats that will help the local population of hazel dormice here. The unplanted grassland lays on the outskirts of Okehampton next to the Dartmoor Line that runs to Exeter. We reopened the Dartmoor Line in November 2021 after a huge project with train operator
Great Western Railway and Devon County Council. This reinstated regular, daily passenger trains from Exeter to Okehampton for the first time in almost 50 years.
Ewen Morrison, a senior programme manager at Network Rail, said: “We don’t just build new tracks and signals, we look after the environment around the railway.”
We’ll also plant native trees and vegetation on the land to make it a biodiverse habitat. This will help other animals and wildlife thrive here as well. Some of the trees and plants you’ll find here include hazel, hawthorn and oak trees, brambles and honeysuckle. New hedgerows will also be planted and non-native types reduced.
We’ll give the dormice nests and food sources and connect the land to other habitats in the area. Nest boxes and tubes will also be installed to provide artificial homes.
The charity will manage the land again at the end of the 35-year lease, and it will continue to protect the countryside around Okehampton.
Minimising our impact on the environment
This comes after we needed to move some dormice when reopening the line in 2021. We agreed with Natural England to help minimise our impact on the environment.
Ewen said: “Together with the reopening of the railway, our work will benefit Okehampton and Devon for decades to come.”