Sustrans is to transform the National Cycle Network into traffic-free corridors for wildlife.
The Greener Greenways project, launched this week, will protect biodiversity along 300 miles of walking and cycling routes.
Sustrans’ ecologists will undertake three years of surveying and consultation with conservation organisations to identify at-risk species of plant and animal along the various routes, and learn how better to protect it.
Funded by Scottish Natural Heritage in Scotland, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and other local partners in England and Wales, Greener Greenways will focus on five areas: the North West of England, Yorkshire and the Humber, the Midlands, Wales and Scotland on 38 routes which are predominantly owned or managed by Sustrans.
The Greener Greenways routes total 280km in length and link with over 5,000km of additional greenway. The initial pilot in England and Wales will run for three and a half years, between May 2013 and Nov 2016.
In Scotland, the project will target 100km of greenways managed by Sustrans and over 100km of greenways owned and managed by other organisations. These are part of just under 600 miles of traffic-free greenways in Scotland. The project will run in Scotland for three years, between August 2013 and August 2016.
Bernie Higgins, Sustrans Ecologist in England and Wales said: “Currently one-third of the 14,000 miles of the National Cycle Network are traffic-free routes. While these routes are pleasant green spaces, they are currently managed as transport corridors with little focus on wildlife. As a result, native plants and animals are at risk of being lost.
“We’ve launched this project to radically change the way Sustrans-owned routes are managed so that we are helping to protect the UK’s unique wildlife.”
Sustrans’ interest in nature has been less welcome where we reported how the presence of water voles by a towpath on the Oxford Canal has dealt an apparently terminal blow to a £200,000 plan to improve the surface of a towpath on the Oxford Canal.
Sustrans had announced plans to upgrade the surface of the towpath in North Oxford last year, but said that the discovery of rare water voles in the verge alongside the canal will make it impossible for the shared use path to adhere to the minimum width of 2 metres, falling 20cm short.
Many sections of the towpath are in a state of disrepair, and a wall on the opposite bank means it is impossible for the path to be relocated there.
Sustrans is calling for volunteers to become Wildlife Champions and help with the Greener Greenways project. To find out more, click here.