Breeding Birds

With spring finally here, the Borders Railway environmental team is keeping a keen eye on the local wildlife.

The railway route is home to a variety of wildlife and, as part of Network Rail’s commitment to minimise environmental impact along the line, breeding season is an especially important time of year.

Whitethroat Nest And Fledgling 2013

Whitethroat nest and fledgling

With such a large project it is inevitable that changes along the route will cause some disturbance. The project has over 100 structures, some of which require lengthy refurbishment or need to be fully replaced. Certain species, such as swallows and jackdaws, tend to return to traditional nesting sites so it is important to minimise opportunities for nesting in areas with scheduled work to prevent delays to the project. Despite temporary displacement, these measures ensure birds do not raise young in areas likely to experience interference or disruption.

The team have been using netting, plywood boards, and steel mesh to exclude any potential nesting sites. These mitigation techniques are often challenging as swallows are attracted to vertical and inclined surfaces while species such as dippers nest close to water level. Another technique widely used to deter breeding birds is to situate plastic birds of prey overlooking structures and the project is likely to make use of this.


A recently netted structure

Between March and September breeding birds will nest along the railway. The environmental team use their expertise to locate breeding birds mindful that each species possess an optimal breeding time and desired habitat. Where active nests are found, buffer zones are marked out. These zones prevent construction access until the young birds have fledged. Work can be suspended for several months between breeding birds establishing a nest and young becoming independent and leaving the nest. The size of the buffer zone depends on the bird species; swallows and woodpigeon are more tolerant of disturbance, while species such as oystercatcher require much larger areas due to sensitivity.

Andrew Mitchell, project environment specialist for Network Rail, said:

“At this sensitive time of year our focus shifts from preventing nesting opportunities for birds towards identifying where nests may have been established and protecting them during the sensitive breeding period until the young have fledged.

“As part of our wider landscape and habitat commitments we are also identifying ways to enhance habitats and maximise the benefit of our longer term planting works for breeding birds.”

Buffer zones are in active use and extensive environmental monitoring continues to ensure that birds remain protected despite the ongoing construction work.

Wherever possible, the project will replant vegetation and install purpose-built bird boxes.

Proactive planning and careful monitoring will minimise disturbance and offer suitable habitat for birds to nest.