East Anglian rail stations are quietly nurturing the green shoots of an eco-revolution

Published on: Tuesday, 22 March 2022
Last updated: Monday, 30 January 2023

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Above: Station adoption volunteer, Sandy Burn, in the wildlife garden at Westerfield station, Suffolk. Credit: Greater Anglia

East Anglia’s fragile wildlife populations are finding sanctuary at railway stations - thanks to the efforts of volunteers who have transformed land the equivalent of 34 tennis courts into eco-friendly gardens.

Greater Anglia’s team of station adopters – who help to look after their rail stations for the benefit of their communities – increased the total area of station garden across the network by 7% last year and devoted much of it to creating wildlife friendly areas.

It brings the total amount of railway land converted into garden to over 6,800 square metres.

If each square metre of garden was put end-to-end they would stretch from London to Aberdeen.

In 2021, volunteers created new garden areas - together totalling 362 square metres - at Brundall Gardens, Brundall, Cambridge, Chappel & Wakes Colne, Ely, Great Yarmouth, Ingatestone, Kennett, Lowestoft, Rayleigh, Roughton Road, Salhouse, Sheringham, Sheringham, South Woodham Ferrers and Thetford.

And they increased the size of existing ones at eight stations - Alresford, Battlesbridge, Cantley, Dullingham, Lowestoft, Reedham, Saxmundham and St Margarets - by a total of 79 square metres.

In total, there are now 61 rail station gardens on Greater Anglia’s network.

Each garden provides a vital additional habitat for local wildlife as well as making the stations more attractive and welcoming, contributing to human wellbeing too.

In addition, the volunteers almost doubled the number of flower planters on platforms at stations across Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire to 817, up from 454 in 2020.

They have also so far installed 63 insect houses and 66 bird boxes.

In an effort to save water and help station adopters care for their gardens, Greater Anglia and the region’s Community Rail Partnerships have also helped to install 45 water butts across the network.

The gardens, some of which have been developed over many years, are becoming havens for local wildlife populations – with the railway increasingly being recognised by ecologists as a ‘green corridor’ which provides a sanctuary for many different kinds of flora and fauna.

In a recent survey, Greater Anglia station adopters reported a wide range of creatures visiting their stations including many different types of butterflies as well as bees, slow worms, bats, foxes, deer and many varieties of birds, recording over 200 different species.

Greater Anglia’s Customer and Community Engagement Manager, Alan Neville, said, “Thanks to the care and attention of our team of station adopters, we have thousands upon thousands of plants thriving at our rail stations which helps not only to make them more welcoming, but are benefiting the environment too.

“Many of these gardens have been designed to be wildlife friendly, enhancing biodiversity and providing food, shelter and breeding places for many different types of wildlife.

“Some of them are becoming really magical places as a result, helping to support rare types of wildlife and benefiting their communities by helping to improve the local environment and existing more harmoniously with their rural surroundings.”

“This is all helping the railway in East Anglia to lead the green recovery from the pandemic by being a much greener way to travel - and our new fleet of trains will contribute even more thanks to their more environmentally friendly features which reduce CO2 and particulate emissions in the region further still and offer a convenient, comfortable alternative to the car.”

All of Greater Anglia’s station gardens are pledged to the WildEast movement, which aims to return 250,000 hectares back to nature to help reverse the shocking decline in the area’s native wildlife which is suffering badly from habitat loss.

Statistics show that, since 1970, many species have suffered including tree sparrows whose numbers have fallen by 85%, common toads, 68%, nightingales, 93% and hedgehogs whose numbers down from 30million to just 1 million.

WildEast aims to reverse this decline by asking everyone, including farming estates, industrial estates, housing estates, schools, gardens, allotments and churchyards, to give whatever land they can back to nature.

This can mean planting wildlife friendly areas or simply leaving the land as space for nature.

For more information see WildEast.co.uk/WePledge.

People interested in taking a tour of Greater Anglia’s station gardens can find out more here: Looking for things to do in East Anglia? Take a garden tour by train | Greater Anglia.

Above: One of Greater Anglia's volunteer station adopters in a station garden. Credit: Greater Anglia.

Above: Station Adoption volunteer at Chappel & Wakes Colne station Credit: Greater Anglia