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Greenways: creating routes for people and wildlife

Cllr Andy Grant
By Cllr Andy Grant

Following the success of the Norfolk County Council-managed Whitwell Common Grazing Project, (runner-up in the Thriving Countryside category of the CPRE Norfolk Awards last year), we hear about another county council scheme that is set to boost local biodiversity.

Our exciting Greenways project is steaming ahead with plans to open up former railway routes which once criss-crossed Norfolk. At the heart of the scheme is a desire to create new routes for people, as well as vital habitats for plants and wildlife.

The new paths will be known as Greenways as they are designed to be good for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, as well as enhancing local biodiversity.

The traffic-free paths will link places where people live and work, as well as connecting wildlife and plant habitats. The new Greenways will join a number already in use across the country, including the Marriott’s Way here in Norfolk.

As far as possible the routes will follow former railway lines, running from Aylsham to Stalham, King’s Lynn to Fakenham, and from King’s Lynn to Hunstanton.

Birds, butterflies and mammals are commonly associated with former railway lines, but the true ecological value of this habitat, which often links local nature reserves, can easily be underestimated. Wildlife moves freely along the routes which are home to protected species such as bats, snakes and lizards.

Plants move too. Pollinating insects can easily move along the routes, and the seeds of plants can be dispersed by the wind, birds and mammals. We are keen to encourage this movement by using local seeds to plant new wildflower areas along the trails.

Right from the start of the project we’ve been talking to local communities, landowners, wildlife and environmental groups, including CPRE Norfolk, to help shape our plans. Earlier this year we spoke to more than 500 people at a series of events and encouraged people to let us know their thoughts online. It was wonderful to hear how much enthusiasm there is for this project with a lot of people keen to see the work get underway as soon as possible!

It’s great to see the hard work Matt Hayward and Chris Brough of the county council’s environment team have already done on this fantastic scheme. But there’s a long way still to go so we’re pressing ahead with working up detailed plans for each of the proposed routes. These plans will help to ensure that what we hope can be done, is actually possible.

We don’t want anything unforeseen to derail the project so it’s worth taking the time to do this thoroughly. This part of the project should be complete by the end of this year so remember to watch this space.

Cllr Andy Grant is Norfolk County Council’s Cabinet Member for the Environment.

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This article first appeared in the September 2019 edition of the Norfolk Magazine.

Norfolk Magazine September 2019
A footpath alongside a hedgerow and farmland in the Norfolk countryside