Build a better mouse track: how Network Rail is keeping wildlife alive

There is a critically endangered species of dormouse that might end up on the wrong side of the tracks if Network Rail does nothing about ensuring its survival. That’s why a unique solution has been found for a unique situation. Network Rail engineers have developed a plan to build the first-ever mainline mice way to let their smallest neighbours cross the tracks without being turned into mouse mats.

The almost extinct Hazel Dormouse species gets its first-ever dedicated railway crossing, deep in the heart of their last remaining home territory. Engineers are building a tiny railway crossing in a bid to save the mice from extinction. The new ‘dormouse bridge’ will be the first of its kind on the railway when it’s built next summer on the Furness Line in Lancashire.

The Flying Mouseman

The last two decades have seen wild hazel dormice decline in numbers by half. This project aims to tackle that decline by establishing new dormouse populations in the northern county of Lancashire. The only problem with the plan is that the chosen refuge is cut in two by the Furness Line, a local lifeline and a freight artery for human inhabitants on the rail route around Morecambe Bay.

A bridge not too far for Hazel Dormice (Network Rail)

Network Rail Mouseketeers are building a rodent-sized climbing frame over tracks to overcome that obstacle. This Flying Mouseman will connect populations, encouraging them to find food, look for a new mate or find better nesting sites in the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. That’s the hazel dormice, not the Network Rail engineers.

Stay Calm and Hibernate

Partnering Network Rail in this fur-friendly mouse-matey endeavour is the wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES). The 80,000 pounds (88,000 euros) conservation project is being partly funded by Network Rail, with the remainder of the money coming from donations to PTES. That buys a 12-metre long shielded tree-top structure to protect from predators – right alongside an existing railway over-bridge. Network Rail teams are currently working with the specialist’ dormouse bridge’ manufacturer Animex on the best way to attach it. Yes, there is a company that specialises in dormouse bridges.

Mousehole in Cornwall. Nice pub, but never knowingly in need of a mouse bridge (Otto Domes – WikiCommons)

Ecologists are also looking at improving the railway embankment to encourage dormice to use the new bridge to safely move from one side of the railway to the other. That’s a good idea for humans, too.” Network Rail is committed to improving biodiversity and protecting habitats for the future”, says Rory Kingdon, senior sponsor from Network Rail. We hoped Rory might be named “Gerry” or Mickey”, but no luck.

Dream Job of the Year: Dormouse Training Officer

“This year, dormice made a welcome return to Lancashire when we reintroduced 30 individuals to the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”, said Ian White, dormouse and training officer at PTES (yes, even the PTES can only afford to have a part-time dormouse officer). “This new population has got off to an excellent start as we know at least twelve litters were born this year.” All dormice pups and kittens may be eligible for young person railcards.

Moose. Not mouse. Less likely to use a bridge, more likely to get knocked down.Possibly even less common in Lancashire than Hazel Dormice (Cindy Brown – Pinterest)

“We hope that this new bridge will enable two neighbouring populations to create a local metapopulation in the area, which will really help bring this rare and beautiful species back from the brink”, says Dormouse Officer White. “Loss of quality woodland habitat is one of the main reasons for their decline, so it is hoped that this new bridge will ensure a prosperous future for dormice in Lancashire.

Danger! Mouse

Rodent strikes are not the top reason for operational problems on the UK network. However, best to be on the safe side. Freight will not be held up as long as this intermouse modal bridge holds up too.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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