Gone fishing!

Electrofishing in the Meece Brook
Electrofishing in the Meece Brook

As part of ongoing rail improvements in the Norton Bridge area, Network Rail has been carrying out important ecological work including a recent fish rescue at         Meece Brook.

Using a method known as electrofishing, expert ecologists from Network Rail’s delivery partner the Staffordshire Alliance were able to safely move marine life from the local brook to identified areas further downstream, ensuring that the brook could be diverted in order for construction to commence.

Relocation work has also been carried out to enable the diversion of the River Sow, with further relocations planned to enable additional diversions of the Meece Brook.

This activity forms part of the Stafford Area Improvements Programme, a £250million package of work to improve journey times and reliability for passengers using the busy West Coast Main Line. This includes linespeed improvements between Crewe and Norton Bridge (now complete), the resignalling of Stafford Station and the surrounding area and the construction of six miles of new railway at Norton Bridge – including a new railway flyover and road, river and footpath diversions – which will remove the last remaining ‘bottleneck’ on the route.

At Norton Bridge, ecological activity has been significant over the past few months, as the team work to minimise the impact of the improvements on the local environment.

Victoria Bicknell, Environmental Clerk of Works for the Staffordshire Alliance explained: “Due to the scope and scale of the project, we have had to carry out the relocation of a number of plants and animals including frogs, toads, and great crested newts, each requiring their own level of attention and protection. This is part of our commitment and responsibility to protect wildlife and the environment, while developing the railway to meet the increasing demands being placed on it.”

In particular, great crested newts are a protected species and preventative newt fencing has already been installed across the entire site, with a new habitat created for them at nearby Shallowford House.

Artificial habitats have also been created for a number of other animals including new bat boxes (comprising of maternity roosts and hibernation roost boxes) and eight barn owl boxes. Two new otter holts have also been created and there is evidence to suggest that otters are already using these.

The Norton Bridge works are scheduled to run until summer 2016, although environmental monitoring will continue after construction is completed, with an aftercare regime in place for the habitats created by the project.