The bulk of Scotland’s population lives in the central-belt corridor between Glasgow and Edinburgh. That’s one of the many reasons we were delighted to have supported the Greener Greenways project which sought to engage people with nature on their local active travel routes.
The Greener Greenways project was delivered by Sustrans, the charity behind the fabulous National Cycle Network (NCN). It provides around 600 miles of traffic-free cycling routes and through the hard work of organisations such as Sustrans we now have a cycling and walking route within 2 miles of 78% of the Scottish population.
The Network’s traffic-free routes offer huge potential for biodiversity, and it is clear that by improving and creating habitats along these routes we can help people, biodiversity and our hard-pressed pollinators at the same time.
People lay at the very heart of the Greener Greenways project. Volunteers embraced the opportunity to participate in citizen science as well as practical habitat management, whilst giving nature a much needed helping hand. It was perhaps the classic ‘win-win’ situation.
The health benefits of cycling and walking are well-documented, but less well-known are the opportunities that these routes provide for enhancing biodiversity.
To help deliver the latter, eleven traffic-free routes were chosen, mainly within the Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN) area, and volunteer wildlife champions were recruited. They were the engine behind an array of beautiful flower-rich verges and meadows, insect-friendly embankments and newly planted hedgerows.
Huge credit for the success of the project must go to the Sustrans Scotland Greener Greenways team – namely, ecologist Lenka Sukenikova, and Laura White, Volunteer Coordinator for Routes. They ensured that a wide variety of wildlife habitats and features were embedded in the survey and restoration work carried out.
‘I feel more involved with the Network, slightly more responsible for it. if I’m out and I’m not litter picking and I see litter I’m tempted to pick it up and put it in a bin further up the route and that sort of thing. And I suppose look out more for natural, you know, flowers, wildlife. I’m more aware of that now than I was in the past.’
The volunteers were crucial because habitat creation and management are labour intensive activities. Volunteers helped to create and manage grasslands, wetlands, woodlands, hedgerows and orchards, and they delivered the habitat management plans drawn up for each route.
In addition to practical work, volunteers were also involved in recording wildlife, thus increasing Sustrans’ knowledge of biodiversity on the NCN and contributing biological records to a number of national wildlife recording schemes. Records were provided to the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme and to the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch (adapted for the NCN). From a pollinator perspective the project provided useful data to BeeWalk, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s monitoring scheme.
It was not of course a ‘one-way street’. In return for all this recording effort, the project offered people training in wildlife identification and survey techniques, and practical conservation skills, whilst offering friendship and social connections, as well as an opportunity to achieve the John Muir Award.
The Greener Greenways project, as it was known between 2013 and 2018, has perhaps run its initial course. The legacy it leaves, however, lives on, and the project has been developed into a number of smaller initiatives integrated into Sustrans’ Network Development programme. So the good work continues.
In the meantime, it is great to reflect on a project that has encouraged communities to get involved in improving their local active travel routes, provided a boost for people’s health and well-being, and of course helped biodiversity. What’s not to like?
All images courtesy of Lenka Sukenikova.