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Wildlife Along The Railway Track

Perhaps the best way to get an overview of what wildlife (insects, plants, mammals, fish, birds, and micro-organisms) might be present in an area is to look at its habitats. A habitat is the specific living environment with specific conditions, favouring a certain species of plant or insect or animal life. There are several classifications of habitats. e.g., we know the high mountainous habitat, or the acid bog, the coastal cliffs, or dry woodland, lime-rich valley, and others. Where there is still water, with rich vegetation that selects itself according to conditions like average night temperature, pH of the soil.

The railway route offers a variety of habitats. It goes through excavated sites that by consequence are shadowy and more or less damp, and sheltered. Other stretches are on a high bank, windy, colder, but sunny. The track follows the riverbank for a part, alongside the water with the reed beds and borders of willow that may serve as hiding and nesting site. Elsewhere you are carried across a nice wetland, fed by a stream. Alongside the track, you will find some of our native trees, like willow, ash, oak, and blackthorn. The railway bed itself is mostly course gravel or chips, forming a substrata that is nourishment-poor. Plants that tend to grow vigorously don't get much chance here, and so give room to all kinds of other species. From the higher sections of the track, one has a good view onto a pattern of hedgerows that divide the area in smaller fields.

Hedgerows have aptly been called 'linear woodlands'. They are very important for feeding and hiding. They also serve as green corridors, along which animals and plants can move safely from one site to another. Some of these hedges stretch down to the river, offering bat, otter, or badger routes to and from the water. Should you walk the railway bed, you would easily find crossing tracks of foxes and badgers. While walking, you might also find lichens (a symbiosis of algae and fungus) on stones and blocks. Going under the bridges, built from limestone, you would observe the very early formation of stalactites. Give the bridge a few more millennia, and white cones will be hanging down just as in a cave.

It is easy to understand that railway tracks are very suitable as green corridors. Usually maintenance (herbicides!) is not as intensive as in other man-made places, especially not with old or barely used tracks, which, being fenced-off, also offer a good degree of tranquillity. Apart from this, most of the time a track has wide, grown-over verges, serving as opportunity for insects, plants, and animals. Surprisingly, some railway tracks show a variety of exotics, plants that don't belong there at all, but seeds of which have been carried by the train, or by passengers who sometimes seem to throw stuff out of the window!

When you use your time to pay attention not only to the landscape, but also to the varied nature in it, you might appreciate the ride even more.

With its close proximity to the River Suir, there have been sightings of many varied mammals and birds along the railway line. Some of the hedges along the river bank offer routes to and from the water to bats, otters and badgers. Fox tracks are also evident along the railway bed.

During your trip watch out for the following birds - Magpie, Rook, Jackdaw, Kingfisher, Cormorant (Kilmeadan Manor), Heron, Barn Owl (Lime Kilns), Reed Buntings, Pheasant, Sparrow Hawk (Kilmeadan Station), Caffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Greatit, Bluetit and Robin. More recently the Little Egret has made its home on the banks of the river. The reed beds provide perfect nesting grounds. The Little Egret is included on the Amber List as rare breeding species.

Waterford & Suir Valley Heritage Railway, Co. Waterford, Ireland. Phone: 051 384058
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