Sustrans to transform 300 miles of walking and cycling routes into nature havens

Change of focus from transport corridors to biodiversity protection areas

by Sarah Barth   November 17, 2013  

New Sustrans route Padiham Greenway (picture credit: Peter Foster/Sustrans).jpg

Sustrans is to transform the National Cycle Network into traffic-free corridors for wildlife.

The Greener Greenways project, launched this week, will protect biodiversity along 300 miles of walking and cycling routes.

Sustrans’ ecologists will undertake three years of surveying and consultation with conservation organisations to identify at-risk species of plant and animal along the various routes, and learn how better to protect it.

Funded by Scottish Natural Heritage in Scotland, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and other local partners in England and Wales, Greener Greenways will focus on five areas: the North West of England, Yorkshire and the Humber, the Midlands, Wales and Scotland on 38 routes which are predominantly owned or managed by Sustrans.

The Greener Greenways routes total 280km in length and link with over 5,000km of additional greenway. The initial pilot in England and Wales will run for three and a half years, between May 2013 and Nov 2016. 

In Scotland, the project will target 100km of greenways managed by Sustrans and over 100km of greenways owned and managed by other organisations. These are part of just under 600 miles of traffic-free greenways in Scotland. The project will run in Scotland for three years, between August 2013 and August 2016.

Bernie Higgins, Sustrans Ecologist in England and Wales said: “Currently one-third of the 14,000 miles of the National Cycle Network are traffic-free routes. While these routes are pleasant green spaces, they are currently managed as transport corridors with little focus on wildlife. As a result, native plants and animals are at risk of being lost.

“We’ve launched this project to radically change the way Sustrans-owned routes are managed so that we are helping to protect the UK’s unique wildlife.”

Sustrans’ interest in nature has been less welcome where we reported how the presence of water voles by a towpath on the Oxford Canal has dealt an apparently terminal blow to a £200,000 plan to improve the surface of a towpath on the Oxford Canal.

Sustrans had announced plans to upgrade the surface of the towpath in North Oxford last year, but said that the discovery of rare water voles in the verge alongside the canal will make it impossible for the shared use path to adhere to the minimum width of 2 metres, falling 20cm short.

Many sections of the towpath are in a state of disrepair, and a wall on the opposite bank means it is impossible for the path to be relocated there.

Sustrans is calling for volunteers to become Wildlife Champions and help with the Greener Greenways project. To find out more, click here.

24 user comments

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could they perhaps focus on widening and tarmacing more of their off-road network?

posted by Al__S [422 posts]
17th November 2013 - 12:26

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Al__S wrote:
could they perhaps focus on widening and tarmacing more of their off-road network?

No. The people that drive in cars to the Sustrans network to enjoy the biodiversity have no need for nasty tarmac.

posted by Ush [360 posts]
17th November 2013 - 12:33

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Al__S wrote:
could they perhaps focus on widening and tarmacing more of their off-road network?

What they are proposing is all well and good, but i have one question?

What is the point of Sustrans????

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posted by mrmo [861 posts]
17th November 2013 - 14:02

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Quote:
What is the point of Sustrans????

You may feel that Sustrans doesn't directly benefit you in any way, but lots of funding organisations/bodies clearly feel that Sustrans delivers on it's projects as the organisation is constantly growing.

Rather than asking your question on this forum, why not check out

http://www.sustrans.org.uk/our-services/what-we-do

posted by joules1975 [60 posts]
17th November 2013 - 14:39

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mrmo wrote:

What is the point of Sustrans????

Hey pal, those lentils aren't going to knit themselves you know...

posted by farrell [1021 posts]
17th November 2013 - 18:13

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joules1975 wrote:
Quote:
What is the point of Sustrans????

You may feel that Sustrans doesn't directly benefit you in any way, but lots of funding organisations/bodies clearly feel that Sustrans delivers on it's projects as the organisation is constantly growing.

Rather than asking your question on this forum, why not check out

http://www.sustrans.org.uk/our-services/what-we-do

Well aware of what Sustrans claims. But look on the ground, look at the name of the organisation then ask are they meeting those details?
Traffic free routes are all well and good if you can ride them, Transport suggests not getting covered in crap, or traveling miles out of you way.
This is before considering their response to cyclists using a cycle path.

http://road.cc/content/news/83496-slow-down-or-else-sustrans-warns-cyclists

or

http://onthelevelblog.wordpress.com/2009/01/26/the-problem-with-sustrans...

A few signposts isn't a solution, creating winding routes isn't a solution.

The solution can only be provided by councils and government, and getting them to look east for how to do it.

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posted by mrmo [861 posts]
17th November 2013 - 19:15

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I agree with the other comments. Thought I was the only one wondering why they have this weird aversion to tarmac. I was on a nasty busy road near their Nickey Line the other day - it wouldve been nice to follow the blue signposted "cyclepath" but I couldnt use it because I don't have a cross bike. It can't have anything to do with a serious transport alternative unless people can actually use it to get somewhere (as opposed to driving there with your offroader on the roof).

posted by deblemund [55 posts]
17th November 2013 - 20:14

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Sustrans provide excellent linear dog latrines.

onward ever onward

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posted by bikecellar [221 posts]
17th November 2013 - 20:42

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Got to admit, I tried using a sustrans route on a road bike and it was a disaster with all the mud....

posted by arfa [368 posts]
17th November 2013 - 22:03

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Sorry mrmo, but it seems you didn't take a look at the link.

True, sustrans were basically focused on building traffic free paths, but that's a tiny amount of what they now do. I have contact with their staff -the engineering staff are a minority, with the vast majority working with schools, local authorities and employers on 'soft measures' (non-infrastructure projects).

Yes, traffic free paths are for most regular and experienced cyclists of pretty much no use and pointless, but there are lots of people out there that simply wouldn't go near a bike if the paths didn't exist.

dog crap? That's a problem that goes far beyond cycle tracks, so don't blame sustrans for any part of that problem.

Oh, and as for slow down, they have a point. A cyclist riding flat out along a busy traffic free path is easily as dangerous as a driver doing over 100 on a motorway.

Regarding you link covering among other things sustrans accountability, which are very fair points and something that sustrans should look at somehow addressing and I've noticed that the organisation is surprisingly amateur in many things it does given its size, but the issues highlighted do not mean that it does not do good and that there is no point to it. It is also a national organisation so unfortunately the perceived importance of a particular local route or project will inevitably sometimes get overlooked or ignored giving some the perception that it doesn't care - something common to many national organisations looking at the bigger picture.

posted by joules1975 [60 posts]
18th November 2013 - 0:22

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I'm not usually one of the "bikes are traffic" crowd, but in this case i feel compelled to say it.

I thought Sustrans stood for sustainable transport? Clue is in the name.

Personally I mostly avoid these routes if i actually need to get somewhere, after a nasty gritty mile or two, on a route near Didcot, that fillled my drivetrain with some kind of grinding paste. What were they thinking? (Note it was quite a pretty route, but not on a bike).

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posted by PJ McNally [560 posts]
18th November 2013 - 8:42

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PJ McNally wrote:
I'm not usually one of the "bikes are traffic" crowd, but in this case i feel compelled to say it.

I thought Sustrans stood for sustainable transport? Clue is in the name.

Personally I mostly avoid these routes if i actually need to get somewhere, after a nasty gritty mile or two, on a route near Didcot, that fillled my drivetrain with some kind of grinding paste. What were they thinking? (Note it was quite a pretty route, but not on a bike).

Sustrans does stand for sustainable transport, which covers a whole load of things - indeed, it could even cover sustainable motorised transport - I.e. it doesn't mean 'we build bike paths', but if that is a means to an end. Unfortunately though most traffic free paths are owned and maintained by local authorities - sustrans is simply a conduit to obtain funding and the body that takes the bigger picture. If a traffic free path isn't upto standard, tell Sustrans, but also tell the council.

Why are sustrans getting involved with an ecological project? Because the cycle tracks have become havens for wildlife and if the more sustrans highlights this the more likely those tracks will be maintained and the less chance there is of them being ripped up.

posted by joules1975 [60 posts]
18th November 2013 - 9:21

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I think this is one my favourite bits of NCN 11: http://www.cyclestreets.net/location/18978/

I love the way the tarmac gives up leaving you on an unsurfaced narrow track with bits of flint.

posted by Al__S [422 posts]
18th November 2013 - 10:05

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joules1975 wrote:

Sustrans does stand for sustainable transport, which covers a whole load of things - indeed, it could even cover sustainable motorised transport - I.e. it doesn't mean 'we build bike paths', but if that is a means to an end. Unfortunately though most traffic free paths are owned and maintained by local authorities - sustrans is simply a conduit to obtain funding and the body that takes the bigger picture. If a traffic free path isn't upto standard, tell Sustrans, but also tell the council.

So who is responsible for NCNs? who makes the call? if you see a problem on the motorway there is one agency, depending on which motorway, to deal with it. With Trunk roads same applies, a big pothole opened up on A46 on my route to work, I think it was Atkins i contacted? they came and fixed it.

Local roads, you contact the council they fix it. ( in theory)

If you find an issue with a bridleway or footpath, you contact the rights of way office at the local council who get it fixed. ( in theory)

From experience most sustrans routes are bridleways, so by council standards they are upto standard, but if you intend to use them as TRANSPORT routes then they are woeful. Also from experience, if a route goes from a to b it will get used, but as sustainable tends to mean human powered, and humans get tired doing excercise, the routes need to take a short route, not meader miles out of the way of the route from a to b, which seems too often the case.

Claiming you have x miles traffic free routes means nothing if they are nowhere near where people need them.

Quote:
Why are sustrans getting involved with an ecological project? Because the cycle tracks have become havens for wildlife and if the more sustrans highlights this the more likely those tracks will be maintained and the less chance there is of them being ripped up.

which could as mentioned also be seen as mission creep, and when so much of the original "mission" has yet to be accomplished does it make a sensible diversion? If the mission is sustainable transport and paths are not the point, but getting people to rethink is, then wildlife corridors are of no concern. If the mission is cyclepaths that are fit for purpose, then they are failing. If the mission is leisure paths, which they seem to be succedding at, then maybe they should rethink their name.

Sorry i fail to see the point in Sustrans as they are currently. We do need an organisation committed to sustainable transport, but sustrans as is isn't it.

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posted by mrmo [861 posts]
18th November 2013 - 12:08

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Mission creep - bio-diversity falls within the remit of the Environment Agency, so why aren't they taking the lead on this?

Note - Sustrans 'own' very few routes. The vast majority of routes are owned by local authorities, with whom Sustrans collaborate on maintenance, upkeep, signage and mapping, largely through an army of volunteers.

posted by woollee23 [90 posts]
18th November 2013 - 13:26

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woollee23 wrote:
Mission creep - bio-diversity falls within the remit of the Environment Agency, so why aren't they taking the lead on this?

Note - Sustrans 'own' very few routes. The vast majority of routes are owned by local authorities, with whom Sustrans collaborate on maintenance, upkeep, signage and mapping, largely through an army of volunteers.

Yup, I use the 'Sustrans' NCN 72 route to commute in Newcastle and there are couple of sections notorious for dumping and bonfires. I emailed Sustrans to notify them of some of the obstructions and they just asked me to refer it to Newcastle City council. I suspect this 'change of focus' is to do with tapping into a funding source rather than a expanding the remit of the organisation.

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posted by joemmo [696 posts]
18th November 2013 - 14:19

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joemmo: I'm a Volunteer Ranger along the NCN72 from Wylam to Newcastle.
We do quite a lot of volunteer work days along that route where we chop back trees and bushes and pick up litter. You'd be very welcome to come along and help out.
You're right that when there is large scale flytipping etc we generally just inform the council - as they are better equipped to deal with that sort of thing and they may wish to investigate it and document it for legal reasons before it is cleared.

posted by GrahamSt [14 posts]
18th November 2013 - 15:32

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Quote:
Mission creep - bio-diversity falls within the remit of the Environment Agency, so why aren't they taking the lead on this?

Doesn't bio-diversity also fall within the remit of "Sustainable"?

posted by GrahamSt [14 posts]
18th November 2013 - 15:36

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I'm a little confused when fellow cyclists start using the term "transport" in this sort of discussion and then talk about wanting to ride faster and grumbling about surfaces.

Transport does not necessarily equate to shortest journey time.

My commute, 15 miles each way, can be done totally on road, almost completely on Sustrans type routes or on any mixture in between. Using mainly the Sustrans type routes may add as much as 15 minutes to my 15 mile commute but then it is only 15 minutes longer than driving, using the road or using public transport (trams).

Why would I choose the slower Sustrans type route?

Because I value the environment, I enjoy the environment and I like arriving at my destination relaxed and less stressed. I don't struggle with surfaces because I use appropriate equipment - not a cross bike, as some suggest is needed, but a fairly standard robust touring type bike with very robust tyres, mudguards, panniers etc.

The getting there more quickly approach is surely the thing that causes so much grief with motor vehicles on the roads, why would we want to let the same approach dominate on traffic free routes?

Shay

posted by shay cycles [172 posts]
18th November 2013 - 19:08

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GrahamSt wrote:
Quote:
Mission creep - bio-diversity falls within the remit of the Environment Agency, so why aren't they taking the lead on this?

Doesn't bio-diversity also fall within the remit of "Sustainable"?

When there's taxpayers money going into an organisation who have a statutory responsibility for the environment, no, not really.

posted by woollee23 [90 posts]
19th November 2013 - 2:09

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shay cycles wrote:
I'm a little confused when fellow cyclists start using the term "transport" in this sort of discussion and then talk about wanting to ride faster and grumbling about surfaces.

Transport does not necessarily equate to shortest journey time.

My commute, 15 miles each way, can be done totally on road, almost completely on Sustrans type routes or on any mixture in between. Using mainly the Sustrans type routes may add as much as 15 minutes to my 15 mile commute but then it is only 15 minutes longer than driving, using the road or using public transport (trams).

Why would I choose the slower Sustrans type route?

In contrast my commute is 17miles of fairly major roads, including one national trunk road (a46) there is a sustrans route for part of the way but it is craply surfaced, ie slate, mud, gravel, and adds a further 4-5miles onto the route. There is another section in Cheltenham on an old railway line which is properly surfaced, better than the street alternative and not too bad if you avoid the loose dogs. However it is not gritted or cleared in icey/snowy weather making it unusable by bike.

I am actually trying to get to work, i want to be able to get to work without being covered in crap and wondering if i will crash/puncture due to the loose surface. I don't a slightly longer route, infact i do tweak my route to try and avoid some of the trunk road but it isn't practical to avoid it completely.

I should also add at this time of year the trunk road gets gritted, the back roads are badly drained and do get covered in ice.

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posted by mrmo [861 posts]
19th November 2013 - 9:45

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woollee23 wrote:
When there's taxpayers money going into an organisation who have a statutory responsibility for the environment, no, not really.

That's not an argument against Sustrans,. That's an argument against ALL charities. Plain Face

posted by GrahamSt [14 posts]
19th November 2013 - 11:16

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GrahamSt wrote:
woollee23 wrote:
When there's taxpayers money going into an organisation who have a statutory responsibility for the environment, no, not really.

That's not an argument against Sustrans,. That's an argument against ALL charities. Plain Face

Yeah, but by your argument Sustrans could play a role in overseeing road, rail and buses because they happen to have the word 'Transport' in their name too. Sustrans faces something of a dilemma as being seen as all things to all people as far as 'sustainability' is concerned (especially policy makers at local and national level). For a charity that set out as a civil engineering project it's brief has been massively extended already to include public health, participation in 'active travel' by everyone from school children to commuters, and now this.

Sustrans does not have a 'bottomless pit' of resources to run this stuff, yet the more they pick up the greater the expectation among the public sector that they will - especially in this time of austerity. This runs a significant risk of existing projects being adversely affected in their delivery.

So... where would YOU draw the line?

posted by woollee23 [90 posts]
19th November 2013 - 15:58

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woollee23 wrote:
Mission creep - bio-diversity falls within the remit of the Environment Agency, so why aren't they taking the lead on this?

For the same reason that the Highways Agency and other non environmental organisations are involved with ecology - they have to protect the environment and wildlife, by law.

It doesn't mention the law, but here is the Highway Agencies page on nature.

http://www.highways.gov.uk/our-road-network/environment/environmental-to...

mrmo wrote:

Sorry i fail to see the point in Sustrans as they are currently. We do need an organisation committed to sustainable transport, but sustrans as is isn't it.

Unfortunately it's not necessarily as simple as you perhaps appear to think.

Whether Sustrans has moved to far away from the sustainable transport goals that it originally set up around, it's a very good question and one that should be debated, but to suggest that Sustrans doesn't have a point is essentially saying that nothing that it does is of any use, which is just wrong. It may not be doing the things that you think it should be, but it is doing the things it sets out to do when applying for funding, otherwise it wouldn't get more funding.

Is Sustrans the organisation to be at the forefront of the push for Sustainable transport? Not sure, and you may have a point regarding the dilution of it's aims/goals with all the things it now does and how this impacts on it's ability to fight the Sustainable transport cause.

However an example of why Sustrans has diversified is that there is much more to Sustainable transport argument than just the transport. Purely lobbying/campaigning on the transport issue ignoring everything else won't get very far as it will be drowned out by the powerful road transport lobby groups. But bring in other arguments for 'active travel' such as health, and the argument for sustainable transport gets much stronger by including points that the road lobby are unable to counter. Hence Sustrans being involved with Health related cycling projects so as to gain evidence and prove value.

posted by joules1975 [60 posts]
20th November 2013 - 17:02

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