Mend the Gap
The Mend the Gap Programme aims to enhance the areas of the North Wessex Downs and Chilterns AONBs that have been negatively impacted by the electrification of the Great Western Railway.
Funded by Network Rail, the vision of the Mend the Gap programme is that “The outstanding landscape that links the Chilterns and the North Wessex Downs will be enhanced and enriched for wildlife, residents and visitors, helping to heal and soften the scars left by electrification of the Great Western main line.”
The programme aims to deliver projects and schemes that will, in combination, help to reduce and compensate for the visual harm done to the North Wessex Downs and the Chilterns by the electrification of the Great Western main line, where it runs through the two AONBs. The programme area covers the railway corridor along a 20km stretch of line between the outskirts of Reading and Didcot and 3km either side of the line.
£3,000,000 will be spent on Enhancement Projects (see below) within the wider corridor of the electrification works along this part of the line. Enhancement projects could include projects that benefit landscape; nature and biodiversity; access, understanding and recreation; heritage; sustainable tourism and the local economy within the programme area.
Find out more about the types of projects and schemes that could be supported by looking at the recently published Enhancement Project Criteria.
£750,000 is earmarked for Mitigation Projects (see below), such as tree planting and hedgerow restoration to help screen, mask, distract from and soften the impact of the steel gantries and other electrical equipment which have been installed in the Chilterns and North Wessex Downs AONB along a 20km stretch of line between the outskirts of Reading and Didcot.
Mend the Gap is jointly led by the Chilterns Conservation Board, North Wessex Downs AONB and the Railway Action Group (a group of local community members who were instrumental in highlighting the harm being done to the AONBs and in the campaign to reduce these impacts) and will involve working with landowners, the local community and partner organisations to identify and deliver projects that will collectively enhance the affected areas.
Mend the Gap is not a grant scheme but is seeking to identify and support projects that will contribute towards meeting the programme’s overall vision of softening the scars left by the electrification of the Great Western mainline by enhancing and enriching the outstanding landscape that links the Chilterns and North Wessex Downs for wildlife, residents and visitors.
Background to Mend the Gap
Network Rail started installing gantries in 2015 as part of a major electrification project on the Great Western mainline. Electrification requires the installation of infrastructure, including masts and gantries to carry the wires above the track. The Chilterns Conservation Board, the North Wessex Downs AONB and local residents in the Railway Action Group called for the gantries to be replaced with a better design of equipment which would be less visually intrusive in these nationally-protected landscapes.
Watch the campaign video made in 2015 to see the gantries and learn more about the campaign that led to the Mend the Gap programme.
Network Rail convened an Overhead Line Electrification Within the AONB Advisory Group, which included the Chilterns AONB and North Wessex Downs AONB. The main purpose was to provide specialist technical advice to help with the review of alternative design options for the gantries. Although Network Rail ultimately determined that replacement or changes to the gantries were not feasible for the Great Western electrification project, the lessons learned have already resulted in better designs being installed through the Cotswolds AONB.
Network Rail has developed new guidelines to ensure that protected landscapes are considered carefully in future rail electrification project.
Mend the Gap has £3,000,000 for Enhancement Projects within the programme area. Enhancement projects and schemes will compensate for the unmitigated visual harm done to the AONBs by the electrification of the Great Western mainline. The types of projects that may be supported through the scheme include those that bring about benefits for:
- Nature and biodiversity
- Access, engagement and understanding
- Sustainable tourism & the local economy
In addition, projects should contribute towards the Mend the Gap vision (as above) and should be aligned with one or both of the statutory purposes of the AONBs:
- To conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the AONBs.
- To increase the understanding and enjoyment by the public of the special qualities of the AONBs
For more information about the criteria for Enhancement Projects, please click here. Mend the Gap is interested in hearing from organisations and individuals who share some of the programme’s objectives, who may already be making a difference within the programme area and/or the AONBs.
Is Mend the Gap a grant scheme?
Mend the Gap is not a grant scheme as such but seeks to identify and support projects that will contribute towards meeting the programme’s overall vision. There are several ways in which Mend the Gap may fund activities:
In some cases Mend the Gap may award funding to another organisation, in which case that organisation will act independently making its own decisions, within an agreed framework, as to how best to deliver the intended outputs and outcomes.
Alternatively, an external organisation may be commissioned to deliver a project on behalf of the programme, in which case this would be delivered under a contract. Some projects may be delivered in partnership and under the terms of a partnership agreement. There may also be instances where one or both of the AONBs may deliver a project in-house.
Mend the Gap has £750,000 for Mitigation Projects within the programme area
Mitigation Projects and schemes will help to directly mitigate (reduce) the harm done to the AONBs by the electrification of the Great Western mainline.
Mitigation projects will soften the visual impact of the electrification by screening, masking, distracting from or breaking up views of the gantries and other electrification equipment. We anticipate that most Mitigation Projects will take the form of tree planting and/or hedgerow restoration.
As well as screening/masking the electrification equipment, these projects have potential to bring about wider benefits including biodiversity enhancements, creation of new habitat, supporting nature recovery and building resilience to pressures such as ash dieback and climate change.
Mitigation Projects can take place on private land but the benefits should be available to locations or viewpoints that are publicly accessible (i.e. from footpaths, roads, bridleways, rivers etc) so that the benefits of the project are available to the wider public. All projects must be suitable in terms of species and habitats and compatible with the landscape character of the AONBs.
Mend the Gap can contribute towards the costs of:
- Design of mitigation planting schemes
- Implementation of those planting schemes (including site preparation, purchase of plants and materials, on-site works including tree planting/hedgerow restoration)
Locations for Mitigation Projects
Research has already been undertaken to identify priority locations where tree planting and hedgerow restoration will have the greatest benefits in reducing the visual impact of the gantries. In the first phase of the programme, the focus will be on developing mitigation schemes in the priority locations.
Maps of the priority locations are available from the Programme Manager.
Although the priority locations will be the initial focus, other locations where mitigation planting will contribute towards reduction of the negative impacts of the railway electrification, will also be considered in a later phase as opportunity and need arise and subject to budget availability.
Contact us if you would like to know more or to discuss a possible Enhancement or Mitigation Project.
Letcombe Valley sheep, J Akam; Stacked gantries;