Publié le 30/01/2017 - Mis à jour le 06/02/2017
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Eco-grazing: a 100% green solution for brush clearing unused railway lines

SNCF Réseau is responsible for cleaning its lines, even if trains no longer operate on them. In some hard-to-reach areas, brush clearing is difficult to do. This is why an original solution was developed a few years ago: eco-grazing. A way to support shepherds and their animals rather than using chemical products.

5 July 2014, Bray-en-Val.
It is a few minutes past 9 am and the sun has already risen in the countryside around Orléans.

Only a few hundred metres from the centre of the village, near the Bionne River, a man is walking along the train tracks. Is he a technician? Is he in charge of the tracks? No, he is a shepherd.

About sixty animals along 30 km of a railway line

At the beginning of the year, Jean-Luc was chosen by a firm called Ecozoone to take part in an eco-grazing project initiated by SNCF Réseau for its unused train lines. Every day Jean-Luc walks along the 3 km of the railway line, which have progressively been taken over by shrubs, brambles, young woods and nettles. He looks after his animals – 2 cows and 5 donkeys – which are clearing up the area along the railway lines. This allows SNCF Réseau to ensure the brush clearing of its railway infrastructure without using any phytosanitary products.

The animals allow SNCF Réseau to brush clear the areas along the railway lines without using any phytosanitary products

The Orléans-Gien railway line, on which the village of Bray-en-Val is located, is not the only place where such an experiment is happening. In 2014 four eco-grazing projects were initiated in the Loiret department. During seven months, from April to October, nearly 60 animals grazed 30 kilometres of railway lines in 5 villages or towns. Among these animals, most are sheep, but there are also donkeys, ponies and cows.

 


Sheep are used to clear out grasses and young woods.

 

Brush clearing hard-to-reach areas for people

Behind this environmentally responsible initiative lies a desire by SNCF Réseau to maintain and enhance its railway system in a way which is respectful of the environment and the surrounding towns. For Sophie Téton, Head of Environment and Sustainable Development at SNCF Réseau, eco-grazing is an innovative approach. “We are using ancestral techniques, but with an intention to change things for the better. Grazing is traditionally used in mountainous regions. We simply decided to transpose it into areas which are more urban.”


Unused railway lines are progressively taken over by vegetation.

And the results speak for themselves! Thanks to eco-grazing, whole swathes of vegetation on these lines have now been brought under control, sometimes in hard-to-access areas. SNCF Réseau decided to call on a trusted partner to fulfil this difficult mission in the Loiret department: a company called Ecozoone.

Every day two professional shepherds, employed by this partner company, check on the animals. “We make sure that everything is going well, that the animals have enough food and that they are all present”, explains Marjorie Deruwez, founder and manager of Ecozoone.

A two-stage process

Jean-Luc is one of those professionals. In all aspects of this initiative, he is there to work with the animals and to optimise the cleaning of the railway lines.

The eco-grazing operation in the Loiret department was carried out in two stages:

  • From April to June, there was a brush clearing phase. It was a sedentary operation which took place in specific areas, and there was daily monitoring.
  • During the summer, a phase of transhumance and roaming allowed for the clearing of plants which had grown back and more resistant vegetation (bramble, shrubs, etc.). Ponies in particular were chosen for this phase as they are more used to frequent roaming.

This animal roaming phase is an innovative approach and raises new questions. “The management of this type of operation was defined beforehand by SNCF Réseau Centre-Val de Loire.”, says Sophie Téton. “All issues related to the safety of animals, and also of the shepherds, were carefully studied by SNCF Réseau”.

For neighbouring residents this initiative is unusual, but contributes to re-instilling life into local villages and towns. “The animals are treated with great care”, says Marjorie Deruwez with enthusiasm. “In fact the aim is to re-create ecological diversity in the villages and towns. It is therefore not surprising that this project has been warmly welcomed.”

All issues related to the safety of animals, and also of the shepherds, were carefully studied

 

Maintenance and enhancement of its network: SNCF Réseau firmly committed to sustainable development
 

The eco-grazing operation conducted in the Loiret department between April and October 2014 is evidence of a policy which is respectful of the environment and resolutely committed to sustainable development. This type of action may be implemented in order to ensure the upkeep of the train tracks, but also to enhance the overall railway network.

With this intent in mind, SNCF Réseau has installed about fifty beehives along the entire 20 km of the old railway line between Vieilleville and Bourganeuf. Between 2013 and 2014, some 90,000 bees produced approximately a ton of mixed-flower honey.


Beehives are installed in the right of way area of an unused railway line.

 

A viable idea for hundreds of unused train lines

SNCF Réseau is responsible for the upkeep of unused railway lines and through these sustainable development initiatives is seeking to better integrate these unused lines into their natural environment. In the Centre-Val de Loire region alone, SNCF Réseau has approximately 2,500 km of railway lines, including 500 km which are unused. “Making unused railway lines useful is a real challenge”, explains Sophie Téton. “They are not only part of our railway network, but also belong to the local environment, towns and landscapes. The environmentally responsible initiatives undertaken by SNCF Réseau, whether eco-grazing, or the installation of beehives, enhance biodiversity and create employment for local professionals such as beekeepers and shepherds”.

Thanks to this success, the project was implemented in the Limousin region in 2015, this time along 55 km of unused railway lines.