Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Fallowfield Loop and 'Greening the Greenways'

The Fallowfield Loop (‘Floop’) is an off-road cycle path, pedestrian and horse riding route from Chorlton-cum-Hardy through Fallowfield and Levenshulme to Gorton and Fairfield in Manchester. It is part of the National Cycle Network of routes and paths developed and built by the cycling charity Sustrans. It is part of National Route 6 of the National Cycle Network which, when complete, will connect London and Keswick in Cumbria.

At 8 miles long the Fallowfield Loop is thought to be the longest urban cycleway in Britain. It was previously part of the old ‘Manchester Central Station Railway’, built in the 1890s and closed in 1968.

 The line had lain derelict for many years until the late 1990s, when a group of cyclists started campaigning for its conversion to a traffic free ‘greenway’ across south Manchester. That group, together with supporters from local civic societies and other community groups, formally became the ‘Friends of the Fallowfield Loop’ in June 2001. The route is now mostly owned by Sustrans, a charity which specialises in building off-road cycle routes. They have partly funded conversion of the route, together with Manchester City Council, Sainsbury’s and others.

The overall aim of the ‘Friends’ is to encourage and support all the partners in the Fallowfield Loop route to provide and maintain a first-class community resource and to encourage As many people as possible to use it.

The Floop creates a linear park and wildlife corridor, linking parks and open spaces. It has an interesting flora – some of which may represent all that’s left of the lost, ancient rural landscape of South Manchester. Some of the intriguing plants that I have found, over the last few years, include:

Hedge Parsley (Torilis japonica) – which is by no means uncommon nationally but is very rare in South Manchester – presumably because its precise habitat requirements are now only met by one little patch of ground by the Floop (?)
The scarce, pink-flowered bindweed hybrid Calystegia x howittiorum (although the exact identity of this plant needs to be confirmed).

Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis)

A Sphagnum moss (S. capillifolium)


The presence of the latter two plants suggest that the surrounding land was probably once much boggier – and it’s a miracle, really, that they have survived.
An evergreen, Chinese Honeysuckle (Lonicera henryii). This latter plant is obviously a garden escape – but I’ve never found it anywhere else.

Because of my interest in the Floop’s flora, I was delighted to learn, recently, of Sustrans’ ‘Greener Greenways’ project which started this spring (2013) and is a 3.5 year project that they are running in England on certain sections of their cycling routes. The project is funded by the Esme Fairburn trust and has allowed Sustrans to employ two ecologists to run the project. The outline of the project is in stages, beginning with the baseline surveying of the ecological status of 280 kilometres of cycling routes. The chosen sections are not all that Sustrans owns, or has management liability for, but they represent the majority of its holdings and hence some very significant sections.

The roll out of the programme will allow Sustrans to systematically build up their knowledge of the biodiversity of their greenways. They are aware that many of their volunteers have an interest and expertise in this field and hope to engage with that pool of enthusiasm and knowledge as the projects develops.
Once the 280kms of survey have been completed, mapped and analysed – the findings will inform Sustran’s ecology team and allow them to develop fuller management plans for the designated routes. They believe that this will allow them to make very practical but balanced decisions on work priorities for the routes and the wildlife corridors they run through. In turn, these plans will help to contribute to work plans that Sustrans staff and volunteers will be able to share.
Ultimately, Sustrans would like to recruit Wildlife Champions from their volunteer team and/or the local communities along their greenways. Potentially each champion could take on such a role for any given one kilometre stretch of greenway and help to monitor and to care for its wildlife. Sustrans believes that this will represent a great chance to engage with local communities who, in turn, can help them to enhance and protect some wonderful local habitats.

Initial surveys are being undertaken by a paid ecologist. These surveys will not supersede any work already done by any individual volunteers but they are intended to lead to a Phase One baseline. It should be noted that any additional information, that any volunteer or supporter of Sustrans might have, and is willing to share, would be considered very beneficial by the Ecology team. If you have any of this knowledge and think that Sustrans should know about it then, please contact Mike Dagley* of Sustrans in the first instance (for contact details, see below).
The timetable for the Phase One baseline survey is as follows:

August 13-14th Fallowfield Loop, Manchester
September 17-18th Chester Millennium Greenway

November 5-7th Hadrian’s Cycleway, Cumbria
Later this year Sustrans intend to develop Management Plans and specific recommended actions for each route. As well as informing Sustrans about the more nuanced management of their routes, opportunities will be created to form partnerships with Wildlife Trusts, local conservation groups, volunteers and all interested in making more of the ‘linear parks’ that these routes represent.

*Mike Dagley

Volunteer Coordinator

Sustrans Northwest England

5th Floor, 30-32, Charlotte Street

Manchester M1 4FD

0161 923 6050

0161 923 6053 (direct)

0787 645 3773

Dave Bishop, October 2013


The Friends of the Fallowfield Loop: http://fallowfieldloop.org/