A wildlife haven on Devon’s forgotten railway

PUBLISHED: 11:32 06 June 2016

Once a busy station, Halwill junction is now a haven for wildlife. Photograph by Dave Chamberlain

Once a busy station, Halwill junction is now a haven for wildlife. Photograph by Dave Chamberlain


Once the steam and smoke has gone, old railway lines and the land that surrounds them become wonderful corridors for wildlife. They’re not bad for people either...

Transformed landscapes that host remnants of our past, abandoned and disused railways are the perfect places to explore hidden secrets and discover a wealth of wildlife.

Railways criss-cross the UK, connecting people and distant places. Once the most effective way to travel quickly, rail-lines dominated our landscape carrying materials for use during the First and Second World Wars, transporting tourists to newly discovered places and delivering materials for some of our most important buildings.

Today, there are hundreds of secret, forgotten railways which have fallen out of use by people and been reclaimed by nature. Now they are wildlife highways, bursting with wildflowers, butterflies and birds, and full of secrets and history waiting to be discovered.

The Wildlife Trusts protect old railway sites, often known as cuttings or embankments, for nature and for people to enjoy.

In Devon, the most spectacular is Halwill Junction. A railway station near the villages of Halwill and Beaworthy in Devon, Halwill junction was a bustling and important stop on the Great Western Railway, which was the meeting point of four separate lines.

Closing in 1966, around 25 years later, the land was bought by Devon Wildlife Trust from British Rail in 1990.

Over recent years, the old railway track has been converted into a surfaced cycle path connecting Halwill Junction to Cookworthy Forest, while the reserve itself has became a wildlife sanctuary.

Wildlife highlights include the badger, green woodpecker and the pink flowered ragged-robin. Abundant in voles and mice along the wildlife canyon, Halwill Junction is also a good hunting ground for barn owls.

Visit in spring for carpets of violets that deliver a purple glow to the sunny grassy glades along the pathways, while in autumn, mosses and ferns run wild within the reserve’s damp and humid conditions.

Before you go

Remember to bring decent footwear and some binoculars to spot the birds and insects.

Wherever you live there is a Wildlife Trust that covers your area. You can support their work by joining your local Wildlife Trust today. Visit www.wildlifetrusts.org to choose the Trust you would like to join.

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