Home Infrastructure Sheepish Network Rail solves woolly problem in Cumbria

Sheepish Network Rail solves woolly problem in Cumbria

The Settle to Carlisle railway is a well-known tourist attraction as well as a transport route. It traverses some areas of outstanding beauty, one of which is Swaledale, lying on the North Yorkshire / Cumbria border.

Swaledale is renowned for two things, its cheese and its sheep. The cheese was formerly made from ewes’ milk, although cows’ milk is more often used today. Still, there remain plenty of sheep in Swaledale, mainly used for lamb or mutton, although traditional sheep’s milk cheese is still produced.

Robert Ratsey with Swaledale sheep during dry-stone wall work. (Network Rail)

The sheep run loose in the countryside, penned in by dry-stone walls. At least, most of the time they are.

However, over the last year, Swaledale’s sheep cleared boundary walls and strayed onto the Settle-to-Carlisle railway line a total of 29 times.

With services travelling through the area at up to 60mph, this puts the sheep in danger and also risks delaying passengers if their trains hit the animals.

So Network Rail has had to learn new skills. As part of a £50,000 scheme, it has inspected thousands of metres of dry-stone wall between Risehill Tunnel and Garsdale before repairing sections of it using traditional methods to original standards.


Access was often difficult while repairing dry-stone walls during the Cumbrian winter. (Network Rail)

It was no easy task. Network Rail staff had to work in all weathers to carry equipment, materials and stone to and from particularly steep and hard-to-access trackside locations.

Sally Deacon, asset engineer for Network Rail, said: “We’ve worked closely with local farmers and the Yorkshire National Park to ensure our dry-stone wall repairs are in keeping with the local environment. This is to deter curious sheep from trespassing onto the railway.

“We want sheep safely in their fields. And we want passengers moving safely and swiftly on their trains. This dry-stone wall work helps make that happen.”

Network Rail has a statutory duty to fence the railway or provide another suitable barrier. The work on the Settle to Carlisle line forms part of its ongoing boundary fencing maintenance work carried out across the country.

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