How we're making space for nature on the National Cycle Network

Greenways, much more than just routes for walking and cycling.

In the face of a national climate and ecological emergency, traffic-free paths of the National Cycle Network have the power to improve biodiversity and protect wildlife.

An ecological emergency

In the UK we are facing a climate and ecological emergency.

Principally due to habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, climate change and changes to agricultural practices.

The survival of many species is threatened by an ever-shrinking amount of space for plants and animals to live and thrive in.

There's also a perilous lack of safe routes connecting habitats, causing wildlife populations to become isolated.

In response to this, ߣߣƵ is developing greener, more biodiverse traffic-free paths on the National Cycle Network.

The linear geography of our greenways offers the potential to create exemplary habitats, with spaces and routes for wildlife to both live and travel.

We’re not so different

Just like us, animals need to travel to thrive.

Pockets of wildlife-friendly habitats in urban areas are a great start, but they are only truly effective once connected.

Land-based animals require safe passage between habitats to allow populations to:

  • Forage for a balanced diet
  • Breed and mix gene pools
  • Raise and nurture young
  • Expand into new territories
  • Shelter and rest
  • Respond to changing environmental conditions

All needs which are easy for us as humans to recognise and empathise with.

It’s within our gift to make a positive difference to the natural world

Our role as custodians

As custodians of the National Cycle Network, it’s our responsibility to ensure that greenways contribute to improving national biodiversity.

As well as being custodians, we are landowners and developers, so it’s within our gift to make a positive difference to the natural world.

We do this by improving the management of our existing routes and by protecting and enhancing habitats when designing new ones.

And in doing so, we also serve our mission to make it easier for people to walk and cycle.

Because routes which are rich in nature and wildlife attract people, resulting in:

  • An increase of walking and cycling trips
  • Safer, more attractive greenways
  • Improved mental and physical health
  • Greater social connection within communities

Our commitment

ߣߣƵ is an environmental organisation.

However our work has the potential to negatively impact the environment if we fail to manage our land correctly or poorly plan new walking and cycling routes.

When managing land along the National Cycle Network, we don’t only want to conserve wildlife, we want to enhance it wherever possible.

And when developing land for new routes, we want every project that we’re involved with to have minimal ecological impact.

This means conforming to the requirements of all relevant wildlife legislation and wherever possible, protecting and nurturing wildlife too.

Which is why in 2010, we took on our first ecologist and have spent over a decade growing our in-house knowledge.

We now have a growing team of ecology experts working across England, Wales and Scotland.

They educate delivery teams and embed ecological principles and practices throughout our maintenance and delivery work.

By improving the way we manage our own estate and projects, we can encourage others, such as local authorities, to follow in our footsteps.

Safeguarding nature on traffic-free paths, now and always

Life as a ߣߣƵ ecologist

Our dedicated team make space for nature on the National Cycle Network by delivering a wide range of activities including:

  • Assessing proposed walking and cycling routes for their ecological value.
  • Identifying the presence of protected and notable species to ensure their protection.
  • Making recommendations for how routes can be planned with the greatest ecological sensitivity.
  • Designing interventions which can reduce or off-set the negative impacts of development.
  • Surveying existing routes and writing habitat management plans which safeguard local wildlife.
  • Training colleagues and volunteers to undertake ecology work on the greenways, such as planting hedgerows, managing grasslands and installing wildlife boxes.

Growing our impact

ߣߣƵ is committed to safeguarding nature on traffic-free paths of the National Cycle Network, now and always.

We’re continually growing our impact, with more and more greenways gaining a bespoke management plan every year.

Management plans set out how habitats are nurtured and protected.

They are executed by both colleagues and volunteers alike, under the direction of our ecology team.

The impact which we can have in improving UK biodiversity is highly significant when you consider that the National Cycle Network hosts more than 4,000 miles of traffic-free paths.

That’s a lot of safe homes and safe journeys for so many in the natural world.

Vole on Lias Line

Record wildlife you see on the National Cycle Network

If you see an animal or plant which you can identify on the Network, within minutes. Records are verified by experts and support conservation research.

Wild flowers

Explore the UK’s best nature walks and cycles on these greenways

Take a walk or a ride in nature and discover the work of ߣߣƵ volunteers on these 10 stunning greenways on the National Cycle Network.

Man and child cycling on a greenway path

Read about the project that defined how we work with wildlife

The Greener Greenways project surveyed, protected and enhanced wildlife and biodiversity on the traffic-free paths of the National Cycle Network. The project ran UK-wide between 2013 and 2019.

Close up of Barn Owl's face.

Find out how you can support local wildlife

Your actions can help animals thrive in gardens, green spaces and on traffic-free paths near you.

Read our 12 ideas for giving nature a helping hand.

Two volunteers smiling on the NCN with brushes

Give a couple of hours

Join us for a task day where activities may include:

  • Making and installing bat boxes
  • Surveying for butterflies and bumblebees
  • Building a habitat pile for hibernating beetles


Photography credits:

  1. Ox-eye Daisy on the Strawberry Line, National Route 26 - Judith Acland/ߣߣƵ
  2. Long-tailed Tit on National Route 5 - Dave Brookes/ߣߣƵ
  3. Three volunteers -Jonathan Bewley/ߣߣƵ
  4. Vole on the Lias Line, National Route 41 - Simon Davy/ߣߣƵ
  5. Wild flowers on National Route 88 - Emily Sinclair/ߣߣƵ
  6. Cycling on National Route 7 - Julie Howden/ߣߣƵ
  7. Two volunteers - Jonathan Bewley/ߣߣƵ