Many plants and rare animals live along rail lines and power lines. They make their home on DB land and in DB buildings. DB's aim is to protect them, both during operations and when we build and maintain railroad installations.
Conservation from the outset
Over 470 plants and animals are under strict protection in Germany. Many of them, such as sand lizards and certain species of bats like the greater mouse-eared bat, tend to make their home on rail lines or in unused buildings if they cannot find a habitat elsewhere. Our goal is to disturb the environment as little as possible when building and maintaining our infrastructure. When disturbing the environment is unavoidable, it is especially important for us to find an effective way to provide compensation or a replacement solution.
We have set out in our DB2020+ strategy to do more than just follow legal regulations. That's why we have identified three areas of conservation where we want to step up our efforts in the coming years.
Giving DB land back to nature
DB has traditionally held a lot of property that is no longer needed for transport operations. We work with environmental associations to determine which of these locations could be used for conservation purposes. We want to return this land back to nature and make it available to associations and foundations. That is what we have agreed to do with the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), Verkehrsclub Deutschland (VCD), Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) and Environmental Action Germany. We have already handed over the first six locations.
As part of our Bees and DB project, we have made several hundred locations available to amateur beekeepers at no charge to set up hives since November 2016. The project's aim is to support beekeepers and help protect bees, which are increasingly at risk.
Protecting birds at rail facilities
Short circuits can occur when birds touch live components of overhead contact line systems and grounded masts simultaneously. Some 3,700 of these disruptions occur each year, and 93% are caused by pigeons, doves or crows. Small mammals, such as squirrels and martens, cause around 7% of disruptions. We have allocated animals that were not identified to the other categories proportionally based on frequency. We want to make overhead lines safer for birds, both to benefit the birds themselves and to prevent disruptions. New installations are designed from the outset to protect birds from electric shock. We discuss different approaches to solutions with conservation associations. DB Netz is working on a solution for greatly reducing the number of short circuits caused by birds. DB is piloting small-animal deterrents to test whether installing them at locations with a high number of disruptions would be beneficial.
Sustainable and environmentally friendly vegetation control
We call the pruning and trimming of trees and plants "vegetation control," which needs to be done frequently to keep signals and power lines from becoming overgrown and to prevent damaged trees from falling onto tracks. We are currently working on how to make vegetation control more sustainable, for example by pruning trees to create a connection with adjacent habitat areas. This makes it easier for protected species, such as sand lizards, to move between areas and find new habitats. Right now we are working on two studies on environmental maintenance for rail lines and land under overhead power lines and are collaborating with organizations such as Environmental Action Germany and Amprion, a power grid operator.
Digital map shows overlap with sanctuaries
DB's rail network is roughly 33,000 km long. So it is not uncommon for it to overlap with protected areas. Over 8,000 km of rail lines pass through or are adjacent to conservation areas. DB has to follow special requirements for these areas. Knowing where we need take extra special care in protected areas is fundamental, including when we plan expansions and maintenance.
That's why we use geographic information systems (GIS's) to identify places where train tracks and DB land come into contact with nature. All rail lines and land and all conservation areas in Germany that are available digitally are stored in the systems. Our system has some one million data sets. We can see immediately on a digital map where in Germany Deutsche Bahn land overlaps with conservation areas.
In addition to documenting where our lines and land come into contact with conservation areas, we can also record contact with DB Energie's overhead power lines and show them graphically.