Work has started this week to reopen the popular Strawberry Line near Winscombe following the completion of a £27million project to improve water supplies.
The line, used by walkers and cyclists, closed last summer to make way for part of Bristol Water’s 30km Southern Resilience Scheme, which better secures the supply to 280,000 households across North Somerset and South Bristol.
The company had hoped to reopen the Strawberry Line last month, but poor weather and roosting bats led to a delay, with plans now for it to reopen to the public by the end of May.
“We understand the frustration that is caused by the Strawberry Line still being closed,” says Ben Newby, Customer Services Director at Bristol Water. “It’s also frustrating for us; we don’t want the line to be closed for any longer than it has to be, but there have been some major unexpected delays.”
“Once the works had started in the Shute Shelve Tunnel, a rock fall caused work to stop,” explains Mike Lancaster, Project Manager for the Southern Resilience Scheme. “As a result of that, we needed to ensure the site was made safe before we could continue. This caused several weeks of delay. We were then very close to the bat hibernation period.
“Horseshoe bats are a protected species, and the Mendips are one of Britain’s most important sites for them. Therefore, work simply could not continue during their hibernation period. We had worked with ecologists and Natural England to try and prevent bats from hibernating in the tunnel, but these measures did not work”.
Reinstatement of the path outside of the tunnel had been expected to start in February 2018, but the consistent poor weather also caused delays.
“Now that we have drier conditions, we have been able to start the works on the reinstatement north of the Shute Shelve Tunnel. We are still keeping good on our promise to improve the drainage, and this work is almost complete. The bat inspection took place on 17 April 2018, and we have now been given the all-clear to start work in the tunnel too,” concludes Mike.
Works will also start on the Cheddar end of the path soon. The Strawberry Line is expected to be fully open to the public by 25 May 2018, just in time for the half-term holidays. The signposted diversion route will remain in place until all work has been completed.
A video update will be available on the Bristol Water Facebook page on Thursday 19 April.
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