SBB's dense rail network is fringed with many hundreds of kilometres of species-rich embankments, forest margins, hedges and individual trees. This ecological network alongside a heavily used transport infrastructure provides habitats for many common and rare plants.
SBB regularly maintains embankments and areas of woodland along the rail network to ensure services run safely and with minimum disruption. This work involves pruning encroaching trees and bushes, regularly mowing embankments and removing invasive plants. Maintaining these areas is a never-ending task that also benefits nature. This periodic maintenance has produced graduated forest margins and boundary structures – valuable extensive habitats with high levels of plant diversity along a length of around 3,000 kilometres. SBB maintains a total of approximately 4,500 hectares of woodland and 2,700 hectares of embankments.
SBB attaches great importance to maintaining these areas as extensively as possible. It also aims to contain problem plants without compromising biodiversity. The high ecological value of some railway embankments is reflected in the incidence of rare plants such as orchids.
The rare military orchid (Orchid militaris) thrives on a few sections of embankment along the rail network. "Embankments are important sites for rare plants, because these areas are not farmed or sprayed with fertiliser," says naturalist Marianne Gmünder. "This is beneficial for plants such as the military orchid that thrive on low-nutrient soils."