The Award Winning Primrose Path Project is about restoration, conservation and connection. Focusing on two and a half miles of lineside in the NYMR we have been working to bring people together to restore lost habitats and connect species. 

Setting the scene

It is March and Signs of Spring are everywhere. One of the most cheery sights is the incredible display of primroses throughout our 18 miles.  On walls, verges and along woodland edges, our primroses rise from their leafy rosettes and give us a wonderful display, March to May.

Unfortunately, although associated with partial shade they can become over shaded and the butterflies and bees that depend on them for an early spring nectar source will not find them.

The Primrose Path Project

Along a 2 ½ mile stretch from Hunting Bridge to Farwath, the habitats of the rare and declining adder and Duke of Burgundy butterfly have been largely lost due to scrub encroachment and lack of grassland management, leaving the adders limited to the northern section and the butterfly isolated in the southern section.

Opening up the habitats again to enable the flourishing of primroses in the spring (the Duke’s food plant) and restoration of the grassland for adders, our aim has been to restore the habitat, reconnecting the species to their former ranges. 

It has been the culmination of 3 years of work. Starting at Kingthorpe in winter 2020, we followed PWay’s example and with the Countryside Worker Apprentices, started to clear the woody vegetation to allow the grassland and spring flowers to emerge. The result was incredible with a beautiful display of primula* in the spring.

The Butterfly Conservation Trust are working on habitat restoration for the rare Duke of Burgundy Butterfly (BCT) in the area and they were very pleased with the results of our lineside work. Primrose and cowslip are the food plant of the Duke’s caterpillar and essential to this early Spring butterfly.

At the same time we were working on the Adder Wall Project (just finished this March 2023!) to restore the old boundary wall and improve habitat for the reptiles in the same location.


Whilst continuing our lineside work to maintain open grassland we have been surveying the lineside and surrounding area for both key species. The BCT have kindly led training sessions on how to find and identify the butterfly, their caterpillar and feeding evidence.

We were super pleased to find the butterfly breeding on neighbouring land and on our lineside, the first evidence in several years, in Summer 2022 which was evidence of our successful habitat work and shows the clear role of the railway as a landscape corridor.

The next step was to work out how to continue that work and enable the butterfly to spread to its former range to the North to Farwath. It was recorded in Newtondale and as ‘abundant in the Pickering area’ as far back as 1883 so there is every hope that we can bring it back.

We were not so lucky with our adder surveys. We did find lots of slow worms and lizards using our man-made reptile refuges (the pallet compost bins) but no adders, despite them being commonly spotted by engine drivers, once upon a time. They are however at Farwath and regularly spotted by the farmers there.

Moving Forward

The Yorkshire’s Magnificent Journey Project came to the rescue in 2022 and funded the local farmer at Farwath to help us with lineside clearance. A set of mounted tree-shears and flail was the only way to get on top of it all, taking off from Farwath to join up with the work we had already done at Kingthorpe. Five days of work by the very able, Duncan Eddon, still resulted in weeks of apprentices and lineside volunteers dealing with the clear up!

It has been a really positive project with real team work from many different parties including the NYMR Lineside Conservation Volunteers, the Countryside Worker Apprentices, business volunteers, the Duchy of Lancaster gamekeeper and of course, The Butterfly Conservation Trust.

This project brings multiple organisations together to recognise the value of the railway lineside as a green corridor and as a major player in nature conservation all the while maintaining a safe and operational railway. Fingers crossed that the primroses, butterflies and adders will thrive and be able to move into their former ranges, once again.

*Primula are part of the family of flowers that includes primrose, cowslip and oxlip.

HRA Award for Environmental Innovation 2023 - WINNERS!

The Lineside Conservation Team attended the prestigious Heritage Railway Association Awards Ceremony on 11 March 2023. The project was shortlisted alongside Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Steam Railway for their 'Embankments and Cuttings project - bringing biodiversity back to our railway' and Railworld Wildlife Haven for their 'ReUse, RePurpose and Share' initiative. With all the work that the NYMR Team and our business associates made on the Primrose Path Project, we were pleased to be announced as the winners. Congratulations to the team and all involved.

Kerry Fieldhouse, Lineside & Environmental Sustainability Manager.

Read the Previous Entry and, if you are looking to join the #ConservationTeam and help them in their work, please consider submitting a Volunteer Expression of Interest to start your volunteer journey at the NYMR.

Photos courtesy NYMNP, Kerry Fieldhouse & Heritage Railway Association.