Natural Cambridgeshire, the local nature partnership, has announced ambitious plans to double the area of rich wildlife habitats and natural green space across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough with the aim of creating a world-class environment where nature and people thrive, and businesses prosper.
The ambition has been drawn up by the partnership, including local authorities, statutory agencies, conservation charities, housing developers and community groups. It was launched by Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England and James Palmer, Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, at separate events at Waterbeach Barracks and the Hamptons Peterborough, both outstanding examples of how high-quality housing development can deliver new areas of nature rich landscape.
Cambridgeshire currently has one of the smallest areas of land managed for nature of any county in the country, relative to size. Natural Cambridgeshire wants to double that figure, from 8% to 16% (which is the national average) through a combination of
- the delivery of existing habitat restoration schemes, such as Great Fen, Wicken Fen, Ouse Fen and the Ouse Washes – between them these projects have identified over 5000 hectares of potential new wildlife rich land.
- the opportunities provided by the Combined Authority’s economic growth agenda – if planned and co-ordinated well, housing, mineral extraction and infrastructure development can create large areas of new green space and rich wildlife habitats– good for nature and for people. The way forward has already been shown through nature friendly housing developments at Hampton, Alconbury Weald, Waterbeach, Cambourne, Trumpington and the creation of diverse wetlands post gravel extraction at Maxey Pits, Ouse Fen and Fen Drayton. Peterborough’s Ferry Meadows is another example of land for nature that has been created through gravel extraction. Natural Cambridgeshire estimates that the planned housing growth over the next 30 years could provide another 6000 hectares of land for nature.
- the planned re-focusing of agricultural subsidies on the delivery of public services, including climate change mitigation, flood prevention and the creation of wildlife habitats. There are already many good local examples of landowners and farmers managing large areas of land for nature within profitable farming businesses. For example, farmers in the Thorney Farmland Bird Friendly Zone and the Ely Nature-Friendly Farming Zone (which together cover more than 6000 hectares of land), give over 3-10% of their land to nature. This includes planting pollen and nectar and winter seed mixes, incorporating skylark plots, fallow and cover crops into their productive land, and enhancing the contours of their ditches to provide habitat for birds, mammals and different flora. Natural Cambridgeshire wants to work with them and others to expand these schemes and join them up.
- Making our current greenspaces better for nature. Natural Cambridgeshire believes both new and existing residents need to be able to enjoy nature close at hand. Through small changes to the management of our amenity land in our towns and cities we can create both more nature and more attractive places to live and exercise. Natural Cambridgeshire is working with all the local authorities across Peterborough and Cambridgeshire on the Future Parks Accelerator project (one of eight national pilots) which will allow us to identify the step changes needed to deliver this.
- Creating new sources of investment in our natural capital. Natural Cambridgeshire intends to apply the learning and best practice from elsewhere in the UK and overseas to help create new investment opportunities in the maintenance and enhancement of our natural capital. These might contribute, for example, to creating new wildlife habitats, or to improving soils or water quality.
Introducing the plans, Richard Astle, Chair of Natural Cambridgeshire said, “Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have some very attractive landscapes and many special areas designated for their rich wildlife. But our natural environment faces significant challenges. We have fewer areas of nature rich land than most other counties. And this matters in the context of the climate emergency that we are well aware of now. A doubling of nature is a critical part of responding to the climate challenge, with nature providing an essential role in our ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change. If we act now and put nature at the heart of our area’s growth agenda, we have an opportunity to reverse that trend and ensure that people and nature thrive together.”
Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, said, ‘’The decline of our natural environment and wildlife is in some ways an even more urgent challenge than that of climate change. If we are to hand on to future generations the kind of vibrant, rich and beautiful environment that we know is needed for people to thrive then we must act now. This is why Natural Cambridgeshire’s excellent ambition to double the area of rich wildlife habitats and natural green space is so important – highlighting how we can deliver a better natural environment alongside the economic development and the housing that we need.
“I hope this initiative will present the kind of shining example that will show the rest of the country how great partnerships spanning different sectors can make real positive change happen on the ground.’’
Mayor James Palmer commented “The ambitious growth agenda for the economy needs to be matched with an ambitious growth agenda for the environment. I welcome Natural Cambridgeshire’s ambition to double the amount of land that is actively managed for nature so that we can deliver cleaner water, cleaner air and bigger and better places where people and nature can thrive together. An ambitious vision for a high-quality natural environment is essential for contributing to the standard of life that will attract and retain the skilled workers required for growth over the next 30 years.”
Nigel Hugill, Chief Executive of Urban&Civic, the developers of the former Barracks at Waterbeach, said, “Large scale projects can and must lead the way in balancing housing need with meaningful biodiversity gain. We will be judged by future generations on both counts. Urban&Civic has long espoused a trees first approach and is correspondingly delighted to be engaged from the very outset in this important initiative for Cambridgeshire. At Alconbury Weald we worked with the local community to plant trees and create allotments before outline consent was even granted and the transformation of the former barracks at Waterbeach will give rise to five times as many trees as new homes. Existing tools can be highly effective when deployed at scale with new healthy infrastructure made a priority. Best in class behaviour needs to be recognised and rewarded. This is no time for naysayers or feet dragging in demanding greener outcomes.”
Roger Tallowin at O&H Properties said “O&H Properties has a long-term approach to the careful stewardship of our natural resources. The Hamptons is recognised internationally for its nature reserves and its commitment to biodiversity. “It is possible to create a rich ecological environment from scratch alongside much-needed housing, if done in a responsible way. This is an important lesson for all landowners and developers and supports Natural Cambridgeshire’s ambitious but achievable vision.”
Leader of Peterborough City Council, Councillor John Holdich, said, “We are absolutely committed to improving the environment and have promised our residents that we will continually monitor and improve our environmental performance. We have some fantastic green spaces and areas of natural beauty where nature thrives in our city and we support projects such as this which look to build upon that for the benefit of everyone who lives, works and visits Peterborough. I am also keen to ensure that the natural environment agenda works for our inner cities too and hope to work with Natural Cambridgeshire to develop ideas for this.”
Executive Councillor, Planning and Open Spaces at Cambridge City Council, Councillor Katie Thornburrow, said, “When Cambridge City Council declared a biodiversity emergency it was not just a statement of intent but a commitment to take action, one that we hoped would encourage others to follow suit. We plan to make a difference in Cambridge, and we want our actions to inspire others around the world and help to secure all our futures. Working with Natural Cambridgeshire to deliver the ambitious goal to double nature in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough shows how seriously we take our commitment. We know that it is only by working together that we can deliver on our promise to stop the loss of nature and to improve and increase the biodiversity on which we all rely.”
Cllr Bridget Smith, Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, said, “There is sadly not yet enough attention on the risk of biodiversity loss. To protect the careful balance that exists in nature – in which insects, birds, plants and mammals, simply by coexisting, enable each other to live – we need to act now. But we face the challenge to build homes that people need and provide jobs and transport. As a local authority one of the main things we can do to protect nature’s balance is to make sure, through clear planning policies, that new developments enhance, rather than harm, nature. We expect to see more new towns with wetlands, nature walks, and wildflowers – it has been fantastic to see so many beautiful wildflowers this year as people recognise the need. But any authority or charity can only do so much alone, so being part of Natural Cambridgeshire as it drives a coordinated effort to double nature across our region, gives me real hope.”
Leader of Huntingdonshire District Council, Councillor Graham Bull said, “Huntingdonshire has an enviable record of securing and maintaining a network of countryside open space and waterways which contributes significantly to the quality of the District’s natural environment and habitat including spaces that have won coveted ‘Green Flag’ status. I am excited to explore how the “Doubling Nature” initiative can translate strongly into the Council’s day to day service functions and strategies.”
Councillor Lina Nieto, representing the County Council on the Natural Cambridgeshire Board said, “Cambridgeshire is one of the fastest growing counties in the UK and a great place to call home, which is why so many people want to live here. It is essential that new and existing communities are able to benefit from high quality green spaces – places that people will want to come to, visit, play and relax in. At the same time, this is a crucial opportunity to restore wildlife, habitats and biodiversity across the county.
“The County Council has been an active supporter of our local nature partnership, Natural Cambridgeshire, and we are extremely excited about the vision of doubling nature which is a step in the right direction, but this is only the beginning. All partners involved are acting as stewards of the environment and we cannot be complacent. We know there is a climate emergency and we must act now. We are working closely with partners and communities on a number of activities including, the Future Parks project, managing our own local nature reserves and playing an active role in major infrastructure schemes. Together we can deliver and secure a sustainable future for green spaces, habitats, wildlife and biodiversity in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.”
Leader of Fenland District Council, Chris Boden said, “As Leader of Fenland District Council I am also a member of the Board of the Peterborough & Cambridgeshire Combined Authority, where my responsibilities include the introduction of a Non-statutory Spatial Framework (NSSF) for the Combined Authority area, seeking to establish a framework for development over the next 31 years. Development generally, but residential development in particular, has the potential to provide a significant contribution to the “Doubling Nature” agenda and I am very keen to see that agenda incorporated within the NSSF for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.”
Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, Anna Bailey said, “I thoroughly welcome Natural Cambridgeshire in presenting a clear and ambitious vision for nature in our area. In East Cambridgeshire, we fully support growth, but we also recognise that it must be growth that people want; quality growth, with complementary infrastructure in place. And ‘green infrastructure’ for people and for nature is a fundamental part of that package. In East Cambridgeshire, we are blessed with some wonderful natural habitats, such as Wicken Fen, one of Europe’s most important wetlands and home to over 9,000 recorded species including many rare species of plants, birds and dragonflies. But, locally and nationally, land for nature has declined over the decades: this vision sets the framework to reverse that decline across Cambridgeshire.”
Simon Hawkins, Area Director for the Environment Agency said, “I fully support the ambition and leadership shown by Natural Cambridgeshire. Creating climate resilient places and enhancing the natural environment in Cambridgeshire with its low-lying geography, water stresses, the scale of existing water management infrastructure and economic growth plans, provides an exciting challenge and one which the Environment Agency is keen to embrace. It also presents a fantastic opportunity that can only be unlocked with vision, partnership and collaboration.”
The new ambition follows on from Natural Cambridgeshire’s earlier document “A Natural Future for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough” which outlined how each of the area’s varied landscapes could be enhanced over the next 30 years to help create a world-class environment. Natural Cambridgeshire also launched last year its Developing with Nature Toolkit, which sets out straight forward steps to ensure new developments support the recovery of local wildlife.
Natural Cambridgeshire is the local nature partnership for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. A full list of partners can be found on its website www.naturalcambridgeshire.org.uk