Ambitious plan to help double land for nature in East Cambs announced

An ambitious plan to help in our commitment to double the land set aside for nature in East Cambridgeshire, helping boost biodiversity and combat climate change, has been approved by district councillors.

Working in partnership with The Wildlife Trust, East Cambridgeshire District Council has identified nine areas including Wicken Fen, the Ouse Washes and Soham grasslands which can all be boosted in terms of the amount of biodiversity they can support.

The Council plans to adopt a “More, bigger, better, and more joined up” approach which will look at how the quality and diversity of biodiversity in each area can be improved by making it larger or improving how the land is managed.

It will also investigate whether ‘stepping stones’ or ‘corridors’ can be used to link habitat friendly sites with one another.

The nine large scale areas are spread right across East Cambridgeshire. Each one has its own special qualities and recommendations, from improving our wetlands to extensive tree planting, and from meadow creation to chalk grassland improvements.

Under the scheme, the vast majority of the land will continue to be farmed, which is vital for our economy in East Cambridgeshire. But it’s hoped farmers will adopt nature-friendly farming techniques, for example, by leaving margins around fields, increasing the number of hedgerows, using flower and bird seed mixes and reducing their reliance on agricultural chemicals.

This will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reverse a decline in biodiversity as part of an ongoing plan to double the overall land for nature in our district.

The aim will be to save, protect and encourage native species, such as the long horned beetle, great crested newt, dagger moth, snipe, black tailed godwit, green tiger beetle, spotted cat’s ear and black bog rush. It will also help more common species of animals and plants that are in severe decline.

The nine areas identified are:

  • Wicken Fen – creating more fenland, wetland and meadow habitats supported by hedgerows, ponds and small scale woodland planting
  • Ouse Washes – creating areas of wet grassland and conserving peat soils to support breeding and wintering birds
  • Newmarket Chalk Grasslands - restoring and creating new chalk grassland habitats, in particular next to Devil’s Dyke
  • Chippenham Fen and River Snail – creating new grassland habits and small wetland areas
  • Breckland Edge – providing habitats for rare flowers, especially around the River Kennett and Chippenham Avenue Fields County Wildlife Site
  • Soham Grasslands - creating meadows, hedgerows, ponds and drains to encourage species like the great crested newt
  • Boulder Clay Woodlands - restoring ancient woodland and planting new native woodland
  • Chettisham Meadows to Ely North Country Park – restoring and creating lowland meadows, hedgerows and ponds
  • River Corridors Habitat – enhancing floodplains around the Great Ouse, Cam, Lark, Little Ouse and Soham Lode

Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, Cllr Anna Bailey, said: “I am delighted to be in a position to support these proposals which have the potential to revolutionise how we support nature and cut our carbon footprint in East Cambridgeshire.

“Urgent action is required to reverse biodiversity loss and climate change. Cambridgeshire has one of the lowest proportions of priority habitats in England (less than 10%), with one of the lowest percentages of land designated for nature and the second-lowest woodland cover at 4.8%.

“This Council officially declared a climate emergency back in 2019. Through adopting the Interim Nature Recovery Network for East Cambridgeshire, we will, for the first time ever, establish a framework to reverse the decline in biodiversity across our region.”

Following the plan’s adoption by the Finance and Assets committee on 24 November, the next steps will be to engage with key stakeholders, including some of the major landowners, to define precise areas of land for action and agree which measures need to be taken in each area. Developers in our district will also be expected to help meet the costs of the projects.

In the future work will also be undertaken to explore how private gardens and public open spaces can be used to provide much needed green spaces in more urban habitats.