How should we respond to the biodiversity emergency?

Did you know that there is a biodiversity emergency in Cambridge? Not many people do, but Cambridge and South Cambs Council’s declared biodiversity emergencies in 2019. This is in response to the alarming decline in species across the world; around 1 million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction. This isn’t just exotic species in far-away places. For example the Turtle Dove has declined by 93% since the 1970s and is at risk of becoming extinct from Cambridgeshire and the UK.

So how should we respond to this emergency? This is one of the questions that our councils are asking as part of their Greater Cambridge Local Plan. A document that will set out policies for future development for the next 20 years.

Cambridge Past, Present & Future, in partnership with the local Wildlife Trust and other local conservation groups, has been thinking about how we might double the amount of nature by 2050.

We need a nature recovery network based around our main areas of habitat. A green network that links places for nature together. It needs to be sufficient in scale to make a difference, not only for wildlife but also so that our growing population can get significant health benefits from nature and the outdoors. It will also help make us more resilient to flooding and droughts, it will help improve air quality and it will absorb carbon to help tackle climate change. It will also help our prosperity by making our area an attractive place to live, learn or do business.

So where should this green network be? Our initial work suggests that there could be five areas, which are shown on this map:

  • Gog Magog Hills – chalk grasslands and woodlands including Wandlebury Country Park, Cherry Hinton Chalk Pit, Roman Road, Beechwoods and Magog Downs.
  • Cambridge Fens – wet fens and grasslands including Fulbourn Fen, Little Wilbraham Fen and Great Wilbraham Common.
  • Wicken Fen – the National trust’s vision to expand Wicken Fen southwards to the edge of Cambridge.
  • River Cam Corridor – the river and its tributaries and the meadows, wetlands, parkland and woodlands that they connect, including Grantchester Meadows, the college Backs and Ditton Meadows.
  • Clay & Woodlands – woodlands, meadows and hedges on clay soils including Madingley Woods, Coton Countryside Reserve and Burwash Organic Farm.

These areas would not be giant parks or nature reserves, instead they would consist of groupings of individual parks, nature reserves and natural habitats that are linked together. Mostly these areas are farmed and they are likely to mostly stay that way, however there will be opportunities through the Agriculture Bill to create areas of new habitat on farmland that can buffer, connect or provide stepping-stones between existing habitats. There will also be opportunities to create new nature areas and green spaces through philanthropy, fund-raising, carbon-offsetting and new housing developments (in future, all new developments are being required by government to achieve a gain in biodiversity).

Resources for this work will be limited, and so targeting investment where it will have the biggest benefit for nature and people is crucial, we think that is by targeting it to a Nature Recovery Network.

Later in 2020 we will be delving into the detail in each of these five landscape areas and mapping out where we think the best opportunities might be for creating these new habitats and talking with landowners to see if they are willing to help. We will also be considering whether there are other opportunity areas, such as the Fen-edge Orchards & Droves between Cottenham and Histon.

How long might it take to create a green network like this? Even though there is an emergency, unfortunately this is not something that can happen over-night. It will take decades to create and it can only happen if everyone works together towards a shared vision. We need the support of local authorities, parish councils, government agencies, business, landowners, university colleges, charities and of all the people who live and work here.

We think a Cambridge Landscape Nature Recovery Network is how Cambridge should respond to the biodiversity emergency. We would encourage you to have your say at