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How the Wildlife Trust’s Wider Countryside team in Cambridgeshire is identifying areas for nature recovery

The Wider Countryside team with the Wildlife Trust in Cambridgeshire covers a range of work beyond the care and maintenance of nature reserves.

This includes working with farmers, landowners and conducting surveys with the use of monitoring, advising on land use, land improvements – such as recent pond restoration and creation.

Currently the team is engaged in the development of Nature Recovery Networks (NRNs) across the county.

Fulbourn Fen. Picture: David Price
Fulbourn Fen. Picture: David Price

NRNs are now part of Defra’s 25-year environment plan and the recent Environment Act puts an onus on local authorities to start to develop them. They are useful in providing a guide to allow a targeted approach to biodiversity net gain and other biodiversity and conservation goals.

The first of these was the Cambridge Nature Network (launched last year in partnership with Cambridge Past, Present and Future among others), which has since been successful in attracting funding to put into place some of the suggestions held within, including the establishment of new farmer clusters.

The first version of the East Cambridgeshire NRN has now been written and the trust is working on developing some of the Living Landscape areas into more formal NRNs, including the West Cambs Hundreds, Ouse Valley and John Clare Country.

To assemble data, the trust has used desk-based analysis, fieldwork and liaison with landowners, gathering data about nature conservation sites and high-level habitats into one digital mapping project.

This includes Wildlife Trust reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs,) county wildlife sites (CWSs), local nature reserves (LNRs) and other sites with some recognition of value for nature, plus habitat data such as MAGIC’s Priority Habitats, the Ancient Woodland Inventory and any data collected in recent years.

Fulbourn Fen. Picture: David Price
Fulbourn Fen. Picture: David Price

Conservation officer Lucy Wilson explains: “We look at the ground conditions including the geology, soils and topography of the land to be able to best interpret the habitat information. Sites of nature conservation value are then mapped as either ‘core’ sites or ‘stepping stones’ based on factors such as their quality and size. Once complete, this desk-based mapping exercise provides an evidence base for identifying potential priority areas.

“The hard work then begins: the Cambridge Nature Network involved an intense process of phase one mapping five identified priority areas, attempting to speak to all landowners within them, including writing a bespoke report for each - no small feat, though provided a good focus during those long months of 2020. For the East Cambs NRN, the approach has been less intense, partly as the area covered is so much bigger.

“The finished product is a digital map within which the current core areas and stepping stones are mapped along with suggestions for the most strategic places to connect them into a resilient network.

“Alongside this, a detailed report provides information about the habitats, features and key species within each area and how they would best be enhanced or connected, with detailed suggestions which can be taken forward and implemented.”

One project at Fulbourn Fen nature reserve is creating three hectares of chalk grassland on former arable land as an extension to the SSSI area; the land will be under new long-term management for chalk grassland habitat, enabling it to be grazed which is necessary to achieve the desired habitat.

Another is the conversion of farmland at Coton countryside reserve which will increase biodiversity, link habitats and reduce noise and air pollution from the M11.

The conversion of a former paddock will create 1.77 hectares of woodland with 200 metres of permissive access paths with provision of gates and signage - volunteers will plant 2,200 trees.

An area of grassland will be under new long-term management for lowland meadow habitat and scrub, enabling it to be grazed - necessary to achieve the desired habitat - and providing public access to and improving the habitat quality of 2.23 hectares of meadow and scrub. The local community will be able to enjoy this wildlife rich habitat.

Visit http://cambridgenaturenetwork.org/current-projects/ and wildlifebcn.org/news/cambridge-nature-network-update.

Big Wild Walk

Iolo Williams, ambassador of The Wildlife Trusts
Iolo Williams, ambassador of The Wildlife Trusts

Take on the Big Wild Walk during half-term next month: from October 24-30, challenge yourself and help us tackle the nature and climate emergency.

Marking The Wildlife Trust's mission to restore and protect 30 per cent of land and seas for wildlife by 2030, nature lovers can take on the 30km challenge - walk 30km in one week, 30km in three days, or 30km in one day, or walking with young children try the Hedgehog Challenge, walking 3km across the week.

Enjoy the Big Wild Walk. Picture: Wildlife Trust
Enjoy the Big Wild Walk. Picture: Wildlife Trust

Iolo Williams, vice-president of The Wildlife Trusts, says: “Autumn is a brilliant time to get outside, enjoy a little adventure and marvel at the wonder of our natural world. Best of all, by signing up to the Big Wild Walk you can help nature too.

“Public support is crucial for getting projects off the ground that protect, create, and restore precious wild places. I hope many of you can join us in October.”

Visit wildlifebcn.org/support-us/big-wild-walk-challenge.

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