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Safeguarding nature at the National Trust in Cambridgeshire





Climate change is the single biggest threat to the precious landscapes and historic houses in the care of the National Trust.

As a charity, it is adapting to weather patterns and working hard to address biodiversity loss. We asked the National Trust for three ways it is making a difference in Cambridgeshire…

Morning mist rises over the reed and sedge landscape at Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire. National Trust Images / Rob Coleman
Morning mist rises over the reed and sedge landscape at Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire. National Trust Images / Rob Coleman

Renewable energy at Wimpole Estate

At Wimpole Estate, the National Trust recently removed an oil-fired heating and hot water system from the hall and restaurant and in their place have installed a ground source heat pump.

This will reduce the National Trust’s carbon emissions, remove the risk of any environmentally damaging oil leaks, as well as reduce the cost of buying oil.

The facilities manager checking the photovolatic pannels at Wimpole Estate as part of the renewable energy project. Picture: National Trust Images / James Dobson
The facilities manager checking the photovolatic pannels at Wimpole Estate as part of the renewable energy project. Picture: National Trust Images / James Dobson

The renewables project has also seen the installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels in a discrete location within the new car park, which uses solar power to generate electricity for the new visitor welcome building. This is currently the biggest solar installation in the National Trust and will generate thousands of kWh of electricity per year – enough to meet the electricity needs of around half the electricity used across Wimpole Estate.

It’s estimated this will save 152 tonnes of CO2 a year. This building is also being heated by renewable energy, this time an air source heat pump, supplemented by a wood burner in the colder weather, burning Wimpole timber.

Wimpole Estate also has a sustainable drainage system so the run-off water from the estate’s visitor car park drains through a series of ditches and swales into ponds. That water is naturally filtered, and the silt is removed, so it can be returned to nature without using extra carbon.

A National Trust ranger checking on some of the 90,000 trees planted on the Wimpole Estate. Picture: National Trust Images / James Dobson
A National Trust ranger checking on some of the 90,000 trees planted on the Wimpole Estate. Picture: National Trust Images / James Dobson

Working towards a green recovery

With £1.3million in funding from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, the National Trust is also creating new habitats and supporting nature restoration at Wimpole Estate, by creating 32 hectares (79 acres) of new woodland, 49 hectares (121 acres) of new wood pasture, as well as wetland areas, and ponds.

Some 39 hectares (96 acres) of agroforestry are also being developed, where tree planting and arable farming are combined. Agroforestry can help to support healthier soil quality and higher yields, but also provides a habitat for wildlife and contributes to more sustainable farming.

Almost 90,000 native trees have been planted across Wimpole Estate in 2022 to help capture carbon, while also creating new habitats for wildlife. The trees have been planted in less productive arable land and where they would give the greatest benefit to nature.

The variety of trees is also important, as it helps build resilience into the landscape in the face of a growing number of tree diseases, attracting different birds and animals.

This work isn’t new to the team at Wimpole Estate, who have farmed in a nature-friendly manner for over a decade.

Some of the 90,000 trees planted on the Wimpole Estate. Picture: National Trust Images / James Dobson
Some of the 90,000 trees planted on the Wimpole Estate. Picture: National Trust Images / James Dobson

Turning organic in 2009, they introduced extra wide grassland margins around arable fields to support wildflowers that benefit pollinators and invertebrates.

However, there is still more work to do. As a modern farm the Wimpole Estate uses tractors, it has buildings that need heating and lighting, grain needs to be dried and its livestock emits methane.

There are many more opportunities to tackle climate change and work towards the National Trust’s goal of being carbon net-zero by 2030.

A vision for Wicken Fen

The newly built Visitor Welcome Building using solar power for electricity at Wimpole Estate. National Trust Images / James Dobson
The newly built Visitor Welcome Building using solar power for electricity at Wimpole Estate. National Trust Images / James Dobson

Less than one per cent of the original fen survives in East Anglia, of which Wicken Fen is a fragment. Despite growing to 358 hectares (885 acres) by the end of the 20th century, the nature reserve was too small and isolated to guarantee the survival of all its rare and numerous species.

It was also under pressure from the increasing number of people seeking peace and tranquillity. Launched in 1999, the Wicken Fen Vision is a 100-year plan to create a diverse landscape for nature, carbon and people; a historic landscape that will provide space in the modern world to breathe, think and explore.

Restoring natural processes, along with careful management of water and grazing, will allow the land to evolve into a mosaic of habitats for a wide variety of wildlife and secure carbon in the peat soils.

Grazing animals are essential to influence the developing vegetation in the fen landscape. At Wicken Fen, family groups of Konik ponies and Highland cattle range freely over large areas.

Koniks on Bakers Fen at Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve. Picture: National Trust Images / Mike Selby
Koniks on Bakers Fen at Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve. Picture: National Trust Images / Mike Selby

Since the vision was launched, the National Trust has more than doubled the size of the nature reserve.

By 2099, the trust hopes to increase the nature reserve to 53 square kilometres. It’s clear that the need for the vision is greater than ever before, with demands on our environment continuing to increase. However, it’s not just the National Trust – we can all play our part in helping to tackle the climate crisis together.

Win membership by entering our Photography Awards

The Photography Awards are open for entry until midnight on December 8
The Photography Awards are open for entry until midnight on December 8

The National Trust is supporting the inaugural Cambridge Independent Photography Awards, which are open for free online entry until midnight on December 8 at cambridgeindependent.co.uk/photography-awards/.

There are categories for amateurs, professionals and camera clubs.

The National Trust is offering three annual memberships, worth up to £133, as prizes for three of our category winners, including the winner of our Nature category.

For full details, and to enter, visit the website.



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