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‘Amazing success’ as community group plants 165 trees by banks of river Cam

A team of ten volunteers has completed the planting of 165 trees supplied by The Woodland Trust along the banks of the river Cam.

Some of the young Salix trees beside the towpath
Some of the young Salix trees beside the towpath

The project to replace the many rotting trees along the banks of the river was organised by the Cam Conservancy with tree surgeon Ben Hudson, with assistance from Flamingos, an Extinction Rebellion affinity group.

“The Cam Conservancy owns towpath,” explains Tom Larnach, Cam Conservancy’s river manager. “We allow the council to have a cycle path and in return they maintain the vegetation.

“But we were getting complaints about overgrowing brambles so last year we went up and cleared away a lot of vegetation, but that revealed there was a lot of fungus around the trees, and disease had got into a lot of them, and grubs... they’re rotting from the inside out, some of them you can push over with one hand.

“Many of the Salix trees along the towpath, which make up the majority of mature trees, are coming to the end of their lives and unfortunately in the past there has never been a program of staggered planting for the future to ensure a steady supply of mature trees.

New trees along being planted on the river Cam towpath, April 2021
New trees along being planted on the river Cam towpath, April 2021

“The vegetation was holding in a lot of life forms around the tree, so me and Ben decided that at end of the day there would be no trees left along the Cam and from there we had the idea of setting up this community group which has been fantastic.”

The 165 trees planted are field maple, grey willow, silver birch, wild cherry, rowan and common oak – “a variety of species from the Woodland Trust to benefit wildlife and people as they enjoy the towpath along the river”. And the community-building has been at the heart of the success, says Tom, who took on his role in 2018.

“It has been an amazing success and has really brought the local community together,” he says. “All of the volunteers, Ben [a tree surgeon who has worked along the River Cam for 40 years] and myself love the river Cam and its towpath.

“It’s important for us all to leave a legacy so that future generations can enjoy being on, or beside the river as we have been able to. We plan on another round of planting next year but are fairly constrained along the narrow strip of land that runs along the river so we will have to see how it goes.

Cam Conservancy river manager Tom Larnach. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cam Conservancy river manager Tom Larnach. Picture: Keith Heppell

“I would really encourage other community groups to get together and plant more trees. The Woodland Trust Community tree packs are free as long as you can demonstrate tangible benefits to the local area and its inhabitants.”

A spokesperson for Flamingos, which was formed in November 2019 as an affinity group in Extinction Rebellion, said: “The trees will replace the trees lost over 40 years due to disease, danger and abuse. Trees help to keep the river banks in good repair, encourage wild life and biodiversity. They also remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to reduce climate warming. A tree lasts for as long as 100 years.”

Cam Conservators is responsible for navigation on the river Cam and owns the towpath where the trees were planted and supervised the planting, which started on April 21 and was competed on April 29.

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