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Landmark deal will see creation of 345-acre biodiversity site in Fulbourn

Farmland will be transformed as part of a pioneering biodiversity and habitat restoration scheme following an agreement between Network Rail and Cambridgeshire County Council.

The deal means a 345-acre council-owned plot of arable land at Lower Valley Farm in Fulbourn will be used to replace and extend habitat lost for the construction of Cambridge South station.

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha and Emma Sharpe, of Network Rail
Cllr Lucy Nethsingha and Emma Sharpe, of Network Rail

The transition from agriculture to diverse habitats is already under way on half of the former County Farm site.

This includes the creation of native broadleaved tree planting and species-rich hedgerows along with wildflower meadow and chalk grassland.

Council-owned arable land at Lower Valley Farm is being reshaped into a one-of-a-kind 345-acre biodiversity net gain site.

Council leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha said: “Our innovative Lower Valley Farm site is one of the ways we are taking action on the nature crisis we face, following years of decline across our environment. Incredibly, one in six native plant and animal species is at risk of extinction in the UK today.

“It is up to all of us to go further, faster, because we need to put this right and protect our natural heritage. Our Fulbourn site means that developers across the area can make a positive contribution to enhance local ecosystems here in Cambridgeshire.”

From January 2024, legislation comes into effect requiring new developments in England to not only provide for nature lost as part of works but to achieve a minimum biodiversity net gain of 10 per cent. As part of the Cambridge South Infrastructure Enhancement scheme, Network Rail has purchased 65 biodiversity units at the Fulbourn site to create an environmental legacy that complements their creation of Hobson’s Park on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

Wildlife anticipated to benefit from the ecological improvements at Lower Valley include Corn Bunting, Meadow Pipit, Lapwing and Yellowhammer birds as well as butterflies and bees. The site will also suit weasels, stoats, bats and other small mammals which have been spotted nearby.

Native plant life including small and field scabious, yellow rattle and a range of orchids is anticipated to flourish in the new meadow and grassland.

The Fulbourn location for the council’s Biodiversity Site was chosen following feedback from local environmental groups about the benefits of creating ‘stepping stone’ sites for nature and wildlife, to extend the benefits of nature enhancement across the countryside. Nearby places of environmental interest include Fleam Dyke, the Roman Road SSSI and Gog Magog hills.

The council is working in partnership with ecologists from the property consultancy Bidwells, who are tasked with managing the scheme over the next five years of this thirty-year long commitment to nature recovery.

The project’s costs will be met by the developer payments, with additional revenue set to be brought in for the authority.

Unlike other prospective biodiversity schemes, the Lower Valley project has already begun making ecological changes on the ground.

Emma Sharpe, Network Rail’s senior sponsor for Anglia, said: “Delivering a sustainable and lasting biodiversity legacy has been a key goal in delivering this new station. The agreement is the culmination of lots of hard work to not only compensate for habitat and wildlife in Hobsons Park, but also secure 10% net gain in biodiversity through investment in the county council’s Lower Valley Farm scheme.

“We are committed to boosting our environmental credentials through the work that we do to enhance and maintain the railway, and as the first partner to invest in the Lower Valley Farm scheme we are proud to lead the way in partnership with the county council.”

The Lower Valley Biodiversity Site is part of the council’s commitment to a greener Cambridgeshire and helps tackle the ongoing country-wide nature crisis. It also supports the organisation’s aim to become a net zero county by 2045, five years ahead of national targets.

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