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Rare and endangered species of Cambridgeshire's Old West River get a helping hand


By Ben Comber


Mark Nokkert, of the New Life on the Old West project. Picture: Keith Heppell
Mark Nokkert, of the New Life on the Old West project. Picture: Keith Heppell

Looking after the wild in the West.

Mark Nokkert says the project could have major biodiversity benefits. Picture: Keith Heppell
Mark Nokkert says the project could have major biodiversity benefits. Picture: Keith Heppell

Species that make their homes along Cambridgeshire’s Old West River will have a helping hand following a £99,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

The funding is the initial step of an ambitious project to improve and protect green spaces and ditch networks in nine parishes around the river, which is part of the River Great Ouse.

The project, New Life on the Old West, seeks to improve public understanding of the vulnerable biodiversity with projects planned in villages such as Over, Willingham, Cottenham, Rampton and Wilburton.

The money received so far is the first step towards a £729,900 grant application that could help deliver the project up to 2022.

Mark Nokkert, programme development manager, said: “We will bring experts in the field together with local people working over two levels – one would be for the community and green space, and the second with farmers who own large numbers of ditches and ponds in the wider arable landscape.”

He said people will be able to arrange biodiversity enhancements designed for different species, with a particular focus on priority species of birds and invertebrates.

Turtle doves, water voles, water beetles and aquatic plants such as water violet and greater water parsnip are found in the area.

“We will create a whole range of stepping-stones in the landscape from those small-scale improvements,” Mark continued. “Together there will be a whole mosaic of small-scale habitat improvements benefitting a wide range of species. A selection of those will be developed further to become demonstration sites, so we’ll also work with academic institutions in Cambridge which are interested in seeing things work on the ground. Again they will bring their expertise, and local knowledge can be put into academic research in exchange.”

He said communities and schools will have the chance to join in at various events to learn about the natural heritage and green spaces. A variety of training will also be delivered to increase people’s knowledge of how best to maintain assets in their care and safeguard vulnerable biodiversity.

The area is considered to have high biodiversity value, making it a vital ecological corridor between fen wetlands.

The project brings together 30 expert conservation and land management organisations.

Cambridgeshire ACRE says the collaborative approach provides a unique opportunity to test a conservation approach that has not been undertaken before in the Fens in this manner.

Kirsten Bennett, Cambridgeshire ACRE’s chief executive, said: “This is wonderful news for the communities in the Cambridgeshire Fens. We are particularly grateful to all those local National Lottery players who will now see their community green spaces improved.

“Local landowners will also be able to benefit from wildlife-friendly improvements on their ditches and arable land.

“The demonstration sites will enable local people to proudly display wildlife-friendly management practices, the project supporting local parishes and community groups in their important work.”

For more information, visit newlifeontheoldwest.wordpress.com.



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