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The drive to double nature in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough by 2050

By Gemma Gardner

Ambitious plans to double the size of the area dedicated to wildlife habitats and natural green space across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have been launched.

Launch of Natural Cambridgeshire’s Doubling Nature document at Waterbeach Barracks, from left Mayor James Palmer with Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England and Nigel Hugill founder and chief exec of Urban and Civic. Picture: Keith Heppell. (14487884)
Launch of Natural Cambridgeshire’s Doubling Nature document at Waterbeach Barracks, from left Mayor James Palmer with Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England and Nigel Hugill founder and chief exec of Urban and Civic. Picture: Keith Heppell. (14487884)

Currently eight per cent of the county is covered by natural or green spaces – one of the smallest percentages of land managed for nature in the country. The commitment pledges to take that to 16 per cent by 2050.

South Cambridgeshire is one of the areas in the UK which has the least area of land under management for nature.

The Doubling Nature proposals, launched on Monday (July 29), have been developed by Natural Cambridgeshire, a partnership made up of councils, statutory agencies, conservation charities, developers and community groups.

Introducing the plans, Richard Astle, chair of Natural Cambridgeshire, said: “Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have some very attractive landscapes and many special areas designated for their rich wildlife. But our natural environment faces significant challenges.

“We have fewer areas of nature rich land than most other counties. And this matters in the context of the climate emergency that we are well aware of now.

“A doubling of nature is a critical part of responding to the climate challenge, with nature providing an essential role in our ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

“If we act now and put nature at the heart of our area’s growth agenda, we have an opportunity to reverse that trend and ensure that people and nature thrive together.”

The event was launched at Waterbeach Barracks by Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England and James Palmer, mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

Campaigner, sustainability adviser and environmentalist Mr Juniper, who is a fellow at Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, said change is already under way.

“The Wicken Vision is one example, what’s going on with the Great Fen project, is another,” he said.

The vision seeks to establish nature recovery through better connected habitats by improving nature corridors and working with developers to achieve nature net gains at new developments.

Natural Cambridgeshire estimates that the planned housing growth over the next 30 years could provide another 6,000 hectares of land for nature.

Mr Juniper told the Cambridge Independent: “Now hopefully what we’ll see is this idea of so-called net gain now being applied into some of the new developments taking place across the region.

“Obviously, this is a part of the country that is going to attract quite a lot of development over the coming decades, not least because of the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor.

“The more that we can now begin the planning of the recovery of nature into that development, the better, and today is a great moment to mark the shift in perspective. For too long we’ve been seeing the development and the environment equation is really one of balances whereby on the one hand we need the development and on the other, we have to sacrifice some of the environment to achieve the development.

Urban&Civic chief executive Nigel Hugill at Waterbeach barracks. Picture: Keith Heppell
Urban&Civic chief executive Nigel Hugill at Waterbeach barracks. Picture: Keith Heppell

“What we’re now saying is that development should lead to a net improvement in the environment and that’s different. Today the agenda is recovery and restoration.

“At this site in Waterbeach you can see elements of green infrastructure in terms of lakes, woods and grasslands, and through intelligent and careful design it will be possible to create not only a substantial new housing resource here, but to do that in a way that we finish up with more wildlife and doing that not only for the benefit of the wildlife, but also its going to be a much nicer place to live.”

He added: “The decline of our natural environment and wildlife is in some ways an even more urgent challenge than that of climate change. If we are to hand on to future generations the kind of vibrant, rich and beautiful environment that we know is needed for people to thrive then we must act now.

“This is why Natural Cambridgeshire’s excellent ambition to double the area of rich wildlife habitats and natural green space is so important – highlighting how we can deliver a better natural environment alongside the economic development and the housing that we need.

“I hope this initiative will present the kind of shining example that will show the rest of the country how great partnerships spanning different sectors can make real positive change happen on the ground.’’

Mayor James Palmer commented: “The ambitious growth agenda for the economy needs to be matched with an ambitious growth agenda for the environment.

“An ambitious vision for a high-quality natural environment is essential for contributing to the standard of life that will attract and retain the skilled workers required for growth over the next 30 years.”

Nigel Hugill, chief executive of Urban&Civic, the developers of the former barracks at Waterbeach where the plans were launched, said: “Large scale projects can and must lead the way in balancing housing need with meaningful biodiversity gain. We will be judged by future generations on both counts.

“Best-in-class behaviour needs to be recognised and rewarded. This is no time for naysayers or feet dragging in demanding greener outcomes.”

Cambridge City Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council have signed up, along with the Combined Authority, CPRE, Cambridge Past Present Future and Cambridge Ahead and a number of others.

City councillor Katie Thornburrow said: “We plan to make a difference in Cambridge, and we want our actions to inspire others around the world and help to secure all our futures.”

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