Waterbeach Barracks hosts launch of Doubling Nature initiative


Natural Cambridgeshire, the local nature partnership, has announced ambitious plans to double the area of rich wildlife habitats and natural green space across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough over the next 30 years.

The Doubling Nature vision has been drawn up by the partnership - which includes local authorities, statutory agencies, conservation charities, community groups and developers like Urban&Civic - with the aim of creating a world-class environment where nature and people thrive, and businesses prosper.

It was launched on 29 July 2019 by Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England and James Palmer, Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, at separate events at Waterbeach Barracks and the Hamptons Peterborough, both of which have been heralded as outstanding examples of how high-quality housing development can deliver new areas of nature rich landscape.

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.”

Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, said: ‘’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.’’

Cambridgeshire currently has one of the smallest areas of land managed for nature of any county in the country, relative to size and Natural Cambridgeshire wants to double that figure, from 8% to 16% (which is the national average) through a combined approach:

  • The delivery of existing habitat restoration schemes. Between them, Great Fen, Wicken Fen, Ouse Fen and the Ouse Washes projects have identified over 5,000 hectares of potential new wildlife rich land.
  • The opportunities provided by the Combined Authority’s economic growth agenda. If planned and co-ordinated well, housing, mineral extraction and infrastructure development can create large areas of new green space and rich wildlife habitats– good for nature and for people. The way forward has already been shown through nature friendly housing developments including Alconbury Weald, Waterbeach Barracks and Wintringham. Natural Cambridgeshire estimates that the planned housing growth across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough over the next 30 years could provide another 6,000 hectares of land for nature.
  • The planned re-focusing of agricultural subsidies on the delivery of public services. This includes climate change mitigation, flood prevention and the creation of wildlife habitats. This includes planting pollen and nectar and winter seed mixes, incorporating skylark plots, fallow and cover crops into their productive land, and enhancing the contours of their ditches to provide habitat for birds, mammals and different flora.
  • Making our current greenspaces better for nature. Natural Cambridgeshire believes both new and existing residents need to be able to enjoy nature close at hand. Through small changes to the management of amenity land in towns and cities, we can create both more nature and more attractive places to live and exercise.
  • Creating new sources of investment in our natural capital. Natural Cambridgeshire intends to apply the learning and best practice from elsewhere in the UK and overseas to help create new investment opportunities in the maintenance and enhancement of our natural capital. These might contribute, for example, to creating new wildlife habitats, or to improving soils or water quality.

Mayor James Palmer commented: “The ambitious growth agenda for the economy needs to be matched with an ambitious growth agenda for the environment. I welcome Natural Cambridgeshire’s ambition to double the amount of land that is actively managed for nature so that we can deliver cleaner water, cleaner air and bigger and better places where people and nature can thrive together. 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 master developer of the former Barracks at Waterbeach, Alconbury Weald and Wintringham in St Neots, explained: "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. Urban&Civic has long espoused a trees first approach and is correspondingly delighted to be engaged from the very outset in this important initiative for Cambridgeshire. “At Alconbury Weald we worked with the local community to plant trees and create allotments before outline consent was even granted and the transformation of the former barracks at Waterbeach will give rise to five times as many trees as new homes. Existing tools can be highly effective when deployed at scale with new healthy infrastructure made a priority. Best in class behaviour needs to be recognised and rewarded. This is no time for naysayers or feet dragging in demanding greener outcomes.”

For further information about Natural Cambridgeshire and to read ‘Doubling Nature: A Vision for the Natural Future of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough in 2050’ visit: www.naturalcambridgeshire.org.uk