‘New Life on the Old West’ project to benefit Cambridgeshire Fens

‘New Life on the Old West’ project to benefit Cambridgeshire Fens

Image of a fenland drainage channel by Cliff Carson

Initial support has been received from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the ‘New Life on the Old West’ project lead by Cambridgeshire ACRE and involving the Ely Group of IDBs as a key delivery partner. Made possible by National Lottery players, the project aims to improve public understanding of the vulnerable biodiversity in the landscape around the Cambridgeshire Fens’ Old West River, whilst developing demonstration sites to showcase new ways of working on the area’s community green spaces and ditch network.

Development funding of £99,000 has also been awarded to help Cambridgeshire ACRE progress its plans to develop this project with partners throughout 2018 working towards a full grant application of £729,900 to deliver the project from 2019 until 2022.

The landscape on either side of the Old West River is recognised as a stronghold for many rare and endangered species such as Turtle doves, water voles, water beetles and aquatic plants such as Water Violet and Greater Water Parsnip. This area, with its many local settlements on either side of the Old West River, contains a great number of community green spaces and an extensive network of ditches and wetland habitats. Together, these contribute to its high biodiversity value, making this a vital ecological corridor which links the internationally significant wetland reserves of National Trust’s Wicken Fen and RSPB Ouse Fen.

The project brings together 30 expert conservation, land and water management organisations who will work collectively to achieve the project vision of creating resilience for the area’s priority habitats and species, to counter their ongoing decline. This collaborative approach provides a unique opportunity to test a landscape-scale conservation approach that has not been undertaken before in the Fens in this manner.

The project will instigate habitat improvements at multiple locations across the landscape. These will be highly visible to communities and landowners, providing for stronger connections with their natural heritage. The project will create visible demonstration sites where the impact on the area’s natural heritage will be monitored and where communities and landowners can showcase that it is possible to be wildlife-friendly without compromising land function, influencing others to adopt similar management practices. The project will provide an important opportunity to learn and develop techniques for enhancing habitat and ecology in a lowland land drainage setting (see ADA Key Topics: Environment for examples).

There will be many opportunities for local people, communities and schools to join in the citizen science, volunteering and events programmes that will be developed, to learn about and to connect with their diverse fenland natural heritage and community green spaces. A variety of training will also be delivered to help increase people’s knowledge of how best to maintain the assets in their care and safeguard the area’s vulnerable biodiversity.

Commenting on the award, 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.”

You can find out more about the project on the New Life on the Old West website and via Twitter @NewLifeOldWest.

The project is currently recruiting for a Project Officer (based in Ely) to lead the development of the second stage application. Full details about the role can be found on the Cambridgeshire ACRE website here.