Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Cambridge Greenbelt, Bitterns & Hippos

'Little egret, green sandpiper, coot, house martin... hippo.' Wondering if any passage ospreys had been spotted, I was checking out the birdwatchers' list in a bird hide. The joke contribution from what I imagined was a bored kid reminded me of the time I climbed a ladder to a hide in Newnham, Cambridge and facetiously pencilled 'bittern'. This was in the days when such a claim was almost as outlandish as hippopotamus. Decades later, thanks to conservation efforts nationwide it's perfectly feasible.

Right Move describes Newham as urban and rural living side by side. Nature is employed as the USP for a £2.5 million new-build for sale near Bolton's Lake:
Just a stone's throw from Cambridge City centre. Newnham is unique in Cambridge in the way that the urban and the rural sit side by side. Interesting local shops are just one street away from meadows, wildlife and woods. Newnham was named Overall Winner in the Sunday Time's Best Places to Live in Britain 2015.
The purchaser can apply to become a member of the Bolton's Pit Company Ltd. This gives rights to the owners to use the lake for boating, swimming and fishing.

The 'meadows, wildlife and woods' are described by a local conservationist in an Ecological Survey. I signed the petition to Save The West Fields. I hesitated, as I live in a home that was built on arable land in 1972, and it seems a little hypocritical to campaign against new housing when I know how desperate the need is for new social housing. But Cambridge is a hotspot for investors who will never live in the houses they buy (in 2015 30% of new-builds are reported to be owned by buyers from overseas), and many are standing empty.

Cambridge University's wealth has provided a greenbelt so rich that green is turning to gold - but the gold may soon be concreted over. The Save The West Fields campaign aims to preserve the network of gardens, playing fields, footpaths, hedgerows, lakes, ponds, ditches and woods. As a child playing with friends and family in those places I navigated the green spaces, secretly trespassing and exploring swimming pools, lakes and nature reserves, much of it owned by the University. As an adult I believe it is essential that green corridors (or blood-red arteries) are retained for wildlife biodiversity and to connect urban residents to green networks. Kingfishers, water voles, even bitterns know every niche that connects Cambridge city centre to the edge of the greenbelt and beyond.

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