Balancing the needs of the environment with the desire to leave an ecological legacy can be a difficult prospect. Local communities may not see the value of creation or enhancing the landscape, especially in areas where social constraints are more prominent. However, if local people can work with Local Authorities (LAs) and environmental agencies to identify, create and design new communities resources the value of nature can be embedded within local thinking. The East Cambridgeshire Planting Parishes woodland creation scheme is one such project that aims to provide the expertise and guidance for local communities to participate in the long-term management of their local environment.
East Cambridgeshire is one of the least wooded areas of England. Due to the dominance of arable farming and the nature of the landscape only a small number of woodlands remain in the district. East Cambridgeshire also has the lowest woodland cover of the five administrative areas that constitute the county of Cambridgeshire with less than 1% tree cover. As a result unlike other regions of England woodland in East Cambridgeshire is a visual and ecological exception rather than the norm.
A district wide initiative aiming to address the lack of woodland this issue in the form of the Planting Parishes: East Cambridgeshire Woodland Creation Scheme. The central objectives of this project were to:
a) Plant an additional 10% of woodland across the district
b) Promote community engagement with the landscape and foster a greater sense of community responsibility for the local environment
c) Increase biodiversity by improving and creating new habitats
d) Creating a long-term legacy of new community woodlands across East Cambridgeshire
e) Establish a framework for identifying, funding and creating new woodland resources in a number of rural areas
Developed as a joint partnership between East Cambridgeshire District Council (ECDC) and the Woodland Trust (WT) the Planting Parishes initiative canvassed, fund raised, administrated and worked with local communities and parishes council to plant new community woodlands. Where previous woodland scheme were co-ordinated by the WT at a national or regional level, the Planting Parishes project was administered at the district level by the local authority. This enabled a much closer working relationship to be developed between communities, parishes and ECDC that in turn proved important in fostering community support for the project.
In a time of fiscal austerity the project was also successful in attracting funding from a number of sources. Funding was sought from a number of public and private funding bodies as well as through a locally focussed campaign aimed at the District and Parish level. Over £13,700 was raised to support the project, all of which was allocated to the purchasing and planting of new woodlands. As the project was administered centrally by ECDC, the costs of marketing and administering the project were subsumed and were not externally funded.
Six planting projects were completed in Year 1 of the scheme totalling 11.6 hectares. New woodlands can now be found in Ely (0.5 ha) planted by ECDC, Littleport (0.5 ha) planted in conjunction with the local housing association, Sanctuary Hereward and a local primary school, Mepal (0.5 ha) planted by Mepal Parish Council, Lode (8.0 ha) planted by Lode Parish Council and the National Trust Wicken Fen team, Wicken (1.0 ha) planted by Wicken Parish Council and Witchford (1.1 ha) planted by a private landowner. It is envisaged that due to the success of the project in Year 1 that other parishes across the district will join in Year 2.
Each planting event also enabled the respective parish to design the planting scheme and to choose the species they felt most appropriate for their area. The Woodland Trust who offered advice on species mix, diversity and appropriateness supported this process. All saplings and whips were sourced from Woodland Trust tree nurseries and were native species to the UK. Further specimen fruit trees were included in scheme to improve diversity, aid pollination and provide a visual/aesthetic indication of the scheme (given the restricted height of the whips used).
Each event was advertised and large numbers of volunteers helped to with the planting. Volunteers participated for a number of reasons including: a desire to enhance the local environment and increase the woodland cover in their local area, a wish to improve the habitats of their local environment, provide resources for future generations and establish community resources that would highlight a sustainable legacy for their particular village or town. This was support by the demographic mix of people attending each event. Families, local school children, retired members of the community and local conservation groups all helped with the planting events to provide them with a community feel.
Furthermore, the Planting Parishes project was also one of the few ecological enhancement projects to be fully backed by elected members of ECDC. Due to the partnership approach to investment and the prudent allocation of officer time the elected members of the Community Services Committee agreed that the project offered a ‘win-win’ situation for the district. Whereby, the benefits ecological and socially far outweighed the perceived costs of implementing the project.
The project was also identified in the 2nd Cambridgeshire Green Infrastructure Strategy as a district priority for East Cambridgeshire as the projects aims meet two of the Strategy’s central aims. The outcome of this is that the Planting Parishes project has been adopted within a county wide strategic investment plan as an appropriate and cost-effective way of engaging local communities with their local environment and promoting a sense of ownership over these resources.
Over the course of its first year the Planting Parishes project has successfully planted an approximately 12 ha (1-2%) of new woodlands across East Cambridgeshire. While this falls short of the proposed 10% increase it suggests that local communities and LAs are willing and able to engage, design and implement new landscape projects, even in a time of austerity. Given that the project has political support from all parties in East Cambridgeshire and has effectively motivated local communities to participate there is scope for the project to continue being successful. Its inclusion in the countywide Green Infrastructure Strategy also provides the Planting Parishes initiative with a legacy that can be expanded upon as and when further resources and land can be identified.
Further details of the Planting Parishes: East Cambridgeshire Woodland Creation Scheme can be found at www.eastcambs.gov.uk/environment/plantingparishes or from Julie Cornwell (julie [dot] cornwell [at] eastcambs [dot] gov [dot] uk) or Liz McLelland (LizMcLelland [at] woodlandtrust [dot] org [dot] uk).