Challenges and trade-offs in the Cambridgeshire Fens

29 August 2023

Challenges and trade-offs in the Cambridgeshire Fens

Adapted by Carmen Smith from the full report

In April 2023, the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP), in conjunction with the Cambridge Zero Policy Forum and the Centre for Landscape Regeneration (CLR), ran a policy stakeholder visit to CLR, addressing the challenges and trade-offs associated with land use in the Cambridgeshire Fens. This event brought together key academic, policy, third sector and business stakeholders to discuss the CLR’s engagement and collaboration with strategic partners, and to learn about the issues and questions facing policy decision making in the Fens.

This interdisciplinary event involved three roundtable discussions with the aim of fostering long term collaborations between the CLR, policy makers and other stakeholders.

The first roundtable focused on trade-offs in water, greenhouse gases and farming. Participants shared case studies of how stakeholders are focusing on engaging with policy. For example, NIAB (one of the largest crop science research institutes in the UK) is working to bridge the gap between scientific discovery and practical on-farm engagement. Their work with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and Fenland SOIL includes pilot projects to facilitate better dialogue and information sharing among farmers. They developed a simplified key for discussing soils and created maps based on farmers' input, integrating different names of soil types. So far, 25 farms have taken part.

The second roundtable focused on trade-offs in farming, biodiversity, and people. The Fens are an incredibly rich landscape with some of the UK’s most precious biodiversity. Conserving unique species is vital, but biodiversity in the Fens has been reduced to marginal regions. Evidence suggests that an optimum of 30-35% of the Fens should be under natural habitat, with 25% under low yield farming. For this reason, Fens for the Future are developing local nature recovery strategies (LNRS) to improve landscape connectivity and habitat regeneration, and the Centre for Landscape Regeneration is working to better understand how different species respond to land management and land use. Participants also discussed the heritage impacts of land use changes. Assessing these would give people the chance to raise issues such as concerns for local biodiversity, mental health, and access to green spaces in their communities. It was recognised that local people can feel ignored or undervalued in planning for their local environment. Recognition was given to the diverse values stakeholders have in the Fenlands.

In the third roundtable of the day, participants explored the importance of multidisciplinary work with strategic partners. To this end, the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission’s development of the Cambridgeshire Land Use Framework aims to inform future planning in the Fens. This browser-based tool is now in development with support from the Geospatial Commission. Cambridgeshire is a county where such data sharing has the potential to help tackle multiple local challenges including nature depletion, water management and economic deprivation. Flood risk in the Fens was also discussed, as well as the planning that relevant agencies are taking to mitigate these risks, particularly by Future Fens as part of the Fens 2100 programme.

The event highlighted the incredible complexity of the issues facing the Fenlands today and made evident the value of continued conversations between stakeholders. It was agreed that this could be through a combination of further discussion groups or subgroups and continued communication with the Centre for Landscape Regeneration.

You can read a report about the policy stakeholder visit here.

Image by Glynis Pierson