What is New Life on the Old West?

New Life on the Old West will deliver wildlife habitat enhancements in green spaces and surrounding countryside within areas close to the Old West River in the Cambridgeshire Fens.

The project will create a series of small-scale habitat improvements – ponds, scrapes and wildflower meadows – in the arable landscape, the extensive ditch network and community green spaces. Together, these improvements will create a more resilient landscape in the Cambridgeshire Fens; connecting dispersed species and habitats, while creating demonstration sites for others to learn from.

The project will help ensure that a wider range of people can access and enjoy the local fenland countryside. Through a diverse series of events and a dynamic volunteering programme, we’re building a stronger connection between people’s green space assets and the biodiversity on their doorstep.

The three-year programme – now extended for a further two years – has been developed by Cambridgeshire ACRE, working closely with over 50 local and regional organisations, specialists, and community groups. Stakeholders who play a part in the conservation, land management and development of community green space and farmland assets within the landscape. Meet our partners here.

New Life on the Old West is supported by National Lottery Heritage Fund and National Lottery Players.

Project map

Existing habitat restoration areas
New Life on the Old West project area
Old West River and beyond

Our aims

We have a number of aims which we will be tracking and logging on this site. You can read more detailed information about each sub-projects specific targets, and how these will be carried out, in the resources area. These will include creating and maintaining green space habitats, training up local volunteers in recording and monitoring biodiversity, and creating opportunities for learning with talks, nature safaris and open farm days. Come back later to check our progress.

Habitats created on farmland
Habitats created on community land
Volunteers recruited
Activities delivered
Number of attendees

The team

Karen MacKelvie

Natural Heritage and Communities Officer

Karen is an Environmental Biologist by degree (St Andrews University), a therapist by diploma (Warwick University) and a community engager by nature. She has lived and worked on the peaty soils of Shetland for 25 years, working creatively to link people with wild spaces, for the benefit of their health and wellbeing and for the benefit of nature. Her internationally acclaimed Nature Prescriptions project (RSPB Scotland) is an example of the innovative way she likes to work.

Karen started with New Life on the Old West in 2024. Glad to be back on peaty soils again, after a stint as a ‘Nature Recovery Ranger’ at a hospital in North London, she looks forward to inviting people back into deeper connection with the wonderful wildlife of the fens.

Tate Oulton

Natural Heritage and Communities Officer

A laboratory research scientist by training, Tate worked for over seven years in the field of infectious disease and immunology before setting his sights on a career in conservation. Eight months spent as a full-time volunteer officer with the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire provided an immersive and highly varied introduction to life as an ecological conservationist, where he developed skills in conducting biological surveys, research and monitoring of habitats, land management, and practical conservation methods among others.

Tate has a particular interest in regenerative agriculture, and the role farms have to play in response to the climate crisis and environmental degradation. He is highly involved with a local farm cluster aiming to promote and encourage more sustainable and wildlife friendly practices on agricultural land.

The Fens

Our landscape

The project takes its name from the Old West River — the part of the Great Ouse flowing east from Earith, at the southern end of the 21 miles long Ouse Washes. From Earith, the river meanders through the countryside, until it reaches its confluence with the lower Cam and Ely Ouse just south of Stretham.

Our heritage

The project focuses on the natural heritage of the fen areas on either side of the Old West River. The river corridor provides a continuous habitat of verdant riverbanks and washland along its length. There are a number of important wetland sites, numerous parish-owned community green spaces, and many hectares of farmland. There is an extensive ditch network, some of which are particularly valuable for aquatic plants and invertebrates. Collectively this contributes to the landscape’s recognition as an area of high biodiversity value, with great potential for enhancement.


The landscape’s importance for wildlife

The countryside around the Old West River is an important stronghold for rare and threatened species. It is located in between the rapidly expanding RSPB Ouse Fen wetland reserve and Ouse Washes to the west, and the National Trust’s 100-year Wicken Fen Vision area to the east, potentially creating a significant habitat corridor in between. These renowned sites at either end of the Old West River landscape are also of international importance for their lowland wetland habitats and species.

The river corridor is of significant biodiversity value: it is a stronghold for many rare and threatened species, such as the water vole and greater water parsnip. The extensive ditch network across the area is often referred to as “the hedgerows of the fens” because of their high nature value. The area is also a stronghold for highly threatened farmland birds including turtle doves and lapwing. Many of the community green spaces within and around the area’s villages support rare terrestrial plants and insects, as discovered through work done by the Fenland Flora Project and Buglife in the area.

Chinese Water Deer

(Hydropotes inermis)

As its name suggests this unusual deer is not a native UK species, having been introduced from China in the nineteenth century. It favours wet, marshy habitat and is a strong swimmer.

Common Lizard

(Zootoca vivipara)

Living up to its name, the common lizard is the UK’s most common and widespread reptile. It is found across many habitats, including heathland, moorland, woodland and grassland.

Common Crane

(Grus Grus)

Hunting along with the draining of marshlands led to their disappearance as a breeding bird about 400 years ago, until a trio of migrating birds were blown off course in 1979, ending up in Norfolk.

Turtle Dove

(Streptopelia turtur)

The gentle purr of the turtle dove is an evocative sound of summer, but has become increasingly rare following rapid population decline, and is now included on the red list of conservation concern.

Great White Egret

(Ardea alba)

As the name suggests, this tall, white heron is considerably larger than the similar little egret. Once a rare visitor to the UK, sightings have become more common over the last few decades.

Water Vole

(Arvicola amphibius)

A species that is under threat from habitat loss and can be found along our waterways. It is similar-looking to the brown rat, but with a blunt nose, small ears and furry tail.

Water Violet

(Hottonia palustris)

Naturally a bog or marsh plant, the water violet provides a fantastic shelter for all kinds of aquatic wildlife – from dragonfly nymphs and water beetles to tadpoles.

Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil

(Lotus pedunculatus)

This plant is a member of the pea family and grows throughout Europe in damp location. Along the Old West River, it grows at the river edges; attracting a wide range of insects such as bees and butterflies.