– Where to enjoy wildlife across Cambridgeshire –
As the warmth of summer grips the county of Cambridgeshire, it is the perfect time to spend time exploring and playing in the great outdoors.
Here are 10 very different outdoor adventures for the whole family to enjoy. Each one has been selected by the New Life on the Old West team and their project partners – we’d love to hear if you enjoy them as much as we do.
- Join in with the Great Butterfly Count run by the Butterfly Conservation Society. Between Friday 15th July and Sunday 7th August choose a place to spot butterflies and moths. Watch for 15 minutes then record which species you see on the special App from the Apple Store or Google Play.
- Visit Kingfishers Bridge Nature Reserve for their open weekend 16-17th July. Sited near to Wicken Fen, you will be amazed by the wildlife you can spot! Will you be able to find the reserve’s grazing Asian Water Buffalo?
- Ditch the bed and sleep outdoors. Lie awake and listen to the wildlife that prefers the nighttime. You’ll experience many wonderful new things that you would not have noticed from indoors – and could even see a bat swirling above you or spot a shooting star! Choose to sleep under the stars, in a tent or even on a trampoline!
- Visit Wicken Fen to see the dragonflies. It is one of the best places in the UK to see up to 24 different species including the Emperor and the Red Eyed damselfly. On a warm summer’s day these colourful insects can be seen performing their aerobatic flying displays along the waterways and ditches.
- Join us at one of our Open For Nature days on Friday 29th July in Rampton or Wednesday 10th August in Over. Each event is packed full of information and activities about the wildlife in our area. Talk to wildlife experts from a number of conservation societies and meet characters from the past who will share stories about how they helped (or hindered) the countryside around us.
- Take a stroll around a Cambridgeshire village. Visit Over, Rampton, Wicken, Aldreth or Little Thetford to explore the wildlife living in these villages. Use our handy walking guides for details – and don’t forget to visit the local shops and hostelries for sustenance!
- Get creative with the nature around you. Collect leaves, dip in paint and make your own masterpiece. What other natural materials make great prints? If you don’t want to get messy simply lay out your materials to make a collage or string them together to make a necklace or crown.
- Learn some knots and build a raft! It can be as big or as small as you like! Twigs make a great base: lash these together and float a leaf or stone down the river or on a bowl of water in your back garden. Whilst you are playing with water, think about leaving a shallow bowl of water available for thirsty birds and mammals. Remember to add a flat rock or simple platform to the bowl to allow smaller mammals to get in and out of the bowl safely.
- Conduct a 10-minute pollinator survey in your garden or local green space. Use sticks or rope to create a 50x50cm square. Watch this for 10 minutes and record the number of insects which land on a target flower such as lavender, white clover, knapweed or buddleia. Visit the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme website for videos, further instructions and a PDF to help you identify pollinators. Remember to fill in their survey too!
- Capture the essence of Summer. We love seeing your photos of the Cambridgeshire countryside! Share them with us using the hashtag #newlifeoldwest or email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to keep any eye out for our next photo competition!
We hope that you all have fun together whilst learning more about the flora and fauna found on our doorstep. Enjoy spending time in nature.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for our BioBlitz on Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th May! With the help of local experts we hosted a weekend of wildlife surveys and guided walks to discover the wildlife living within Cambridgeshire. Find out what we recorded by taking a look at the photos below.
Whether you joined us in-person or took part at home, share your records and photos with us. Email email@example.com or tag us on social media @newlifeoldwest.
Thank you to the Cambridgeshire County Moth Recorder for providing us with an up-close encounter with a diverse range of moths. In total, 32 species were recorded with 54 individuals.
Volunteers also recorded in Cottenham with 22 species recorded and 30 individuals.
A moth light trap was used overnight on Saturday 14th May at Fairchild’s Meadow in Haddenham.
Volunteers and the NLOW Team were able to see and find out more about the moths.
Light Emerald Buff tip
White ermine Eyed hawk-moth
On Saturday we were joined by experts and volunteers in Haddenham and again on Sunday in Rampton (Recreation Ground) to discover the different wildflowers which can be found within the area. A full list can be found by clicking here.
The wildflower meadow at Fairchild’s Meadow.
Bristly Ox tongue
Yellow rattle. A very useful addition to a wildflower meadow.
Across the weekend, our Natural Heritage and Communities Officer Laura Allen, conducted a reptile survey at Fairchild’s Meadow. Laura spoke with members of the community to highlight the different reptiles which could be found during a survey within the UK. This included grass snake, slow worm, adder, smooth snake and common lizard – some of which are not currently found within Cambridgeshire.
We were very pleased to record grass snakes and common lizards during the BioBlitz weekend and will be repeating the survey over the next few weeks for the first ‘Open for Nature’ day!
Reptile refugia placed around the pond at Fairchild’s Meadow.
A common lizard recorded during the survey.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for a guided walk as part of the BioBlitz. Project Manager, Howard Jones, led a dawn chorus walk at Cam Washes (SSSI) on Saturday. The group were able to listen to and see a range of birds including warblers (blackcap, chiffchaff and sedge warbler), migratory birds (cuckoo, sand martin and swallow) and a herd of roe deer.
Greylag geese on the Old West River.
Project Manager, Howard Jones, leading the dawn chorus walk.
On Sunday, Laura brought the BioBlitz weekend to a close with a guided a nature walk around Rampton. The group were able to explore this pretty Cambridgeshire village, including All Saints’ Church with local residents, before the rain!
Help experts survey the wildlife that enjoy our Fenlands
What is a BioBlitz?
A BioBlitz is an event where people work together to find and identify as many species as possible, in a specific area and over a short period of time. It can be carried out anywhere there is wildlife.
This focussed approach to surveying wildlife is designed to be a fun and informal way for young people and other members of the public to learn alongside experts, and share and develop their enthusiasm for nature.
Everything found during a BioBlitz is documented and added to national databases that monitor wildlife. These key contributions help experts to understand which species are thriving and which need some help.
NLOW BioBlitz in Summary
What: Survey wildlife and record your observations
When: 14th & 15th May
Where: Join us at various locations or survey your garden or local park
Who: Everyone is welcome!
How long: Join in for as long as you would like!
Read more here: BioBlitz Information
What will happen at the NLOW BioBlitz?
On the 14th and 15th May, participants can be part of a number of events specifically tailored by our project team. The series includes:
- surveys with wildlife experts in various locations within the NLOW project area
- advice on how to survey from home or the local park
- participating in an expert-led session.
Interested contributors can just turn up at many of our surveying sessions, however, the walks are operating with limited spaces and will need booking in advance. Please visit our dedicated BioBlitz webpage for more details.
Can I hold my own BioBlitz at home or in my local park?
Yes! We want as many people to get involved as possible and if you can’t make it to one of our venues, we would love you to record the nature that you see at home or local park.
We have some useful HAVE A GO guides on our BioBlitz webpage and there are lots of useful resources online to help you identify wildlife. A few are listed below.
Don’t forget to record all of your findings, including the 4Ws (What, Where, When, Who spotted it), and share them with us via firstname.lastname@example.org. Our useful video will give you more information about how to record what you see.
Is this part of the BioBlitz at National Trust Wicken Fen?
Yes. We are working in partnership with the National Trust and are holding our BioBlitz on the same weekend as the Wicken Fen event. The New Life on the Old West project works within communities that are adjacent to the Wicken Fen Vision area – Haddenham, Rampton, Cam Wash, and Cottenham. We’ll be running events across these specific areas, as well as encouraging wider support from people at home.
Like the Wicken Fen event, our events have been made possible thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
What help and advice is there available for running my own surveying?
You don’t need to be a wildlife expert to take part and make a difference. There are a number of apps and resources that can help you identify what you find – including:
- Seek app – point the camera at living things and the app uses image recognition technology to identify them.
- Picture This app – similar to the Seek app but just for plants.
- Spotter Sheets
- How to Guides
Ready to BioBlitz?!
Download all the resources you need from our website, decide where to go, and head out to see what you spot! Don’t forget to record all of your findings, including the 4Ws, and share them with us via email@example.com
If you’d like to learn more about NLOW, become a volunteer, join a training session or help improve local habitat by working with wildlife experts, please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
– As spring arrives in the Fens, here are 10 fun activities recommended for nature lovers of all ages –
As the approaching spring nudges us towards warmer weather and blue skies, it’s a fantastic time to take a walk through the fields, and along the banks of the Old West River, to spot the first signs of growth and regeneration.
Here are 10 exciting activities recommended by the nature experts at New Life on the Old West that you can enjoy with family and friends across Cambridgeshire this spring. If you choose to get involved, tell us about it on social media using the hashtag #NewLifeOldWest – we’d love to hear from you!
- Discover the wildlife living in your garden or local green spaces by taking part in our May BioBlitz (in partnership with National Trust Wicken Fen). Over the weekend of 14th and 15th May we will be hosting a series of expert-led recording sessions including a bat walk, grassland surveys and a dawn chorus walk. More details on our website soon!
- Enjoy a leisurely boat trip at Wicken Fen. The open boat ‘Mayfly’ restarts its peaceful exploration of the waterways at this brilliant National Trust reserve from March. A perfect springtime activity for all the family.
- Explore the Cambridgeshire countryside on a nature walk. Head to Little Thetford to walk along the Old West River and enjoy views across to Ely Cathedral! Try one of our New Life nature walks and let us know what wildlife you see. Share your photos with us using #newlifeoldwest.
- Don your wellies, cross the Norfolk border & explore WWT Welney. In spring many breeding birds use this wetland reserve. See if you can spot lapwing, avocet or redshank chicks, and enjoy the visiting warblers in full song.
- Watch the birds in your garden flock to an apple bird feeder! Birds love sunflower seeds and apples, so combine these favourite foods into one in this great idea from the RSPB. Can you draw the feeder and the birds? If you do, send the pictures to us via social media using the hashtag #newlifeoldwest or email them to us at email@example.com.
- Moths are much more than just butterflies without make-up. They’re diverse, fascinating and easy to find. Spring is a great time to explore the amazing world of moths. You could just turn on a light outside and watch the moths flock to you but for a more ‘scientific approach, visit the RSPB website for a downloadable guide to moths and how to watch them.
- Wander through tree blossom, tulips, daffodils and wildflowers as they spring into life. Flowers may be found on verges and in hedgerows as well as in more formal gardens. For a special treat visit Anglesey Abbey, a National Trust property near Cambridge, for a wonderful day out.
- Set the alarms for silly o’clock and join BCN Wildlife Trust at the Great Fen for a Dawn Chorus walk. Learn to identify which birds are singing as the sun rises at this wild Fenland reserve – for more details and to book click here.
- Plan ahead for summer. See our website for event details and join us and support the NLOW team! There are lots of wildlife-based activities coming up including:
- Saturday 18th June: Join us in Haddenham for Celebrate the Fens Day
- Friday 29th July: Open for Nature Day in Rampton
- Wednesday 10th August: Open for Nature Day in Over
- Capture the Signs of Spring. We want to see your photographs that show spring blooming across the Cambridgeshire countryside! Share them with us using the hashtag #newlifeoldwest or email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to keep an eye out for our next photo competition!
New Life on the Old West (NLOW) is a National Lottery Heritage Fund supported programme delivering small-scale habitat improvements across part of the Cambridgeshire Fens. If you’d like to become a volunteer, doing something as simple as recording wildlife spotted on a walk, or supporting community activities, do get in touch via email@example.com
Choose to get outside and enjoy our wonderful Fens this Spring.
Orchards have long been a prominent feature in the Fenland and South Cambridgeshire landscape. Significant commercial orchards had developed around Wisbech by the 18th century, with apples shipped via the River Nene to markets in eastern England. During the 19th century, the arrival of the railways allowed fruit to be rapidly transported to major markets in London and the Midlands, leading to an explosion of orchards in the Fens, the Fen-edge “islands” and South Cambridgeshire. Single variety orchards were often concentrated along railway lines. New disease resistant rootstocks allowed more, smaller trees to be planted per hectare, and mechanization and chemical sprays for disease control increased production.
Commercial orchards around Wisbech St Mary c. 1925
In 1950, 4950 hectares of orchards were recorded in Cambridge, Huntingdon, the Isle of Ely and Soke of Peterborough. From the mid-20th century orchards show a steady decline. A 2003 DEFRA census recorded only 959 hectares in Cambridgeshire. A National Lottery Heritage Fund supported project, Orchards East, saw volunteers survey 37% of Cambridgeshire parishes. Volunteers inspected 2,885 sites identified as orchards from historic maps dating back to the 19th century; of these only 370 remained as orchards. Cheap fruit imported from the Commonwealth, and latterly the Common Market, eroded the viability of fruit farms. Orchard sites have been developed for housing, industry or adapted to different arable crops.
Cambridgeshire Acre’s New Life on the Old West project has helped several villages, Cottenham, Over and Wilburton, to plant new fruit trees on community green spaces. Pupils from Over Primary School Eco-council planted a small apple and plum orchard in the village. Close to the school, this will grow to provide outdoor learning opportunities for future generations of pupils, as well as fruit for the villagers. We provided 8 fruit trees for a wonderful parish council allotment site in Wilburton. The orchard sits alongside a new wildlife pond, woodland and wildflower areas, all acting as a magnet for a range of species.
The planting team from Over Primary School
Rampton parish council kindly allowed us to arrange an orchard pruning workshop at their 20-year old orchard. Led by highly experienced Fenland orchardist Bob Lever, attendees from the villages learned some of the age old skills needed to manage their new fruit trees and ensure they become a long-lasting community resource.
Pruning workshop at Rampton Community Orchard
To find out more about the orchards of eastern England visit https://www.orchardseastforum.org/ where you’ll find advice on establishing and maintaining an orchard, details of some wonderful orchards in the region you can visit, and imaginative lesson plans for teachers and parents.
How you can help 25 Fenland species
– By monitoring wildlife and improving habitats with the New Life on the Old West team-
Planting hedgerows, digging ponds and growing bird-friendly crops are just a few of the actions that will help 25 rare and threatened species that make the Cambridgeshire Fens their home. These species represent the ‘DNA of the Cambridgeshire Fens’ and increasing their numbers will improve the biodiversity and health of the Fens.
We’re calling on local people, schools and community groups to join the New Life on the Old West programme and form expert-led working parties. These teams are busy creating new and enhancing existing habitat for species such as the great crested newt, turtle dove, common meadow-rue, otter, and grass snake. There’s also the opportunity to become volunteer ecological surveyors: spotting and recording views of the flagship species on nature walks – with full training from local experts. This monitoring will hopefully see an increase in numbers across the Fens and help us to gauge the impact of the work.
Grass snake found in Witchford in 2021
All 25 of the chosen species, listed in full at the end of this article, may be found on or around the Fens, are nationally or internationally endangered, are easy to identify, and will benefit from habitat enhancements. However, each species needs very different support. The emperor dragonfly, for example, has benefitted from recent warmer temperatures, enjoying a 56% increase in potential habitat as it can now live comfortably further north. At the same time, other species of dragonfly/damselfly are being lost due to flooding or ponds drying up. You can read more about dragonflies here.
Hedgehog numbers are down by 50% in just 20 years due to the reduction of hedgerows and fragmentation by roads and fencing. There is also less food available due to the increased use of chemicals in gardens, on farms and in green spaces. Building hedgehog houses and creating shallow sided ponds on community green spaces are just two of the ways that NLOW will help.
There are 98% fewer turtle doves in the UK since the 1970’s and this bird’s decline is one of the most drastic across Europe. This is partly due to a reduced breeding season caused by a lack of food for the adult birds. We are working with 10 local farmers to produce the food they desperately need as well as supporting the work of the RSPB on Operation Turtle Dove. Watch this space for more information.
To date, nine flagship species have been spotted during NLOW activities including nature survey walks and habitat improvement works and we are keen to spot and start monitoring the other named species.
If you’d like to become a volunteer, join a training session or to help improve local habitat working with wildlife experts, please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
The 25 Flagship Species found in or around the Cambridgeshire Fens:
- Common Toad Bufa Bufa
- Great Crested Newt Triturus cristatus
- Common crane Grus grus
- Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
- Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
- Swift Apus apus
- Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur
- European Eel Anguilla anguilla
- Spined Loach Cabitis taenia
- Black poplar Populus nigra
- Common Meadow-rue Thalictrum flavum
- Frogbit Hydrocharis morsus-ranae
- Greater water-parsnip Sium latifolium
- Water-violet Hottonia palustris
- Common blue butterfly Polyommatus icarus
- Emperor dragonfly Anax imperator
- Eyed longhorn beetle Oberea oculata
- Goat moth Cossus cossus
- King diving beetle Dytiscus dimidiatus
- Chinese water deer Hydropotes inermis
- Daubenton’s bat Myotis daubentonii
- Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus
- Otter Lutra lutra
- Water vole Arvicola amphibius
- Grass snake natrix natrix
Throughout the winter we have continued to plan and deliver a series of habitat enhancement work parties. Thanks to the fantastic team of volunteers who have been able to join us we have been able to create wildlife ponds in Cottenham and Little Thetford, plant trees (oak, apple and plum varieties) in Over and Haddenham, manage wildflower meadows and create bug hotels in Rampton. Meanwhile, our wonderful team of Nature Volunteers have continued to complete their wildlife transects and have submitted over an 300 records since the new year!
We have a busy and exciting programme of events for spring and summer 2022 which we are looking forward to sharing with you all soon. For now, here is a preview of just a handful!
BioBlitz weekend: Saturday 14th & Sunday 15th May
We are working in partnership with National Trust Wicken Fen to organise a BioBlitz weekend. Alongside our New Life Old West experts, we will be running a series of wildlife surveys across the project area during the weekend to discover and record a range of wildlife.
Why not join Project Manager, Howard Jones, for a dawn chorus recording session? Not a morning person? No problem! Spend an afternoon surveying wildflowers and grasses with Laura Allen our Natural Heritage & Communities Officer or join a bat expert for an evening bat walk.
We will also be creating a range of resources on how you can take part at home by recording all the wildlife within your garden or local green spaces. Wherever you take part, join us to discover and record our local wildlife!
Open for Nature Days
Attend one of our three Open for Nature Days this summer for further opportunities to discover local wildlife, take part in wildlife activities and speak with experts from our project partners and other local wildlife organisations.
At each of these events we will be running a series of wildlife activities which may include wildflower surveying, pond dipping, reptile and amphibian surveys, wildlife crafting, creating mini bug hotels and much more. Our project team and wildlife experts will be on hand to answer any questions and provide an insight into the lives of local creatures.
Are you looking for a new volunteering opportunity? Would you like to help with wildlife surveys or habitat conservation? If so, come along to speak with a member of the project team or representatives from our project partners to find out what opportunities are available this year.
We are looking for volunteers to help at each of these open days. If you would like to run a wildlife activity or are passionate about a particular species and would like to share your knowledge with members of the community please get in touch with us!
Workshops and training sessions
Our volunteer training programme will continue with workshops covering hedgehogs, otters and water voles, grassland and aquatic plant identification and amphibian and reptiles. Sign up to one of our sessions if you are looking to develop your species identification skills, discover how to conduct surveys and hear from experts about ways to support a range of species. All workshops will be available to book on our events page – please check back regularly.
For more information about any of our upcoming events please get in touch with us via email@example.com
The leaves have slowly changed, turning Cambridgeshire into a gloriously golden landscape. As they fall to the ground all around us, activity can appear to slow down for the winter.
But, there is still plenty to see and a range of opportunities which are perfect for this time of year for you to get involved with. You just need to know where to look!
Read this second edition of the New Life Old West (NLOW) newsletter to see what is happening near you!
Download our newsletter here
With holidays approaching, here are 10 fun and family-friendly activities recommended by nature experts –
As we head deeper into winter and the Christmas holidays approach, it can be tempting to stay at home under a blanket! But it really is a great time to get out into the countryside for fresh air, exercise, and to help the natural environment.
Here are 10 exciting activities recommended by the New Life on the Old West team that you can enjoy with family and friends across Cambridgeshire this winter. How many will you do? If you choose to get involved, tell us about it on social media using the #NewLifeOldWest – we’d love to hear from you!
- Decorate your garden with wildlife-friendly Christmas decorations. Why don’t you string together plain popcorn and cranberries to make a garland for the birds? Or smear pine cones in salt-free peanut butter or lard and dip in birdseed. Did you know that you can even share your Christmas dinner with wildlife? Check out this RSPB article for advice.
- Walk along the river at Ely, see if you can spot the peregrine falcons at Ely Cathedral and maybe enjoy a sneaky hot chocolate in the town! There’s a wonderful 5km circular route you can walk but even a simple stroll along the river banks can be enjoyable for children of all ages and abilities. Or you could try one of our New Life nature walks and let us know what wildlife you see!
- Visit Kingfishers Bridge Nature Reserve near Wicken to see what wildlife you can spot! Will you be able to find the reserve’s grazing Asian Water Buffalo? Don’t forget to take your binoculars to discover the wide range of birds which visit here each winter.
- Make a recycled bird feeder – here’s a great guide from the RSPB – and count how many birds visit in an hour. Can you name any of them? Did you have any surprise visitors?
- Take a waterfowl & wader safari! We’re lucky to have some amazing wildlife reserves nearby. Top tip – visit WWT Welney this winter to see thousands of over wintering ducks & majestic bewick and whooper swans. You can even watch them being fed!
- Build a home for wildlife and provide a safe nesting space for a range of species! Have a go at creating a bug hotel, hedgehog house – watch our video on YouTube – or bird box. If you’re lucky they may raise their young in there next year! Remember to keep an eye out but do not disturb wildlife homes if they are occupied. Visit the Wildlife Trust website for some great ideas.
- Take the little ones on a Percy the Park Keepers Winter Wander Trail at a National Trust property. If you’re a member, then for a small additional fee, the little ones can help Percy spot wildlife as they wander around the estates. Visit Wimpole Hall near Royston, Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge, or Wicken Fen near Ely.
- Visit the New Life On the Old West website and make a plan to join us in the New Year. You might enjoy tracking badgers, taking a self-guided nature walk, or joining a work party if you’re feeling active; digging a pond or planting hedges and trees. Everyone is welcome!
- Search for signs and sounds in your local area. Take some time to listen to bird songs when you are out and about – can you identify who is singing? As you walk, make sure you check along the path for tracks (footprints) of animals which have also walked the same route. Can you take plaster casts of any of the prints and identify them when you get home?
- Capture the wonders of winter. We love seeing your photos of the Cambridgeshire countryside! Share them with us using the hashtag #newlifeoldwest or email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to keep any eye out for our next photo competition!
Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, New Life on the Old West (NLOW) is a three-year programme delivering small-scale habitat improvements across the Cambridgeshire Fens, important strongholds for rare and threatened species.
If you’d like to become a volunteer doing something as simple as counting wildlife spotted on a monthly walk or supporting community activities, do get in touch via email@example.com
Whatever you choose to do this winter, have a happy, safe festive time!