Friday 31 March 2017

Arbury Road Hedge and Cycle Lane - A little more promising

Here's what it was looking like yesterday...

So the planting isn't being done badly as far as I can tell - they need a good watering though, and soon, if they're not to suffer. 

There's lots of space for a high quality cycle lane to follow - I'm still disappointed that the plans for this haven't emerged. I get that there could be a colossal unknown gas main down there and maybe the plan might have to be subject to change for unforeseen circumstances, but I still maintain that a blueprint of the plan should be available before we're asked to decide whether we approve or not. Surely its fair to base my willingness to surrender space from use (a) to use (b) can reasonably impinge upon the quality of provision afforded to (b)?

But I think I've otherwise got better news. Some things that City Deal have agreed on. Now I don't as a rule blog up anything emailed to me verbatim (seems rude) but I will this time, because I can't really see why not. Here's what they've agreed to (and my thoughts in italic next to it)

-          A post and wire fence to be installed to support the hedging, and to stop people trying to walk through it. We inevitably need at least a temporary fence - ugly but necessary and, frankly, I don't care about the specific details. This is better than a roll-up chestnut fence in that it produces less shade
-          80 metres of additional hedging (11 metres near Albermarle Way and 70 metres replacing the City Council planted section that largely failed). Good news also - necessary to replace the complete pigs ear the City Council made of replanting last year
-          A new American Lime tree on the wide verge section. Not a bad choice, it'll sit well with the hybrid limes nearby - not my first choice in that spot but an entirely decent idea
-          Some Cambridge Gage trees planted within the new hedge. This is a huge win, if it happens - great tree for wildlife and replaces the gage trees lost therein - its a matter of principle that we maintain at least some of the agricultural history of the site
-          A Spanish Oak tree planted in Arbury Town Park. 
-          An unhealthy tree to be felled in Arbury Town Park, to give more room and light for the nearby trees to flourish. These are both appropriate tree management strategies in the location specified - Spanish oak will do ok in this spot, and some thinning of the trees referred to here is necessary
-          Under planting within the new hedge. Species to be determined, but likely to include Dogrose and Hogweed, as per your suggestion. Another win - hard to get this up and running this season, and a daunting task to get it right, but a hedge is more than just the trees and unless we replace them 
-          A ‘no spray’ management regime to ensure the under planting can grow. Essential. We can't re-establish a proper hedge without this
-          Consideration given to bat boxes, but this will depend on how feasible it is to site these on buildings and taller trees. Running to catch up with the last hedge removal scheme which was so horribly botched - good news

So where are we now? Well, I think that the point of getting a consultation on hedge/tree removal right to facilitate cycle lane construction has hit home. Its been, from my perspective, a pigs ear of a process (as detailed in earlier posts). 

The shrubs going in are wrong. Its that simple - I defy anyone to show a hedge of any decent age made up thus in and around this part of Cambridge. Yes, there are a few species there that weren't in the original hedge, but there were species in the original hedge that aren't in this - getting greengage back was a fight, we've lost elder, ash seedlings, flowering currant, bullace and others. 

What I really hope from this is that next time we do better - if we cock these schemes up we'll see nothing but opposition to further improvements in cycling facilities.

Maybe we've saved this now. Maybe. We'll see.

Wednesday 29 March 2017

The continuing saga of Arbury Road.

So I met with the chap from the County Council.

There's still not much can be done to fix things, but. I've made some suggestions, in addition to procedural ones I'e already made. If you're not interested in the specific ecology of an obscure hedge on the outskirts of Cambridge, read no further...

Still with me?



Suggestions for rescuing as much as possible from this:

(1) When the rather horrid leylandii hedge along part of Arbury Road was cut and replaced (badly) in 2014 we lost a site where bats roosted in Summer. Pippistrelle I think. The consultation that ought to have been required (asking people who live more than 20 yards from the site) didn't happen. As the entirely botched re-planting is being replaced, can we look at doing something for bats? Might that include putting roosting boxes for them up on the flats nearby or selecting trees that give the kind of habitat required? I approached Councillor Price about this at the time, but nothing came of it.

(2) A hedge isn't just a row of shrubs or trees. A hedgerow is an ecosystem, a continuity of growth that outlasts any of the individual plants, able to persist for hundreds of years. To remove a hedge completely and then replant shrubs and trees isn't replanting the hedge - its simply putting the scaffolding back up. As it happens much of the hedgerow had been badly managed for years anyway, so I was keen to view this as an opportunity to allow some of the hedge biodiversity to recover. But thats best done when you plant the hedge, so we're running to catch up with that. Does the hedge management plan allow that if we specify some under-planting, some native plants that can thrive there providing habitats, that they won't be regularly sprayed with weed killer? Will you support an undertaking to source and replace some native flora under and around the shrubs?

(3) Its heartening to hear that suggestions for trees to incorporate haven't been entirely ignored - especially Cambridge gage and Chivers delight apple. But the point of suggesting that they be replanted in the hedgerow rather than as specimen trees is that hedgerow planting can allow a tree to thrive for decades - the greengages that were removed from the hedge were most likely there since before the housing estate here was first built. I rather fear we've played a game of Chinese whispers and what was suggested for the hedge is now being specified for other planting instead. I'm glad to hear that we're getting new trees planted as well, but planting more gage or plum trees would seem a poor fit with the City Council tree strategy, which is to broaden out the range of species planted. Can we please get these trees into the hedge and look at the goal of broadening the range of species planted elsewhere? 

(4) There is still a lot to be said for local biodiversity. If we can take cuttings of local cultivars of dog rose, bramble etc. will you facilitate planting of those into any gaps that may emerge or be made in the hedge?

If we can make positive steps on these points I'll be happy that the scheme hasn't been entirely insensitive to local ecological concerns. Ball is in City Deals court now...

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Arbury Road Cycle Lane - Completely at a loss now

So they've started replanting. For reference, see this post. And then this one.

Its been done that quickly. Because it has to be, its a desperate mad dash at the end of the season for replanting. Past the end, really - its a crazy time to be doing this.

It seems like every time I post about this I'm posting with 'whats done is done' and then coming up with more suggestions to fix things. I've done that all the way through but its not changed a damn thing. And I don't know what to do now.

The thing about Kings Hedges, the thing with this part of North Cambridge, is that generally speaking its a lot more relaxed than much of the rest of Cambridge. How shall I put it... The resident demographic here isn't entirely dominated by aged NIMBYS. Seriously, the pester power of Kings Hedges residents is a fraction of that of Milton Road residents - we've seen a battle royale down there over a few relatively bland specimen trees rather than a constructive discussion on how to get a better planting scheme. So for the most part Kings Hedges doesn't get the same attention as elsewhere, because it hasn't got the same 'pester power' as other parts of the city. Its the closest thing Cambridge has to a working class ward - people for the most part tut and move on rather than get involved in local projects.

So here I am, following my own advice and engaging constructively to get a better planting scheme, and I think I've been taken for a complete mug. The replanting has been done with extraordinary haste, apparently with what they could get rather than what they'd choose to order locally, because its being rushed at the wrong time of the year. And not clearly within the remit of the consultation, without real sensitivity to the ecology or history of the site. 

And now? A good chap at the County/City Deal who's phoned me to say lets meet and talk about what to do? Now? NOW? I just don't get it. What do you want to do now? Are we really going to discuss what kind of fence you're installing as a temporary measure to keep people from trampling it down? Sorry, like, I don't care what kind of fence. Why would anyone care about that? I mean, we could discuss whether there's any scope in specifying under-planting, but I just don't trust them to do it. At all. Why would I? They were discussing options for replanting the hedge having already bought plants to put in, why would I believe them now? Does such even make sense until we see the replanting scheme?

I can't any longer see a compromise position between what they've done, how they've done it, and getting a planting scheme that fits culturally, historically and ecologically. 

The folk at City Deal seem to assume that this is about me wanting to be heard. It isn't. Its about getting the best outcome such that in future I can, hand on heart, tell other people in the Greater Cambridge area to trust them to deliver high quality infrastructural improvements while taking local concerns into account. After this? Don't trust them. Get every facet, every detail, every last bit, on paper before even agreeing to fill out the consultation forms. You can't trust them. Don't even think about it.


EDIT: Text of email just sent to Chief Exec of City Deal. She emailed to say that one of the cycling folk there would ring me and ask to meet. I just can't see whats left to discuss.

Thanks Rachel. xxxx did call me, but what is there left to discuss? The complete removal of old hedging following a road line over 200 years old (precisely whether these sections were among those straightened in the 1700s is hard to ascertain) really needed to be explicit in the consultation, and it wasn't. Then the farce of pretending that what plants might be ordered could still be influenced AFTER the plants were already ordered, that order being for a mixture that isn't sensitive to local ecology or the history of the site. And thats at the very tail end of the planting season so the order is from a nursery hundreds of miles away (so unlikely to be local cultivars of the plants) - this scheme seems to be about what plants could still be bought, not whats good for the site.

xxxx is a good guy, but I just can't see a compromise position between where we are now and a solution that fixes the replanting scheme. I'm open to suggestions, but I see little left to be positive about here. With the scheme where it is now I'm not immediately able to think of any way to restore faith in the City Deal being sensitive to such concerns in the future. Right from the start I was asking about under-planting so establish a more diverse hedgerow and I did suggest various trees of particular relevance to the history of the site - it seems awfully late in the day to talk about that after the hedge has been planted, and unless the management plan is sensitive to such (which I doubt) then thats also unlikely to be successful.

Sorry to be so negative, but I'm really at a loss to see what engagement with City Deal has achieved here,


Monday 27 March 2017

Arbury Road Cycle Lane - What Next?

Well I rang, and emailed, to complain about this.

Response was lacklustre - they wanted to sort of talk me out of complaining by simply repeating themselves, there seemed to be some idea that maybe if someone else told me I'd understand (rather than accepting I understand and just don't agree). There are some good folk there, but they're in such a rush to get this done and replanted that there's really been no wiggle room. I think they've had to take what native-species mix they could get, with little choice right at the end of the season (I know that Elveden had sold out so they've had to go to another compay up in Yorkshire), and the result seems to have been a hurried order for, what I believe, to be the wrong mix of plants. Farcical - this needed to be planned in Autumn to do over Winter.

I was of course told that the Chief Exec of the City Deal would only say the same thing and that I had to go through the County Council complaints process (which MIGHT give me an initial response within 10 days - well after the planting will have been done), which was a load of crap really - its urgent NOW. Total removal of the hedging wasn't made clear in the in the consultation, I cannot describe the difference between the consultation and reality as anything short of a massive democratic deficit. To be directed to a complaints procedure only tangentially related and almost suspiciously designed to allow a response so slow as to make the process meaningless? Well, thanks but no thanks.

So I phoned and asked or the chief exec. And was told that this wouldn't be possible and re-directed again, and again, to the same 10 day + complaints process. And I persisted and eventually was given chief execs email address, and she also phoned me back later on. I expressed my concerns, and the urgency of the situation.

The hedge has now gone, except for one very short section where presumably they found a birds nest? Although if that nest hasn't been abandoned it would be a bleeding miracle, with the raging sound of the saws and shredders nearby. Both sections of hedge are gone, there is effectively nothing remaining. It has been totally destroyed. There is a (bad) replanting plan for the hedge itself but no plan that I'm aware of for under-planting. A hedge isn't a row of shrubs, its an ecosystem with multiple levels of growth, with different plants thriving in different ways, and this was an opportunity to create that in a space that had been badly managed. Looks like that opportunity is rapidly slipping away.

We still haven't seen plans for the cycle lanes - I know that in my own initial feedback I advocated for a different approach which would have provided a genuinely huge amount of space for world-class cycle provision, and I'm concerned that we've got as far as digging over before even knowing what we're going to get out of the project. Junction improvements are needed - but the longer we go without seeing the plans the more I think this is going to be a bargain-basement cycle lane barely wider than I am. If I were in their position and planning a really good facility I'd be singing it from the rooftops, but they're not.

Right, that enough 'told you so', and fretting. I don't like being critical without providing at least some thoughts for improvement. Lets get this straight - the project, even with the wrong plants, is saveable. Just about. Here's what I'd like to see:

(1) Can we have, in black and white, a statement as to the minimum standard of the cycle lane along its width? Not between (x) and (y) widths, but a plan showing how wide in each location with, crucially, a minimum standard of 2m? That is, after all, the width recommended in pretty much all documentation. In the alternative plan I put forward such wouldn't even be a challenge - so lets have that same standard please.

(2) Dogwood isn't a good hedging plant near primary schools - it is both emetic and parts of the plant can induce a rash. Neither spindle or alder-buckthorn thrive in this part of the City. If we really must have these plants can we have the hedging replanted as a staggered double row with the dogwood on the road side and alder-buckthorn and spindle staggered with strains that are locally more vigorous, such as blackthorn and hawthorn? When we (inevitably) risk gaps emerging when a short term establishment care plan ends, we'll at least have a barrier this way.

(3) We've lost greengage from the hedge when it was ripped out - we can still re-plant with Cambridge gage (which was previously growing pretty well there) and, and with the apple 'Chivers delight', both of which are excellent fits historically for this part of the city. They'll thrive in a hedge - and actually do so in other hedges in North Cambridge.

(4) Can we have clear guidance going forward on consultations in similar scenarios - plans really must include the quality of pavement and cycle lane provision, accurate and honest account of how much of a hedge or how many (and which) trees will be removed, and an appreciation of the species they'll be replaced with (and age of plants to be replaced). Lets have that up front, alongside an estimate of timing - I would certainly have voiced a very serious concern about dashing to do this with hastily bought shrubs at the arse end of the planting season, had it for even a heartbeat occurred to me that this might happen.

Maintaining biodiversity isn't about picking out a hedging mix broadly representative of an entire nation, its about understanding what grows well where you are and getting your schemes right within that context. We can still save this intended botch job from being the embarrassment that calls into question all other City Deal road schemes, which is pointed at as a reason why City Deal must not be trusted, but it requires at least a modicum of engagement from City Deal in restoring trust. 

Come on guys, work with us here. Fix this. Its not too late, if you actually give a damn. 

If not, go right ahead. To me, it looks like you're drawing your battle lines.

Friday 24 March 2017

Arbury Road Cycle Lane - Its all gone wrong...

You might be aware that I've been, largely, supportive of the Arbury Road cycle lane scheme.

I mean yeah, there were better ways to do this. We could have had a cycle lane of the same or higher quality in a much larger space, within a gnats whisker the same length, and not had to remove more than a few feet of mature hedgerow. But that isn't how how the City Deal roll, so I set out my constructive support of the scheme on the basis that we re-plant hedgerow that is locally sensitive. I discussed with them the age and mix of species currently present, alongside what is and can be successfully used locally based on traditional land uses, local ecology, local geology and soil type, and historic culture. The hedge has been poorly managed over many years, but its still an historic boundary in an area of the city that is, after all, called Kings Hedges, so its worth getting it right. I even contacted the county archaeologists to find out whether there is any concern in excavating a boundary of this age (its an old road and very likely an ancient route, connecting Arbury Camp to Chesterton along the line of an old mill way). Bluntly, there wasn't any more I could do.

Taking my bike campaigning helmet off for a moment, I'm going to don my foragers cap. I pick and use a lot of wild food, and I blog about this far too infrequently. Foraging isn't quite the same as growing food, the ethos is being able to go to the same sites year after year to gather wild mushrooms, fruit or greens sustainably. You have to concentrate on doing no harm because you want to go back again next year and the year after. So if you want to know whats in your local hedgerows go and ask a forager - I promise you, they've been eyeing up all the local hedges for years learning what grows well there, what doesn't, and how different management strategies that are employed impacts upon what grows and how. A forager can tell you, at a glance, whether a hedge is a healthy, species diverse mix that will be good for wildlife or if its just a row of bushes. A forager will probably be able to deduce information about former land use practices from whats growing in the hedge, and how its growing. So where there's a synergy of replanting a hedge to restore an historic boundary in a sustainable, practical manner that also facilitates a better cycling environment? Well I had to get into it.

It turns out that I achieved, well, nothing. They'd already bought the plants during the time I was having the discussions with them. So why have that discussion? Why waste my time and effort in a discussion you know to be futile? They've included two species really unlikely to thrive and which therefore play no part in local ecology (and are therefore not usually components of hedgerows in this area), and a toxic one which is worryingly appealing to children to eat on a cycle route connecting primary schools. And the consultation that was on reducing or removing some sections of hedge? Its all dead, Dave. All of it. It hasn't been cut, trimmed or reduced. It has, in its entireity, been destroyed. To the root. Every part thereof. This isn't a reduction, its an act of total destruction in a desperate rush before too many birds try to nest in the doomed site.

I'm all for being positive about good schemes - and the cycle lane, and junction improvements, are sorely needed here, although I'm tearing my hair out at the fact that the final plans for this scheme have still not been published - how can you ask us to support or oppose a cycle lane scheme without giving us specifics about width and means of segregation along the whole length? But no cycle scheme exists in isolation and the risk here is that we lose any good will we might have had in other schemes by this one being done with a minumum of quite deceptive consultation, with no regard for local ecology. Putting the wrong plants in and stubbornly trying to keep them alive for a mimumum amount of time before they're out-competed by other plants better suited to the space is a stupid way to proceed, and to do so in a desperate rush at the end of the planting season (I'm reading 'financial year' here, it seems more likely) is just wrong. The expense is greater, and the risk of failure is greater. And you know who'll get blame from the local press? Cyclists. Its not even wholly a cycle scheme, but the visible cycle lane in place of the previously mature hedge next to the gappy replanted shrubs will be what people point at. 

The likely outcome here is that the spindle and alder buckthorn will struggle on for a while, at least for a year or two while they're being actively maintained and (crucially for the alder buckthorn) watered. And then they'll die off, as they're not suited to the site and soil (neither, when planted locally, thrive) and they'll be out-competed by other plants therein. Most likely that will include the dogwood, blackthorn and hawthorn which will do fat better on this site. The less healthy, struggling specimens will become the places people cross the road - that'll be where people will walk through and trample the hedge down. It'll very likely end up a gappy, ugly, inconsistent hedge. We'll be complaining in years to come to get it re-planted but by then the damage will be done - there won't be funding to re-plant with more mature plants to replace those sections, and any whips planted therein will again be trampled. Get this wrong, it'll very probably stay wrong. 

Or in other words, a 'native hedgerow mix' might be representative for the UK, but hedging isn't the same everywhere. This isn't an appropriate mix locally, either for the ecology or hedgerow culture.

If we get this wrong we jeopardize future schemes because people won't support cycle schemes if they can't trust those implementing them to come up with sensitive tree and hedgerow replanting schemes. This was so close to being an ideal opportunity to satisfy ecological, aesthetic and transport needs within the context the local culture of historic hedgerows. But its failing, because of the stubborn haste to progress with a scheme quickly rather than sensitively. 

And that is a desperate shame. Hand on heart, how can I tell the folk campaigning on Milton Road or Histon Road trees to trust Cambridge City Deal to do the right thing after this? How can I tell anyone, to trust them in any way, after this?

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Arbury Road, Hedge and Cycle Lane, 4.

Hi xxxxx,

I remember the consultation - and you'll recall that which hedges might be removed, when, and what and how would be replanted, were not a clear part thereof. '"Reducing sections of hedge" certainly does not mean the same thing as removing a large part of the hedgerow and replanting it, as I'm sure you'll agree. You can't justify not consulting properly on the wholesale removal and replanting thereof based on a vague premise.

If it was January before there was any consensus on the design for this stage of the Arbury Road scheme, with the removal of plants so late in the season, I'd question whether this is the right year to do it. As a cyclist (and active cycling campaigner) I'd also suggest that the final plans should first be shared before construction starts. Are they even available for viewing?

You've also not meaningfully consulted on the replanting scheme - few local people have had an input there, and I've only been able to do so myself by having spotted the coloured paint on the road.

So I accept that the city deal has approved this, but I've seen no particular to-and-fro between councillors and residents regarding the specifics of the approved scheme, and I've yet to come across anyone else who's had any input into the replanting. I'm also conscious that the last replanting scheme done on Arbury Road was botched from the outset, and promises from councillors (specifically Kevin Price) to look at replacing the lost bat-roosting habitat with roosting boxes on nearby flats came to nothing - most of the replanted hedge was poorly selected, poorly planted, and turned its nose up and died. I don't disapprove of cutting down what was a pretty awful row of leilandi, but its a great example of a rushed bodge job at the end of the season that avoidably ruined habitat without any mitigation by not consulting even the whole street that the hedge bordered. After that I'm not disposed to just believe assurances it'll all be ok!

I accept that if the scheme is to go ahead this year there's a real rush to do so, but I'm uncomfortable with the idea that doing so in a hurry is better than getting things right. For example getting the new plants in right at the tail end the planting season can easily go wrong if we have an early summer or warm spring - its a big ask keeping spring planted trees alive if they've had little time to put any roots out. And while I've got views on what should be re-planted based on the history, ecology, safety and further use of the site I do think that a specific consultation on that part of the scheme would be beneficial - and as there isn't time this planting season I'd choose to do so for next season.

While I'm entirely in favour of building cycle facilities on Arbury Road (indeed I think its vital we get a high quality facility along the whole length of the road if we're going to connect Orchard Park and Kings Hedges to key parts of the city such as the Beehive Centre), as I've not seen the final specs for what you plan to build on this section and as its being done in such a rush, I'm worried both about the replanting plans and the cycle route. I feel like we're rushing this for the sake of getting it done with insufficient consideration to the end results. It would be a huge shame to squander an opportunity to improve cycling, local ecology and aesthetics of the area, and it seems thats at risk.

One final note - its not a good time for taking cuttings of local dog rose yet, that'll be much more successful done a month or so from now. I'll do so when they're starting to bud, but I'll struggle for space to grow them on before planting them out. Can I give them to anyone at that point? I've also taken samples of violets, wild alliums and cuttings of ribes from the site, and I'll re-wild them back into the hedgerow probably next Spring.



Monday 20 March 2017

Arbury Road - Hedge to Facilitate Cycle Lane, part 3

Things moving a LOT faster than I anticipated.

So rather than September for the hedge replanting, they want to do it NOW.

Which is a bit hurried, considering how long such processes usually take. Its not a lot of consultation period - but I'm determined to be positive and get this right.

I'll reiterate - if we're going to lose our old hedges for building a new cycle lane, I'll support that based on getting better hedges and better cycle routes. The two are not incompatible, but we've got to get this right.

So here are my last couple of communications with city deal folk...

Hi xxxx,

I eventually managed to have a chat with the SMR folk and they're happy that any archaeology under the hedge there is likely to be a bit deeper than the digging is going to go - there's quite likely to be something worth seeing at this end of Cambridge but its not likely to be disturbed by the current plans so while they'll probably have an (informal) look down the holes they've no need to get involved in the process. I'll keep them informed as to the timetable as it becomes clear.

Looking at the list of species - I would suggest that while the native mix looks good, I'm a little concerned by the presence of dogwood and spindle - neither are commonly used in hedging in Cambridge so I wouldn't call them at all locally appropriate, and while dogwoods do well pretty much everywhere spindle struggles in North Cambridge soil so I'd leave that out. The problem with dogwood is that the berries are among the few toxic ones that children have a tendency to chew on - not deadly but deeply unpleasant when it happens. The ornamental ones much favoured by the City Council don't usually get to the point of producing many berries, so they don't cause such a problem as they're cut right back to the stump frequently. I'm also curious to know the ratio of trees - presumably the bulk of trees planted will be hawthorn, what ratios do the other trees go in?

One common component of hedges here not yet included is dog rose - superb for wildlife so if that can be sourced too it would be a much more appropriate addition than spindle. Again, local biodiversity ought to be favoured (wild Rosa in the UK is a complicated genus, and there's a lot to be said for finding local strains) and I might struggle for space to take cuttings to naturalise them myself - if I can take cuttings, can you find somewhere to grow them on?

If you find birds nesting there (there are already blackbirds nesting in my front garden) will this project be pushed back? Presumably thats the purpose of the ecology search you've proposed?

Lastly, with regard to specimen trees, again to keep things 'local' I would suggest that in addition to the greengage and apple trees (varieties suggested tend to fruit early and not create a winter slip-hazard more ornamental Malus cause) locally common small/medium sized feature trees in hedges that are good for wildlife and look good are cherry plum, cherry, and rowan, and for a bit of fun if its possible to add service trees (such as already exist around the corner on Carlton Way) thats another thats great for wildlife. As for larger specimen trees (if they're planned) there's not really a heritage of 'big' trees at this end of Cambridge, most of the land having been open grazing/farm land until enclosure so there aren't many really old trees to base this on. One of the trees that surprisingly thrives here is Turkey oak - there are many large specimens in the woods on the other side of the guided bus route. So I'd go with those. Lime, plane and of course sycamore also do well here - but I'd suggest they're trees Cambridge also has lots of so I'd steer clear of those.

It'll be tough to get this under way so quickly, so I'll have another scour to see whats worth saving this afternoon,



Dear xxxx,

Text of last email I sent xxxx enclosed below.

Brief version - according to county Arcaheology folk anything remaining of the old field boundary ought to be buried quite deep like most of the rest of the interesting archaeology at our end of the city, but being archaeology enthusiasts and a couple of them living at this end of the town they're planning an informal look down the holes (like they did with the lighting scheme recently). There's no need for delays on their account, at least it doesn't look like it.

The plant list is pretty good with the exception of spindle and dogwood and perhaps alder buckthorn. Spindle isn't a traditional component of hedges in this part of Cambridgeshire - I can't think of an example in any old hedgerow in or around North Cambridge. This might be because the traditional uses of the wood aren't particularly common here, and it could be because its a tree that rarely thrives here - it does ok when you get South of Cambridge but on the ground up glacial clay subsoil we've got at the North end of the City it doesn't do so well. Dogwood does ok, but its also not a traditional component of hedging in this part of the city and, crucially, the berries are among the few wild berries kids will chew on and do themselves harm. I wouldn't put it anywhere near the route to a school. As for alder buckthorn yes, its sometimes in hedges North of Cambridge but its happier with wet feet - I can't think of any examples on well drained soil. You're therefore looking at excessive time and effort getting this one established so I'd avoid it.

As for replacing these, I've already suggested dog rose (a superb hedging plant and common here) and cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera - grows superbly as a hedging plant and common here). These plants combine practicality and tradition without any toxicity so there's a lot to be said for them. I'd also say that the Malus (Chivers Delight) and greengage (Cambridge Gage) needn't be thought of as specimen trees, they'll be happy in a hedge too - there's a gage that I believe to be Cambridge Gage there already, replacing with more would be fitting.

Lastly, I'm taking some samples of local undergrowth - the more interesting perennials rather than the annuals and biennials (which will be back, there will be loads of seeds in the soil) to establish in my garden for re-wilding. Nothing spreading, but it would be a shame to lose the snowdrops, violet and white violets, crow garlic etc. I'll have samples by Wednesday and I'll re-wild later, alongside other locally sourced wild plants that'll bring some diversity back. That'll take a year or two of adding in what I can get growing - I'd take it as a favour if you turn a blind eye to the technically illegal removal of wild plants (that are about to be destroyed anyway!).

By for now,

and then...

Much appreciated xxxx. Yes, I phoned Grant this morning because I'll confess I'm a little baffled by the pace of this - the previous consultation discussed trying to keep the hedging we have, and I did enquire from the cycling planning people at the County about this in Autumn and no decision had been taken. So to go from first sign of this (coloured paint on the ground) to digging out and replacing over the course of a few weeks seems very, very hurried. We've gone from no direct plan to remove and replace the hedging to having to specify plants for imminent replacement in a very short time and I do have some concerns that the first many residents will have heard about this would be in the letter dated the 15th - which, of course, most people won't have had time to look at until the weekend.

Thanks for taking input on replanting - I'm hoping that by getting this right first time we'll not have to continually patch the hedge up over the next couple of years, so getting species in there with a proven track record of performing well locally seems crucial to me,


Wednesday 8 March 2017

Arbury Road - Hedge to facilitate cycle lane, part 2

There was a visit arranged to a supplier of relatively mature hedging plants on Monday. I couldn't go, but I sent off some questions - some for the supplier, some for the County Council. Basically the way I see it there's a good chance that we can get better cycle lanes along the next section of Arbury Road and that will, in turn, lead to more demand for a good facility along the whole length of the road.

But I won't surrender perfectly good, potentially historic hedging without getting things absolutely right, so here's the email full of questions I sent...

Dear (*),

I'm copying our County councillior in to this, because she's expressed an interest. I'll also put most of this online because, well, why not?

I've been wandering up and down the hedges on Arbury Road and I've got a few thoughts to add to my earlier blog post on the subject here:

By a fortunate/unfortunate happenstance (depending how you look at it) there was another mix-up at the City Council and they killed one of my hedges over winter, so I've been reading up on re-planting more mature plants recently, and I've been looking at companies like Elvedon. I'm also a life-long forager and hedgerow and conservation nerd, so since I moved to Cambridge back in '99 I've become quite familiar with the local flora and indeed with how feasible re-planting is. Obviously its never ideal, but I firmly believe that in this instance we've a great opportunity to make things better. Most of the hedges on Arbury Road haven't been well managed for the long-run, and down at the Nicholson Way end especially they're really rather gappy.

Which brings me to the questions, some of which are for you, and some for the folk at Elveden or someone else...

(1) Whats in Elvedens 'native mix' and how well does it line up with the list of locally appropriate trees I've outlined in the blog post linked above? Is this drawn from the list of other hedging plants they've got?

(2) Can we obtain some other trees to fill the gap between what Elveden supplies and what I've requeted? I'm especially keen to get some Cambridge gage in there, its a tree formerly cultivated very widely here, and it would be a shame not to replace the ones we'd lose from the current hedge. And Chivers Delight Apple is a tree so very much part of the history of North Cambridge it would be a crying shame not to sneak some in - this area was orchards at one point after all.

(3) Does the native mix contain any cultivars that would make good 'specimen' trees where space permits, and is that part of the plan?

(4) Whats the management plan for the hedge going forward? Do we plan to get it to a similar height or is there a plan to cut and lay it more as a traditional barrier? How do we envisage it in 10 to 15 years time?

(5) Is Elveden the right company to talk to about under-story planting to turn this into a more genuine multi-species hedge (which of course is way more valuable for wildlife) or would this be something to talk to the City and County Councils about, or even someone like TCV? Or is this something where you'd want community involvement in to re-plant with local biodiversity? There aren't currently many exceptional things growing under the hedge, but there's been the occasional example of upright hedge parsley and sweet cicely (common in many places, surprisingly uncommon in Cambridge).

(6) The route of Arbury Road is fairly old, and the hedge especially by Nicholson Way is an interesting relic in itself. I'm not sure how old it is, but Mere Way/Carlton Way/Stretten Avenue is a Roman Road and Arbury Camp (now under the school on Orchard Park) is pre-Roman, so its likely that Arbury Road has been a route used by people for a very long time indeed. Has the plan to dig here been cross-referenced with data from the county SMR? There's certainly a lot of well documented Roman era archaeology under the Kings Hedges area, I'd be un-surprised if digging this hedge turned up some interesting things. One would think that the age of Arbury Road might suggest there would have been a ditch by the hedge, which may have been excavated when the estate was built. If it wasn't, its definitely worth looking for, especially if the hedge is to be moved out further from the road into where the old ditch would have been. And as some of the other hedges in Kings Hedges retain just the occasional strange relic from eras gone by (there's a patch that frequently throws up Alexanders, Smyrium olustratum, a vegetable favoured by the Romans, on the rec ground behind St Laurences) can we perhaps reflect that in planning an under-story for the hedge?

Anyway, thats enough of a brain dump for now. Let me know your thoughts, and what can be done with Elveden.