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?


  1. Sorry to hear all that, after watching your updates coming through this blog. At least you tried...?

  2. When you see the destruction to the wildflower swathes alongside the Guided Busway, mid summer by contractors and reported to councillors who couldn't care less, then I'm not surprised at all with your frustration at the incompetence. The city has elected idiots.

    1. Guided busway construction and maintenance is another fiasco. But thats a tale for another day :)