Friday 14 July 2017

Copy of email to Cllr Lewis Herbert re. Arbury Road Hedge.

Dear Lewis,

Here's the most recent update:

Most relevant facts in addition to that are -

1. Hedge removal and replanting was due to be done in Autumn to limit wildlife disturbance. Thats even still there on the City Deal website.

2. I only worked out work might be going on earlier because there was interesting coloured paint on Arbury Road - even councillors didn't know what that was about (the mystery of the coloured paint was raised at NAC).

3. I proactively pursued to find out what was happening, was told the hedge would be removed. The consultation hadn't said that the hedge would be removed in its entirety but I decided to make the best of it by discussing how to replace it. I kept notes, publicly:

4. During this discussion the plans quite suddenly moved from the stated Autumn goal to, well, immediately:
While I'd mused a little on what should be replanted I'll confess to being totally wrong-footed. I was no where near a final position on regarding what should be replanted there - that was a job for Spring when the hedges on old Histon Road and other older hedges in Histon and Milton were in leaf so I could provide a more recently informed view.

5. Although I'd tried to chase to get some understanding of local hedging ecology and culture, the plants for putting in already been ordered - not only had the project quite suddenly moved to March, but any opportunity to influence planting was lost. No advice was taken as to what to buy, a poor species mix (for the location) was ordered.

Of particular concern is planting spindle and alder buckthorn right in front of a primary school, they're both appealing looking berries and rather toxic. Dogwood also makes up a major part of the planting scheme and cause, in a surprising number of people, contact dermatitis. Again I wouldn't choose to plant that in front of a school.

But the problem of tree selection runs deeper than that - this isn't good for the local ecology. Alder buckthorn is not historically used in hedging here because it likes a good wet location - which this isn't. Likewise several of the other species present have no history in hedging culture here because they don't thrive here, whereas many of the species we had (showing that it was a traditional native hedge for Cambridgeshire) do. The result is that we have no net gain in biodiversity in the tree species present, and many of the shrubs will, over a few years, simply die off when they're no longer being regularly watered. 

6. I tried to push for local cultivars to be incporporated, because we'd had them there previously. They were not - there has been some uptake of said as specimen trees, but they won't survive as well as they did in hedges. Good selection of specimens is not the same as good selection of hedge plants.

7. I could by this point only compile a species list of what had been lost from memory - the hedge was a repository for much that isn't really left in this part of the city because habitat is so fragmented. Once that hedge was gone getting things re-seeded there was going to be hard, but still do-able. I shared this list with the City Deal officers in the hope of getting some re-seeding, but their response wasn't positive.

8. The goal of preventing the shrubs there from being competed with by mulching effectively meant that many of the species lost will remain lost - only those that can penetrate from a substantial, tough root-stock and those with very vigorous seedlings that can get through the wood chips could come back. Because they're now dominating the site, unless we see some re-planting we're going to have poor species dieversity in the undergrowth. That means fewer flowers, fewer invertebrate species, and a drop in nesting bird numbers. 

9. To make absolutely sure as much ecological damage could be done as possible a fence was put in to protect the hedge from being trampled. Putting posts and wires in (which was, I was told, the plan) is a good idea. But making the holes smaller than a hedgehog (which often nest in the denser gardens on Arbury Road but forage in the estate on the other side) is just cruel. City Deal turned even getting holes cut in this fence to let hedgehogs through into a fight.

Bluntly, moving the scheme from Autumn to Spring meant that formulation of a good plan for our local ecology was impossible. The result is that we've an unsuitable species mix planted, and a representative native flora under-story will not re-grow without significant help. But I'd say the situation is worse than that - this is an opportunity wasted. Why weren't the kids at the Primary School talked to about getting a better hedge? Why did no one walk a few hundred yards to the hedges on the old route of Histon Road (they're still there, behind the slip road to the A14) and see whats tradition in hedging here and what thrives? Why did no one consider the implication of mulching on native biodiversity (this hasn't removed competition, it has merely limited the species richness thereof)? We are looking now at a severely depleted ecology - does anyone at City Deal give a damn?

The situation can't be recovered entirely, but replanting with plugs of native species that were previously there could help a lot. I would propose selecting species that are unlikely to seed themselves back - a dozen, maybe a couple of dozen species, which would of course benefit from the watering being given the hedgerow. I'd suggest planting in autumn or early Spring. This wouldn't be expensive - I should think it might cost a few hundred quid. 

This doesn't seem like much to ask, but City Deal are having none of it.

Would you care to speak up for that or not?


CAB Davidson

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