On the surface Cambourne seems to be just a new settlement midway between St Neots and Cambridge. However, there is quite a diversity of wildlife habitat created alongside the housing.
And certainly enough to keep both residents and passing birders happy, especially if they really get to know the area and the habitats on offer.
The main habitats comprise lakes, grassland, young plantations and two pre-existing mature woods.
There are four main lakes: Lake Ewart and Redgrave Water are a pair, they are the older lakes on site (created about 10-12 years ago), the former assigned for fishing and the latter for wildlife. They are in the heart of Cambourne, and have a great network of accessible paths around them, including wheelchair paths. Further away, on the southern part of Cambourne, are the newer lakes known as Whomping Willow and Sirius (this latter one was only created in 2005).
Adjacent to Ewart and Redgrave is a large area of grassland, partly elevated as ‘Crow Hill’ (the soil from making lakes has to go somewhere, so may as well make a hill!), and again a path network allows access to the top, and a mown amenity grassland area – the rest is allowed to flourish as long grass through the summer which has great benefit to many birds.
Whomping Willow and Sirius are somewhat disconnected from the main population at present, but the perimeter bridle path and other path networks from the main core of Cambourne and the nearer housing connect to this area – it’s not actually that far – meaning that they are still easy to reach. The perimeter path is well vegetated; grassland and young plantations are good boundary shields to the arable land beyond and also sensitively shield the housing areas.
There are other small pools, around the Hotel and Business Park, which is the first area of Cambourne you are likely to see if approaching from the main A428.
What birds use the site?
Lake Ewart, despite the fishing, is popular with waterfowl, especially our expanding flock of Geese, and in summer the small reedbed has warblers breeding; and with the adjacent Redgrave water, more naturally edged and with a marshy end, there is plenty of habitat for species such as Reed, Sedge and Willow Warblers, buntings, and also breeding grebes, ducks, etc. Passage waders occur in very low numbers – there is not much muddy edge and no water level controls beyond the weather. Whomping willow also has plenty of ducks on it, and a much larger reedbed area; from my point of view it the furthest away from my work so I visit it far less often than the other bits. Lake Sirius, being much newer, has little significant emergent vegetation, certainly no trees, but seems increasing popular with wildfowl such as Tufted Duck, Mute Swan and gulls – I notice a pre-roost of gulls in autumn (they may do this during the winter but dusk only coincides with home time by bike in autumn!).
The business park ponds are a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. Kingfishers, Green Sandpiper, Little Egret and breeding Tufted Ducks can all occur, but most days they are just rather peculiar, semi-formal ponds on a sterile-feeling business park.
Crow Hill is of primary importance in summer- the numbers of singing Skylarks and Meadow Pipits must go some way to show how all our farmland was once, in pre-intensive days. Other birds such as Linnet do OK here, too – they particularly like the young plantations, which consist mainly of ?? and ??. The woods, Oaks Wood with its handy public car park, and Monkfield wood (behind the pub) have been there for a long time, and have all the regular birds we expect in the average wood these days. I normally get my first Chiffchaff and Blackcaps of the year singing in these, breeding alongside other woodland birds. No specialities of large, ancient woodlands have been recorded, though.
Urban birds also do well here – It is one of the best places I know in the SW of the county for Starlings and House Sparrows – we have loads, and also House Martins seem to have taken to the new buildings. Plenty of residents feed the birds in winter, and because of these food sources those species happy to visit gardens do OK here. There are breeding Kestrels, regularly-seen Hobbys, and in the last couple of years Red Kite has become more regularly seen.
As for access, there are lots of paths and bridleways around the place, regular buses from Cambridge and access from main roads. Public parking is scarce – the best place is to park at Oaks wood (9-5 winter, 9-7 summer) or in the car park next to Morrisons' supermarket. Part of the open space of the site is managed by the Wildlife Trust, part is managed far more as community open space, allotments, etc. by the Parish Council, and importantly, some is still technically within construction site areas. The latter actually includes the lakes of Whomping Willow and Sirius away from the footpath/bridle path network in that part of Cambourne. You are welcome to access the area on paths, but please do not enter any construction site areas. There are also a couple of “haul roads” used by construction traffic; again, these are not public routes.
Full access details, a map of the whole settlement showing paths, etc and all the key sites mentioned here can be downloaded from the Wildlife Trust webpage.
Google Map (zoom out to see context)
Contributed by Louise Bacon