Letter on Wicken Fen was full of emotive phrases

GEOFFERY Woollard s letter of last week regarding the recent Wicken Fen Vision consultation is full of emotive phrases and, unfortunately, many exaggerations. The purpose of the consultation is to ask for people s opinions on how the Vision should be deve

GEOFFERY Woollard's letter of last week regarding the recent Wicken Fen Vision consultation is full of emotive phrases and, unfortunately, many exaggerations.

The purpose of the consultation is to ask for people's opinions on how the Vision should be developed over the coming years. An online survey and a questionnaire in the consultation leaflet have encouraged hundreds of local people to respond. Over 85% of those responses have been in favour of the long-term benefits that the Vision offers to people and wildlife. Similarly, at our public meetings many people were supportive.

Mr Woollard implies that the Wicken Fen Vision hasn't passed any public scrutiny. It has been in Cambridgeshire County Council's Structure Plan since 2001 and has received support from East Cambridgeshire District Council. Indeed, both councils have in the past made financial contributions to the acquisition of land. The local committee for Wicken Fen; made up of local people, also approved it before the launch in 1999. Over the last 10 years, there have been more than 350 talks and meetings to discuss the Vision.

His assertion; again, that we wish to flood the whole area could be construed as scaremongering. We have been quite clear that our aim is to create a mosaic of different habitats for wildlife and different sorts of open space for people to enjoy. This will include areas of open water and marshy areas with tall vegetation such as reeds and bulrush - the Wicken Fen Vision area will not end up as one large lake.

Elsewhere there will be grassland that is wetter in the winter and drier in the summer and there will also be areas of new woodland.

Mr Woollard is quite correct in his assertion that agricultural land is a diminishing resource though not in the way he suggests. The current practice of draining land for cultivation is eroding the peat soils at a rate of 1-2 cm per year in the southern part of the Vision area. Land in the Vision area has shrunk by some 4ft in the last 50 years. This will, we anticipate, lead to their virtual disappearance within 50 years. This will severely reduce the ability of the land to support productive agriculture.

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We are already facing a catastrophic decline in biodiversity - rare and threatened species continue to disappear in Cambridgeshire and around the world. We need to achieve the right balance between using the countryside for farming and using it for wildlife.

We believe that the vast majority of the countryside should continue to be used for farming, but this corner of Cambridgeshire is home to an internationally important wildlife haven, and protecting that is vital. We - not just the National Trust, but society in general - have a duty to safeguard the natural world to ensure that as much of it as possible will survive for generations to come.

We want to change the land-use and protect the peat soils by using the land for wildlife, for grazing and as public open space. We won't be making a big dent in the UK's food-production though - we want to convert 56 square kilometres out of a total of 60,000 square kilometres of arable farmland.

This 56 kilometres is already used for a multitude of different things - growing crops, producing turf, grazing animals and in some cases being left fallow. It is entirely up to the landowner to decide its use, or if they wish to sell it. We purchase land as it comes onto the open market, at market rates and it is entirely the decision of the seller as to whether they accept a bid from the National Trust, another landowner or; if planning allows, a housing developer.

Far from being supercilious, we welcome views from everyone on the Wicken Fen Vision and encourage people to log on to www.wickenfen.org.uk, find out more and fill in the survey form. Alternatively, come along to the Wicken Fen visitor centre and speak to one of our team.


Communications Manager

National Trust - East of England