Wildlife lovers fear for nature reserve threatened by Cambridge University building | Cambridge

Dusk falls over Paradise Nature Reserve on the banks of the River Cam. Half a dozen bats sprung from their hiding places in the sparse rainforest, swooping and swooping happily into the darkening night sky.

With impeccable timing, a punt full of tourists on a “bat safari” looms on the horizon. The tiny 2.2 hectare reserve protects the river corridor between Cambridge city center and Grantchester Meadows and is home to eight species of bats, including the rare and endangered barb, as well as voles, herons, kingfishers and otters. Renowned locally for its muddy paths that run past canopies of mature willows and alders, rich marshes and unique riverside habitats, it is popular with Cambridge students, university professors and nature lovers from the city ​​for centuries.

Now a local conservation group, Friends of Paradise Nature Reserve, fears the tranquility and biodiversity of this local oasis are under threat. One of Cambridge’s colleges, Queens’ College, is proposing to build postgraduate accommodation on a nearby lawn it owns on the edge of the reserve.

A kingfisher
Kingfishers are a common sight in the reserve. Photograph: Chris Grady/Alamy

The college is appealing a unanimous Labour-led City Council decision to reject its proposal – which was originally recommended for planning approval in January – after nearly 200 people opposed the development and 2 400 people signed a petition against.

“We are concerned that the height, scale and massing of the three-story buildings so close to the border could adversely impact the ecological and amenity value of the reserve,” said Pam Gatrell, president of Friends of Paradise, which is crowdfunded. raise £30,000 to pay for ecological consultants and legal advice to protect the reserve.

In its planning application, Queens’ College pointed out that, as the University of Cambridge seeks to increase its postgraduate enrollment by 1% per annum, there is ‘very clearly a need for postgraduate accommodation for Queens’. College”. “Making the best use of college-owned sites saves the college from seeking to acquire private housing in the city,” the request states, adding that it would help protect the existing supply of private housing in the city.

Average rents in Cambridge have risen by 12% over the past year and the average house price is £585,000, according to Rightmove. It is recognized as one of the most expensive – and most unequal – cities in the UK, with a disparity in life expectancy of almost 12 years between people living in the wealthiest and most deprived areas. . Michael Gove recently announced he was sending a ‘super team’ of planning experts to Cambridge to plan a new urban district and ‘boost Europe’s science capital’, adding that constraints on new housing in Cambridge ruled out new graduates from the market and made things more difficult. to attract and retain talent in the city.

Barbastelle bat flying at night
The endangered barbastelle bat is a resident of Paradise. Photograph: Nature Image Library/Alamy

Local green councilor and Vice-Chair of Friends of Paradise Jean Glasberg said she did not dispute the need for more postgraduate accommodation in Cambridge. “It’s just that [the nature reserve] is such a special place. And this development is so important and so close to him.

Queens’ College declined to comment due to the ongoing appeal. But Glasberg denied that the college’s proposal had stoked age-old tensions between the “city” (the residents) and the “dress” (the university). “Some students from Queens have been our biggest supporters, they love it here.”

The reserve, she said, provides a vital escape for stressed students and the many academics who live in Newnham. “College life can be very intense,” she said. “It’s not just about wildlife. It is also a question of people.

Environmentalist Olwen Williams has been visiting paradise, as it is locally known, for 25 years. “From this place I saw an ermine attacking a water pothole,” she said, looking over the river as a cloud of pipistrelles danced overhead. “This butterbur [shrub] there was described by the eminent botanist John Ray in the 17th century as existing at this very location.

There are 12 species of fish in the river, including huge pike, and Williams says she will never forget the week a rare black stork visited the reserve for a fishing trip.

She is concerned about the impact of construction work on the reserve, as well as the development itself. “It revolts me,” she said, casting another glance at the tall trees swaying in the breeze and the quiet shore shrouded in darkness. “It saddens me greatly.”

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