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Environment and Energy

Red admiral butterfly

It won’t be news to many of you that net loss of nature in England has continued throughout this past decade. Over the years, drainage of Fenland, intensified agriculture, climate change and the fragmentation of habitats have all drastically changed not just the country’s landscapes, but its biodiversity too. From plants to insects, wildlife in England continues to undergo rapid change. Of 7,615 species in England that have been assessed using the IUCN Regional Red List criteria, 13% are classified as threatened with extinction from Great Britain.

Fed up of bad news stories? Never fear, whilst it may have got off to a rocky start, this one is shining the spotlight on some of the people and projects that have been making a very real difference right here on on our doorstep. Over the past year or so, staff across the University, with the support of the Environment & Energy Section, have been designing and implementing projects to protect and encourage local biodiversity with some fantastic results.

Plants, pollinators and people

Tucked away behind the Madingley Rise site, staff at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) have been getting their spades and wellies out to enhance biodiversity around their buildings in all sorts of ways. A raised flowerbed has kept CAU staff well-stocked with veggies and flowers, with staff sharing crops of tomatoes and courgettes well into last autumn. An insect hotel made from reclaimed and recycled materials nestles near the flowerbed and, as warmer weather creeps over Cambridgeshire, it won’t be long before the area is full of buzzing and fluttering once again. As well as checking in on their bird boxes, this year the team hope to conduct a pollinator count to understand the species visiting their biodiversity hotspot year on year.

Speaking to Samantha Smith, a committed member of the green team at CAU, it’s clear that encouraging biodiversity in the local area is just one facet of CAU’s initiatives. Engagement with families, friends and staff from other departments has been key. Families and friends helped plant out the raised flowerbed at a ‘Biodiversity Picnic’ last June, staff from across Madingley Rise helped plant woodland bulbs earlier this year and the biodiversity team at Greenwich House have visited to pick up some tips and tricks.

"All the staff who participated got a huge ‘buzz’ out of the various projects and it was considered to be a rejuvenating experience by many… Each opportunity has given our staff time away from their normal jobs, and an opportunity to share cake and each other’s company, so besides the ‘increasing biodiversity on site’ element, it has proved very rewarding on a personal level." Samantha Smith

Engagement and biodiversity are going hand in hand over at Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, too. Unlike at CAU, the department only have an outdoor terrace to work with, but with the addition of a few buddleia plants, commonly known as the butterfly bush, butterflies have begun frequenting the area. Thanks to Amanda Taylor, a handy butterfly identification poster is on display to help staff identify which butterflies they spot on their tea breaks.

Rethinking overlooked outdoor spaces

Over at Laundry Farm, staff have dug a 6x10ft pond in a secluded section of the grounds, surrounded by mature hedging on one side, trees behind, with farmland along the length. Just beyond a carpark, the area was calling out for a change and, as the pond has naturally filled with water, it has provided a refuge and water source for wildlife over the winter months. Now, with the seasons on the turn, wildflower seeds planted around the pond have begun to emerge and the new biodiversity area will continue to draw local wildlife including foxes, birds and insects.

Green-fingered staff have been busy over at the Mira Building too. A previously overlooked area of grass is being transformed into a biodiversity haven with the addition of raised beds made from repurposed water troughs and tyres from Abbey Tyre Co in Cambridge. Last summer, sunflowers sprouted and the seeds which weren’t left for the birds to feed on, were collect for replanting and for sharing with colleagues. It won’t just be birds benefitting from the area, over 300 (!) bulbs will draw in pollinators, and insects can make use of bug hotels made from bamboo, drilled logs, loose bark, pinecones and corrugated cardboard.

 

The team at Mira are still in the beginning phases of our project but we're loving the process and the area has been a great addition to the workplace, with lots of exciting things to come!" Emma Filby

One of these exciting additions will be working to develop the area into a wildflower meadow. Back in 2015, experts reported on the loss of 97% of UK wildflower meadows since the second world war so every meadow that we can create will help turn the tide on biodiversity loss. The good news is that with April around the corner, now is the perfect time to sow your wildflower seeds! If you love the idea but don’t know how to get started, check out the RHS website for some great resources or get ready to visit one near you.

We know that many of you will be working from home in the coming weeks but hopefully these fantastic projects will inspire you to welcome biodiversity into your local area, whether that’s at the University or your own back yard. If you want to keep in touch with others intersted in biodiversity, as well as enter our wildlife photography competition, then remember to join our Biodiversity at the University of Cambridge Yammer page.

Contributors to this article include Samantha Smith, Amanda Taylor, Emma Filby and Nili Getman.