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COVID-19 has dominated headlines during 2020, almost eclipsing the topics of climate change and biodiversity loss. Globally, around one million species face the threat of extinction* and the large-scale destruction of habitats is not only accelerating the threat of extinction, but also releasing yet more carbon and greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere. Habitat destruction and increasingly close contact between humans, their livestock and wild animal populations has also been linked to the cross-species transfer of disease. Biodiversity enhancement can be a tool to mitigate these impacts and the University is committed to ensuring we take responsibility for doing just that on our own doorstep.

The University’s first Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) has now been now published. It sets out our 10-year vision for the future of biodiversity across the University, to "deliver a significant and measurable improvement in the biodiversity of the University of Cambridge estate, and the Greater Cambridge Area more generally, in a manner that educates and inspires an appreciation of the natural environment, and that encourages interventions, research and innovation to enhance and protect biodiversity for future generations." The BAP provides clearly defined actions that allow us to focus our efforts and start working towards this vision.


"This Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) provides the framework to meet one of our core sustainability objectives; to have a positive impact on biodiversity and ecosystems.  Conserving biodiversity is inherently the right thing to do, we need to rebuild nature, it contributes to quality of life and provides a multitude of vital ecosystem services, including  flood mitigation, maintaining soil health and preventing erosion, supporting pollinators, and importantly, building carbon-rich landscapes.  The economic advantages sit alongside huge benefits to us all in terms of wellbeing and health. Nature is a much-needed source of delight and optimism. This BAP will support improvements and enhancements across the University estate."

Dr Mike Maunder, Executive Director, Cambridge Conservation Initiative



How did we get here?

Our journey to developing the University’s BAP began with baseline survey work during 2018, helping us to understand what biodiversity looks like across the University’s rural and operational estate. The summary report from this piece of work can be found online.

Building on the finds of this baseline survey, the BAP was developed with external consultants, Applied Ecology Ltd, the University’s expert Ecological Advisory Panel (EAP), student representatives, members of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and other partner organisations such as The Wildlife Trusts BCN, alongside our staff teams within the University’s Estates Division. Extensive stakeholder consultation was undertaken with staff across Estates Division, the wider University including the Botanic Garden and University Library, along with Cambridge City Council and the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

The BAP has been developed under the guidance of the University’s Ecological Advisory Panel and was approved by University Council over the summer. The vision and intentions laid out in the BAP are supported by a comprehensive Implementation Plan and data-driven targets through the Cambridge Biodiversity Metric (CBM). The CBM seeks to enhance biodiversity and habitat condition beyond that required by Defra and Natural England.


"This Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) has been developed with the support and hard work of staff from across the University, including members of the Ecological Advisory Panel and the Estates Division. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those involved in getting us to this point.  Conserving biodiversity is essential and this BAP provides clarity of direction for the University and will accelerate delivery of one of our core sustainability objectives.  There are exciting times ahead as we work towards achieving the aspirational targets set out in the BAP."

Joanna Chamberlain, Head of Sustainability



What’s happened so far?

Work across the estate has already begun, with our operational grounds teams relaxing mowing in appropriate areas and highlighting the potential for enhancement of biodiversity through additional planting. The teams are changing to less time-sensitive management practices that allow wildlife to flourish such as leaving organic material on site, allowing appropriate areas to be less manicured, reducing chemical use and turning to sustainable alternatives for fertiliser and pest control. Over at the University farm, work towards carbon reduction targets is ongoing and biodiversity will benefit too. Overseeding with clover has provided plants for pollinators and relaxed cutting on grass verges provides similar advantages for wildlife.

Hotspots of biodiversity have already sprung up across the University, providing ways to engage with colleagues locally, enhance outdoor spaces for both people and wildlife, form connections and understanding of our food production, and ultimately, help the University start its journey to fulfilling its Biodiversity Action Plan.


A team effort

Communicating changes and their impacts across the estate will be key to success, alongside the support and engagement of staff, students and external partners. Engagement work began as part of an intern project during 2019 to develop a Biodiversity Engagement Plan and Biodiversiteams to support delivery of the BAP. COVID has somewhat placed these workstreams on hold, pushing us to look at virtual ways to engage.

Our virtual Spotlight on Biodiversity campaign during April of this year enabled staff to share, and learn about, the importance of biodiversity for our health and wellbeing. The online biodiversity photo competition provided an antidote to the unprecedented times we are living in and established a shared connection and interest. These virtual events and prompts bloomed into an online community interested in biodiversity at the University and beyond, which is still growing by the day and welcoming new members.

We are looking to reinvigorate our engagement strands of work alongside how best we continue to communicate the enhancements to biodiversity across the estate. Over the next academic year we will be exploring the options for converting more lawns and other areas of grass to wildflower meadows, planning where best to plant hedge whips to improve hedgerows across the estate as well as looking at opportunities to recreate historic ponds. Larger-scale projects to enhance the estate are already beginning such as the pond restoration project at Madingley Hall.

Keep up to date on biodiversity by joining the University’s Biodiversity Yammer group.

Written by Rachel Steward

*The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services