The CRT has issued an open letter to East West Rail (EWR), calling its plans to build a railway line in Cambridgeshire “a crime against the countryside.”

We are calling on EWR to change its proposed route through regenerative arable farmland known as Westfield at Lark Rise Farm in Cambridgeshire. We have also raised concerns about ecological surveys carried out by EWR on our land.

We urge EWR to work with us to protect the specialist habitat at Lark Rise Farm and to rethink its proposal for the southern route through Cambridgeshire.

CRT Conservation Officer Vince Lea said: “We have written an open letter to EWR calling for action.

“The route will be disastrous for the Cambridgeshire countryside. It is the most expensive of the options previously suggested. It has the greatest impact on biodiversity and on residents of south Cambridgeshire.

“EWR will take out a vast area of productive farmland, not just under the footprint of the railway line itself but all the surrounding land used during the construction or converted into 'mitigation' features. We would like to talk to them about the environmental impact and can share the results of our long-term monitoring of the site, with over 20 years of breeding bird surveys, winter bird counts, otter and water vole surveys, butterfly surveys and knowledge of rare arable plants.”

Tim Scott, the tenant farmer at Lark Rise Farm for 30 years, said: “We are in the 24th year of nature recovery at Lark Rise. We have numerous Red List Species, and we are in the top one per cent of our county for these species and most, if not all of these, will be lost because of the railway.

“I question whether this folly is needed at all, but all common sense would suggest the northern route is the more appropriate one.”

Read more in the Farmer's Guardian here, Farmer's Weekly here, Farming UK here

Land at Westfield

Here is the full open letter

An open letter from the Countryside Regeneration Trust to East West Rail

East West Rail,

On behalf of The Countryside Regeneration Trust (CRT) I write with deep concern regarding your plans to construct a railway line across nature-rich farmland at Lark Rise Farm in Cambridgeshire. We believe this is a crime against the countryside.

Your preferred route cuts directly through an area of regeneratively farmed arable land known as Westfield and crosses the Bourn Brook – a river that’s home to water voles and otters. These plans will destroy farmland effectively managed as an agricultural ‘nature reserve’ for specialist farmland birds and other endangered species for the past 24 years.

We strongly feel an attempt to identify the type and extent of nature on the farmland through your various ecological surveys has proved entirely inadequate. To date, we know three EWR surveys have been carried out on the land for Habitat and Hedgerow, Bat Tree Assessment, and Kingfisher, Otter and Water Voles.

Although you contacted the CRT numerous times last year, requesting to undertake ecological surveys, we have only received a sub-set of results, yet we were promised the reports as part of the agreement. The partial release of data only happened in April 2024, over six months after the surveys were done, and only because you requested access again to undertake cultural heritage surveys.

We are extremely concerned about the quality of these surveys. The Kingfisher, Otter, and Water Voles survey failed to look at the major watercourse where these species predominantly are, and instead concentrated on a small, insignificant dried-up old river channel 100 metres away from the river. Ironically, despite this oversight, evidence of otters using the area as a resting area was recorded, but a greater amount of relevant information would have been gathered from surveying the Bourn Brook itself.

We want to know why you chose to ignore the main river when your plans clearly include the construction of a high rail bridge directly over it.

Another survey, the Bat Tree Assessment, has conflicting data. It states every tree has a bat roost in it, despite there being limited or no potential for roosting sites on most trees surveyed by EWR ecologists. While it would be wonderful to have this number of roosts at Westfield, we know from our own assessments this is not the case. This misinformation casts a shadow of doubt over the accuracy of all your ecological data from Westfield, and potentially other sites too.

We invite you to meet directly with our conservation team to help you gain a better understanding of why Westfield is such an oasis for wildlife, including Red Listed farmland birds such as yellowhammer, lapwing, skylark, and grey partridge, but also mammals like brown hare, badger, various bat species and water vole.

We would also be delighted to share our extensive data from years of wildlife assessment at the site. These include breeding bird surveys, winter bird counts, otter and water vole surveys, butterfly surveys and knowledge of rare arable plants.

You say you will create ecological compensation sites but many of the species using the land at Westfield will not benefit from these. Farmland birds, for example, need open fields to thrive, as well as access to suitable foods, some of which are a by-product of specific agricultural activity.

More than ever before, we need to ensure farmland allows wildlife to flourish and Westfield has been farmed in a way that helps regenerate habitats for critically endangered species that have been in decline for decades. We estimate your proposed railway line will make 50-60 acres of Westfield’s 120-acres unsuitable for wildlife or agriculture, but the impact of its implementation will be greater, leaving very little of Westfield’s remaining land sustainable for nature or farming activities. It’s important to consider that it’s not just the footprint of the railway line itself but all the surrounding land used during the construction, or converted into mitigation features, that will have a lasting negative impact.

Some bird species, such as grey partridge and corn bunting are present at low levels but require a large area of suitable habitat. Reducing the population from 2-3 pairs to 1-2 pairs will threaten the chance of these species maintaining viable long-term populations and increase the chances of them becoming locally extinct.

The route will also cut through the CRT’s Butterfly Transect, which means the survey would end after a run of over 20 years, during which it has contributed data to an important national scheme that assesses populations throughout the country. We have even recorded white-letter hairstreak butterflies on this transect, a species that is protected under Schedule 5 of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act and is recognised by the Biodiversity Action Plan as under threat.

At a time when the UK Government is demanding farmers do more to protect and restore the countryside to meet its globally important environmental pledges, destroying farmland that is already achieving so much for the countryside is a huge mistake. We believe you must recognise the true value of Westfield by engaging in meaningful dialogue with our conservation experts to understand the importance of this regeneratively managed farmland.

We also stand with the other organisations, such as Cambridge Approaches, Caldecote EWR Action Group and BFARe, in our combined objections to this development that will destroy much-loved homes and carefully managed wildlife habitats. As custodians of Westfield, it is our responsibility to protect and nurture our natural heritage for future generations and ensure that two decades of hard work restoring the land for the benefit of the natural world is not lost.

We believe you must reconsider the previously proposed northern route, which affects fewer wildlife sites and will have less impact on nature recovery, honouring your stated commitment to environmental preservation.


Sue Everett Chair of the Board of Trustees The Countryside Regeneration Trust