The preferred route for the East West Rail development linking Cambridge to Bedford will devastate nationally important farmland habitat on the Countryside Regeneration Trust’s Lark Rise Farm.

The route announced last month will slice through the farm in Comberton, Cambridgeshire, destroying the habitat of ground-nesting skylark, grey partridge, and lapwing, cutting young badgers off from their sett and putting barn owls and bats at risk of train strikes. It will reverse years of hard work by the CRT and its tenant farmer Tim Scott to create an exemplar of nature-friendly farming on the site.

“We’ve put in miles of hedgerows and grass margins in the area the route will pass through, known as Westfield, so it is now teeming with critically endangered Red-listed birds” said Tim. “It’s all very well off-setting habitat by planting a few trees elsewhere, as East West Rail propose to do, but for species that live in open farmland that simply isn’t going to work.”

Above: Farmland birds flying over the hedgerows at Westfield.

Farmland birds are some of the most threatened species in the country. This was a key driver for the formation of the CRT 30 years ago. The most recent government statistics show that species including yellowhammer, linnet, corn bunting and grey partridge have been on a downward slope since the 1970s, largely due to intensive farming practices removing the habitat they need to survive.

However, The CRT’s monitoring has shown that Westfield is performing far better than the national trend and providing an oasis for wildlife, with about 20 per cent of all British bird species and almost 50 per cent of butterflies being recorded in the area. The success at Westfield has been down to one thing – regenerative farming that allows for the inclusion of the right kinds of habitat, including mixed hedgerows, beetle banks and grass meadow.

CRT Conservation Officer, Dr Vince Lea, is deeply concerned about the environmental impact of the railway’s course. He explains:

"No amount of ecological compensation sites will make a difference to these kinds of species. They need farmland habitat, like we currently have at Westfield. This route makes two of our four fields smaller, reducing their suitability for species that like the open expanse of farmland, and land the far side of the tracks will be cut off from the farm, making it unproductive."

Above: Field size is important to many species of birds and mammals, such as this brown hare at Westfield.

“Large flocks of Red-listed birds use these fields in winter with many hundreds at times; some of these will certainly be impacted, literally, by the passing trains as well as disturbed during the construction works. Species like golden plover are very traditional in their site selection and once they are gone, they are gone for ever," Vince continued.

“The proposed route also runs close to a major badger sett and separates it off from a satellite sett – where young badgers go when they leave the family home. It will also have to cross the Bourn Brook at some point and this stream is a major wildlife corridor that we know is home to both otters and water voles, thanks to over ten years work we’ve done to eradicate invasive American mink, which predate on water voles.

“This wildlife corridor is well wooded and rich in insect life, so it is an important foraging route for many species of bats such as common and soprano pipistrelle, brown long-eared, serotine, myotis species, noctule and barbastelle - all of which are vulnerable to being struck by high-speed trains,” he added.

Above: The barbastelle bat is one of the rarest species to have been seen at Lark Rise Farm.

Lark Rise Farm is a shining example of how farming and wildlife can co-exist when the right agricultural practises are carried out. To see part of it changed forever by this development is fundamentally wrong, at a time when the government’s own Environmental Plan is calling for farmers to adopt nature-friendly farming activities to achieve a national target to halt the decline in species populations by 2030.

While The CRT understands that rail development plays a role in the UK’s transport network, the chosen route will have a terrible impact on wildlife, so the CRT urges East West Rail to think again.

If you would like to add your voice to protest against the route planned by East West Rail, you can do so by calling them on 0330 134 0067, or emailing [email protected]

Please let us know your views too – email [email protected]

You can also sign Lark Rise farmer Tim Scott's petition on here.