Areas of cattle trampling next to footpath gates have created safety problems, particularly visible in winterWikimedia Commons

Not-for-profit group Cam Valley Forum is appealing to the Cambridge community to support essential conservation works planned in their Grantchester Meadows restoration project.

The charitable association urges “everyone to wake up to the fact that all is not well with our river” in its manifesto, and aims to save the Cam’s rapidly eroding banks in the popular meadows area.

The Forum, in collaboration with the local Wildlife Trust and the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, needs to raise £20,000 to enact the pilot project, as well as build a fund for future enhancements.

The project has been offered nearly £10,000 in funding so far, on condition that a further £10,000 can be raised by the community, and that work will be finished by the end of March 2022.

“If everyone who enjoys the meadows gives a donation, we can easily do it,” encouraged Cam Valley Forum chairman, Stephen Tomkins.

Grantchester Meadows, which fills with swimmers and sun-bathers in the warmer months, and is frequented by families and dog-walkers throughout the autumn and winter, provides a crucial public green space for town dwellers and students alike.

However, constant use of the banks by people and cattle has led to severe erosion, removal of marginal vegetation and silt inputs to the river - all of which can impact water quality.

Additionally, areas of cattle trampling next to footpath gates have created safety problems, particularly visible in winter.

Tomkins warned of river bank erosion and collapsing pathways resulting from heavy footfall, as well as airing concerns about litter and anti-social behaviour.

“These pressures threaten the continuation of the traditional cattle grazing that is such an attractive part of this rural scene,” he said. “We enjoy this access for free but there is a cost for the owners and tenants in managing the impacts.”

The pilot project plans to address erosion and siltation by creating two new “cattle drinks”, gently sloping access points to the river reinforced by a hard stone base, which will allow cattle to safely reach the water without causing further damage.

Soil produced by the work will be used to create safer footpaths by repairing footpaths adjacent to cattle-damaged banks, which will then be protected by a short stretch of fence.

The project aims to “trial ways to rebuild and protect the banks using natural materials,” and to “learn lessons which can be applied to other areas of Grantchester Meadows.”

A previous River Cam conservation effort garnered much attention last summer, when King’s College, which owns the land, banned swimming, boating, barbecues and paddle-boarding on the meadows.

A letter, circulated to Newnham residents by Cambridgeshire County Council, stated that increased use of the area during the pandemic “put pressure on the habitat and facilities,” leaving the “long term future of the meadows at risk,”

After a petition against the ban gained over 18,000 signatures, King’s agreed to review it, promising that no swimmers would be prosecuted in the meantime.

The methods proposed thus far by the Grantchester Meadows restoration project promise to be less contentious.

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