Cam Valley Forum
Our visionWe want to see the river Cam and its tributaries and riverside areas protected and improved for all to enjoy. This means:
Cycling along the Halingway
Water crow foot protected at Trumpington Meadows
Enjoying the River Shep
How we work
There are many ways in which we are working towards this vision in close cooperation with others who share our aims. These include Anglian Water’s RiverCare project, the Wildlife Trust, the Environment Agency, the Cam Conservators, the Cleaner Cambridge Campaign, Cambridge City Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council, the Rivers Trust, CPRE, FWAG, RSPB, and river-related community groups. Representatives of these organisations attend our committee meeting to discuss problems and opportunities, to share information and advice, and to plan action.
Chairman’s report to the Annual General Meeting on the forum’s work 2013-2014
Too much water – and too little
'Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink' – that's been so in some parts of the country but here our slow flowing river, fed largely from the chalk aquifers in low hills, with its very gentle gradient, has caused relatively few problems. In recent years, too, we have seen some progress in creating new floodable areas upstream and in applying Sustainable Urban Drainage principles in new developments which must have helped to reduce the risk of unwanted floods. Much more needs to be done, of course, to hold up water in the higher reaches of the river basin to promote more even flows and to capture some of the excess water for summer use. For, despite this wet winter, our long term worry remains: will we have enough water in future for people, for wildlife and for the river? We fear that the government's Water Bill, which may enable owners of abstraction licenses to sell their surplus to the water companies, will only exacerbate the problem. We have continued, therefore, to press home our water worries at every opportunity including in our responses to consultations on the developing local plans.
Pollution and flooding
I'm sorry to say, yet again, that our concerns over the former agro-chemical plant at Hauxton have not been allayed. Data from the Environment Agency show that a range of pesticides, many no longer allowed to be used, are still seeping from the site into the Riddy Brook and the Cam. In addition Charles Turner, who keeps up his close watch on the site, has repeatedly drawn attention to the inadequacy of the flood relief measures built into the development. During the recent heavy rains the owners failed to manage the sluices, as instructed by the Environment Agency, causing flooding on adjacent farm land. More seriously, the trough which they excavated in the flood meadow opposite the site (to compensate for flood capacity lost in raising part of the development site above flood level) was the last bit of the floodplain invaded by water in recent floods. This was partly due to unauthorised use of the excavated material to create a bund round the meadow, which also impounded floodwater on other low-lying meadows behind. Even more seriously the factory site itself was extensively flooded, not from the river which was about two metres lower, but from rising groundwater, as we had previously warned. Thus, we fear, the area designated for housing, as well as nearby farmland, is at risk of much more serious flooding in future.
In addition to such big issues, we objected to a proposal for a football stadium in the greenbelt at Sawston. The most forceful and critical of our responses, however, was Stephen Tomkins' reply to the Environment Agency's document Challenges and Choices. We also found much to welcome, particularly the City Council's emphasis on safeguarding the river and its environment in the emerging Cambridge local plan. We welcomed, too, the proposal to open up the land and lakes in Romsey for recreation with the caveat, of course, that the chosen uses respect the environment and the wildlife of the area.
Litter picking and balsam bashing
Though the forum does not usually organise such events, we encourage our members to take part. We joined in last year's Big Clean Up of the Cam through Cambridge, and our regular water-borne litter clearer, Malcolm Schofield, continued his forays along the upper river. Some of us lent Ruth Hawksley a hand with her war on Himalayan balsam in the Bourn Brook. This was part of the comprehensive work on improving the environment of the brook carried by the Wildlife Trust and the Countryside Restoration Trust.
Educational site visits
Our annual site visit for members was to the Trumpington Farm Company's extensive new wetland opposite Grantchester Meadows. This long low-lying stretch of land was drained for wheat growing. Now, with advice from Natural England and funding through the Higher Level Stewardship, it has been restored to something like its original state – a lush and peaceful haven for wildlife, including a snipe bog where farm manager, David Knott, estimated 70 or so snipe feed, within spitting distance of the city. On a colder, damper day in January our committee enjoyed a trip in the 'Rosie' from Jesus Lock to Bottisham Lock thanks to Clive Brown, who organised the trip, and Peter Watson, captain of the boat. It was a chance for us to look at problems along the lower river and to benefit from Pip Noon's extensive knowledge of that stretch. We hope to be able to offer a similar trip to our members later this year.
One of the aims of the forum is to share information about the river and, therefore, we were delighted when David Brooks offered to coordinate and edit an occasional e-newsletter. We hope that you have found it interesting. If you are not on the mailing list and would like to receive it, please contact David [email@example.com]. We would welcome contributions from our members and, indeed, from anyone else interested in the well-being of the river.
Cam Catchment Strategy
Much of my time over the last year was spent on the emerging river strategy. At our AGM two years ago we talked about river strategies which inspired Carolin Gohler, CEO of CambridgePPF (once Cambridge Preservation Society) to convene a group to work on a strategy for the Cam. The initial focus was on the river between Byron's Pool and Baits Bite Lock, but this has widened to encompass the whole of the Cam catchment. A core working group, with representatives from the Cam Conservators, Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire District Council, the wildlife trust and the Environment Agency, reports to a wider group which includes Cambridge Water, Anglian Water, the county council and Queens College. In the chair Peter Landsdoff of CPPF keeps the core group working hard. It has run two workshops (one for river users, one for farmers) to discuss issues and seek ideas on what might be done. Another one for other landowners will take place on 28 April, and we hope to run an event in the summer to encourage the formation of more local river-care groups and to inspire people to volunteer on projects to improve the river environment. We are also reaching out to other organisations, as well as to the universities to encourage relevant research projects. Work has begun on a document to ensure that full weight is given to the river in determining planning applications. The list of possible actions is growing, and these will be prioritised and costed as a basis for seeking funds and encouraging action.
We were sorry to have to say farewell to our secretary, John Terry, last summer, and also to Pip Noon who, until last January, was the river manager for the Cam Conservators. Pip regularly attended our committee meetings, keeping us briefed on the conservancy's work and news about the river. We greatly appreciated her contribution to the forum, and we hope that the conservancy will continue to maintain links with river user groups, and continue to care for the environment of its very special stretch of the river.
Jean Perraton, March 2014
Our work in 2012 – Chairman’s report to our AGM on 4 April 2013
Water is for life – not simply a commodity to be supplied through pipes to customers. The slow flowing waters of the Cam and its tributary streams weave vital threads of wildness through the countryside, to the delight of punters and rowers, canoeists and swimmers, anglers and birdwatchers, walkers and picnickers. Both wildlife and people depend upon the water being reasonably clean and, crucially, enough of it in the summer months, and not too much in the winter. This is the message we have been plugging throughout the year.
Despite the wet summer when, most unusually, some of the rain penetrated into the chalk aquifer, we remain worried about the pressures on our limited water resources. Stephen Tomkins has continued his research on the trends in river flows over the last fifty years or so, grappling with the very detailed records of the Environment Agency and relating these to other factors such as the local rainfall. We have tried to press home our concerns about water at every opportunity. I emphasized them in my discussions with planners and at seminars, and we reiterated them in our formal responses to consultations on the emerging local plans being prepared by Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council. We welcome the planners proposals for higher standards of water conservation in new buildings, but remain convinced that the level of housing growth envisaged in the sub-region cannot, as far as water is concerned, be regarded as ‘sustainable development.’
Charles Turner kept us briefed on the Hauxton issue, the heavily polluted site that has been undergoing remediation for much of the past two years. We remain apprehensive about the safety of the site, both for its future inhabitants and for the river. We raised objections to applications by the developers to weaken conditions, imposed on the planning permission, relating to surface water drainage into the Riddy Brook, and the implementation of the flood relief scheme. We are pleased that the Environment Agency continues to monitor the effluent from the site, and readily shares their results with us – results that show a continuing release of undesirable pesticides into the water environment. Charles reported that on several occasions smelly polluted water has spilled into the Riddy Brook and so in January we arranged for further samples to be taken from the brook, and analysed independently for a range of pesticides. Unfortunately, the laboratory encountered difficulties in testing for many of the chemicals that would concern us most, and we are still awaiting full results.
We lent our support for Cambridge Past Present and Future (Cambridge PPF) in its objections to the proposal to demolish the Penny Ferry public house opposite Stourbridge Common, and also expressed our concern about the plans to erect a temporary recording studio over the duck pond at Cherry Hinton Hall for the folk festival. But, thankfully, not all our interventions were negative. Malcolm Schofield represented the forum (among other groups) at meetings with the city council, urging a robust approach to regularising and reducing the numbers of moorings along Riverside. We welcomed the City Council’s draft plans for the management of Coe Fen, Sheep’s Green and New Bit, sadly neglected in recent years, and added some ideas for the city to consider. We also welcomed the draft management plan for part of Hobson’s Conduit. We hope there will be funds and staff to implement these plans, for our riverside meadows and the green fingers of tributaries such as Hobson’s are among the most precious features of the city. We responded fully to the Environment Agency’s consultation Working Together on the Water Framework Directive, which we hope will result in closer cooperation with the agency in future over the whole of the Cam basin. We also warmly supported the Wildlife Trust’s bid for funds to carry out an ambitious programme of river-works, and sorry to learn that this was not successful. We hope that a somewhat scaled-down proposal will succeed.
Litter picking and guided walks:
Malcolm has kept up his regular forays to retrieve litter from the river and, as chair of the Cleaner Cambridge Campaign, he also organised last year’s Big River Clean-up. This attracted a good turn-out, with members of the forum concentrating on the Sheep’s Green area. As usual, the occasion proved enjoyable – there is a curious satisfaction especially in finding unusual or extra large items of rubbish. Even more enjoyable was this year’s guided walk. On a lovely May afternoon we walked along a section of the Hobson’s Conduit/Vicar’s Brook with our treasurer, Richard Wells. Richard is enormously knowledgeable about this a small tributary to the Cam having served for many years as the chair of the Hobson’s Conduit Trust as well as living close to the brook. Those who didn’t join us missed a fascinating walk as well as scrumptious cake and tea at his house afterwards. We hope that Richard will be able to lead another walk along the brook this summer.
Working with others
One of our important functions is sharing information and understanding about the river with other groups and researchers. Occasionally, this stretches beyond Cambridge, as in the case of our meeting last summer with Bettina Lange of Oxford University. Bettina is doing interesting work on the nature of stewardship in relation to rights to use water, focusing primarily on farming. She alerted us to some work unfamiliar to us and we in turn added to her understanding of some of the constraints and regulations that affect farmers and the water environment. Last year, you may remember, we had a presentation at our AGM on various water-space studies and river strategies that have been developed for riverside towns. I am now working with representatives from Cambridge PPF, the Cam Conservators, Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire Councils, and the Environment Agency, towards a strategy to guide the development, use and protection of the river corridor between Hauxton and the river’s junction with the Great Ouse – the part of the Cam valley where pressures are greatest. This should establish principles and policies to be adopted as part of the local plans of the three district councils, and perhaps unlock funds for improvements to the river and adjacent land. It might also pave the way towards a river trust for the whole river basin.
Jean Perraton, March 2013
For more details see What we do.