“What we have heard so far”: What community members have told us about their attachment to place and the impacts of East West Rail.
This document summarizes some of the contributions over 80 people have made to the Heritage Ecosystems Impact Assessment of the proposed East West Rail corridor (Cambourne to Cambridge). Thank you to everyone who has participated thus far! If you are keen to contribute to the study, the project team will be hosting a meeting [TBA] to discuss these results and work with anyone interested in collaborating on the next stage of the project. This study is funded by the University of Cambridge (independent of East West Rail). [Posted on behalf of the Heritage Ecosystem Impact Assessment for EWR]
HERITAGE ECOSYSTEM VALUES
The following sections highlight what participants see as valuable about the connection between people and place.
“We’re one community in two parts”: Villages and the connections between them are vital.
Each village has its own history and character. For example, many participants point to houses or farms occupied by multiple generations of the same family as partially defining individual village character and histories. Others point to nearby landscape features with placenames like Mare’s way, Chapel Hill, ‘the clunch pits’, that in their naming tell of their former affiliations or uses. Others suggest village amenities such as ‘the rec’, school, or local pub give the village a unique character. As one family noted “It is our home! It is our school! It is our life! We love this unspoilt village.” Yet, despite the fact that ‘Villages have boundaries’ and their own character, participants strongly value village interconnection. Indeed, many footpaths, roads, bridleways are identified as vital routes linking villages “ …that work, live, and educate together.”
“Mostly it has a bracing wind that I just love”: Hills provide more than just nice views
The hills near the villages are valued because of their relative rarity and permanency, and as destinations in and of themselves. In the generally flat landscape of Cambridgeshire, hills and the views they afford are seen as vital to individual, family and community physical and mental health and spiritual wellbeing. Hills are also often cited as places of valuable natural habitat that are home to an array, and in some cases endangered, species of plants and animals. As one participant noted “…[Chapel Hill is] one of the only hills we have. It dominates the landscape and symbolises the local area and consistency of it…It’s always there and everyone has an attachment to it.”
“It’s my past, present, and future”: Woods, orchards, meadows, and farms hold histories
The centrality of farming in South Cambridgeshire is reflected in the value participants place on farming heritage, arable land, and the roll these two elements play in defining the ‘countryside’ more generally. Remnant and village orchards are especially valued as sources of food, but also as reminders of the once thriving South Cambridgeshire fruit growing tradition. The combination of farmland, meadows, hedgerows, and woods are essential components of the countryside landscape. Woods are cited as landmarks of the ancient countryside and today are valued as play areas and sites that foster multi-generational family connection. Hedgerows provide food for forage and habitat. As one participant noted “All fields have hedgerows and deer—it’s a strong landscape…”.
“Beautifully overgrown and full of life”: Brooks and rivers feed both wildlife and ‘wildhood’
Water, particularly Bourn Brook the River Cam, and the rare and threatened chalk streams of South Cambridgeshire, along with ponds and even field ditches figure heavily in many childhood memories and present-day play. Several families noted areas where they play ‘pooh sticks’ and wild swim. Outdoor play is cited as essential to the specific and valued kind of childhood –or ‘wildhood’—that living in the countryside offers. Water courses, especially Bourn Brook and the River Cam are also valued as providing habitat for threatened species such as the barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus). Many participants suggest that a walk along a water course is part of their regular daily life, providing them with a sense of peace, serenity and connection with the natural landscape.
“My favourite walk. High and wild!”: Walking and cycling routes support community, family, and individual health and well-being.
Of the most frequently identified places of community value are the walking and cycling routes running through the South Cambridgeshire countryside. Not only do they promote and support physical health, the act of walking and cycling is vital to community wellbeing and individual mental health. This was particularly so during the COVID pandemic, but many participants suggest that walking specific routes continues to provide a daily dose of peace, escape, calm, and a welcome opportunity to interact with neighbours, friends and family. Low or no traffic walking and cycling routes also presents opportunities for children past and present to gain independence and confidence travelling to and from school and village sport or other activities, and the freedom to travel between villages and the homes of family and friends. As one participant noted “We walk here and feel a sense of history and belonging. I have a feeling of pride at the green hills and the blue sky…”.
The following sections summarise what participants anticipate the impacts to valued places and connections will result (and in some cases have already occurred) from the planning, construction, operation, and maintenance of East West Rail.
Loss of Village Interconnection
The loss of routes, whether they be driving, walking, or cycling, that act as village interconnections ranked among the most anticipated and damaging impacts predicted by participants. One participant expressed this vital interconnection as “We’re one community in two parts – but they (East West Rail) don’t know that.” There is a sense of frustration that East West Rail does not appreciate how their attempts to connect Cambridge and Oxford will result in the destruction of village interconnections, many of which have existed in one form or another for centuries. As one participant noted “It’s [the East West Rail line] not connection, it’s destruction and it cuts everyone off from everything.”
Impacts to Farms, Farming Families, and Food Security
The threat East West Rail poses to the economic viability of family farms is frequently mentioned alongside concerns over food security. Several participants express a sense of disbelief that Government would choose to put a rail line through fields that constitute some of the UK’s most productive farmland. There are at least two multi-generation farming families whose lifeway and livelihoods will be severely affected, possibly destroyed, by East West Rail’s preferred route. As one member of a farming family stated: “[this is] my family farm. That land upon which I have grown up and hope to be the fifth generation to farm. The farmland I hope to farm and make a living from which would be impossibly difficult to continue to do so if EWR was to go ahead.”
Increase Stress due to Marginalisation and Distrust
Many participants feel a deep sense of marginalisation that they attribute directly to a lack of communication and transparency from East West Rail. Despite acknowledging East West Rail’s many attempts at public communication both through written media and in-person events, many participants suggest that the East West Rail representatives are at best ill-informed, and at worst, blatantly deceitful. The lack of transparency participants feel East West Rail exhibit is a cause of extreme distress for some, especially for those whose homes are threatened either directly (e.g. will be torn down to make way for the rail line), but also by those who anticipate indirect though no less significant impacts (e.g. through increases in air and noise pollution, destruction of valued countryside and natural habitat, and loss of routes that link villages). These impacts manifest in emotional responses that range from anger and disbelief to feelings of grief and hopelessness. These and many other factors have combined to engender an extreme level of distrust in East West Rail, and in local government’s seeming disinterest in concerns of their constituents.
These are just some of the heritage ecosystem values and anticipated impacts that study participants have identified. Our next step is to present a more detailed summary in a meeting open to anyone interested in hearing more. We hope to work collaboratively with interested community members to devise the next step of information gathering, and to refine our initial thoughts on a preliminary heritage ecosystem impact assessment method. If you wish to know more about these preliminary results or want to participate, please contact Tanja Hoffmann (firstname.lastname@example.org ) or Dacia Viejo-Rose (email@example.com). Many thanks to all who have contributed thus far!
 One oft-cited example of what some participants describe as the ‘heartless’ nature of the East West Rail planning process was the method East West Rail used to notify property owners that their homes are in the direct path of the proposed rail route and may need to be destroyed. The fact that the letters were posted through the letterbox addressed to ‘dear homeowner’, struck many participants as both cowardly and callous.