Welcome to the website for the New Life on the Old West project, funded through the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It was originally supposed to commence in April 2020 but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the start was delayed until October 2020. We intend kicking off our activities more fully in early 2021.

The New Life on the Old West project will deliver 88 wildlife habitat enhancements to the green spaces and surrounding countryside in areas around the Old West river, focusing on 9 parishes: Cottenham, Haddenham, Little Thetford, Over, Rampton, Stretham, Wicken, Willingham and Wilburton. This project will improve the lives and opportunities of people living in these communities by increasing their access to local nature, and helping a wide range of children and adults to develop new skills and learn about their unique fenland wildlife and natural heritage.

If you need more information and can’t find what you wanted then please call or email us for a chat.

Also, do have a look (or like/follow) us on our project social media accounts on Twitter (@NewLifeOldWest) and Facebook (@newlifeontheoldwest) .

The Old West River, at Earith's Hermitage Lock. Image Cambridgeshire ACRE

The Old West River, at Earith’s Hermitage Lock. Image Cambridgeshire ACRE

The New Life on the Old West Project is supported by:


New Life… now up and running!

It’s exciting times for our New Life on the Old West project… as we’re off and running! I joined the project at the start of January, and have been busy putting a talented project team together, applying for consents and permissions for the work we plan to do, and getting to know our local communities, our project partners and stakeholders. I’ve previously worked for nature and conservation bodies, such as National Trust and South & West Wales Wildlife Trust, and recently worked on a major National Lottery supported orchard survey, restoration and creation project in the East of England… and I’m very excited to use what I’ve learned for New Life!

Thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s kind support, and National Lottery players, we will spend the next 3 years delivering 92 planned habitat enhancements for our threatened Fenland wildlife, at 34 different sites across 9 rural and varied parishes – Cottenham, Willingham, Wicken, Haddenham, Over, Little Thetford, Stretham, Wilburton, Rampton.

We’ll help make around 3.9km of drainage ditches (the famous watery hedges of the Fens) more wildlife friendly – by adding berms to create long strips of shallow water within the ditches; shallow water with up to 10cm depth is the most important freshwater habitat for wildlife. These berms will help many different animals, such as the water vole, toads, eels and grass snakes, as well as rare ditch dwelling plants and beetles. We’ll dig 25 new ponds and scrapes, all of differing sizes and depths – helping provide homes and feeding opportunities for waterfowl and wading birds, thirsty turtle doves, amphibians and fish. Expect to see more dragon and damselflies spinning overhead at these sites, perhaps hunted by an acrobatic hobby.

Drainage ditch with a berm cut into its side – this creates shallow water for wildlife

We’ll create about 82ha of wildflower rich areas – wildflower hay meadows on farms and community green spaces, plus planting flower plugs tolerant of mowing on more heavily managed green space. We’ll translocate 2 incredibly rare fen-relic species, the greater water parsnip, and the frankly weird and wonderful looking eyed longhorn beetle, from nearby locations – we hope to widen their range and make their futures more secure in our landscape. We’ll also plant orchards, rare black poplar trees and species rich hedges, install bat boxes and bug hotels… and much more!

This work will create multiple habitat stepping-stones along the course of the Old West River, between its confluence with the River Cam, to where it meets the Ouse Washes at Earith Junction – linking the two large internationally known nature reserves at National Trust’s Wicken Fen and RPSB’s Ouse Fen and Ouse Washes. Our Fenland wildlife should be able to move more readily though the landscape, travelling from and between these two highly nature rich areas.

Eyed longhorn beetle – or an Egyptian Pharoah’s brooch?

We can’t do all this alone! Many of our busy farmers, local parish councils, the Internal Drainage Boards and around 50 other partners and community bodies have promised to help! And, most importantly, we’re recruiting (we hope loads) of volunteers to help – with habitat creation work parties, wildlife surveys and monitoring, and we also want to explore and celebrate the unique history and culture of the Fens, so need volunteers to come along and enjoy archaeological digs, share their photographs of the area, record stories and memories from those who have lived a long time in the Fens.

We’re going to run events showing people how they can recognize and record the wild things around them, how to create and manage small wetland sites and wildflower meadows, open farm days for kids, guided walks and species identification courses, and a lot more. Some talks and events will be online and, when it is again possible to do so, we’ll be back outdoors, making sure everything is Covid secure and everyone kept safe. With my fingers very firmly crossed indeed, I hope we’ll be able to hold a celebratory socially distanced launch event later in summer. Look out for us across the Old West communities, follow us on twitter @NewLifeOldWest and Facebook & keep an eye on this website… we’re revamping it so we can more easily share our volunteers stories, new of our progress, wildlife sightings, upcoming events and more. We’re up and running, there’s going to be loads to do, enjoy and share, and it should all be very good fun!  

Howard Jones, New Life on the Old West Project Manager                                                                             

New Life on the Old West is very kindly supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and National Lottery players.