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Northern Extension

A landmark deal will ensure that Paxton Pits nature reserve will expand from 192 acres to more than 700 over the next decade. This is a major success for the Friends of Paxton Pits, which has campaigned for this since 2002.
Huntingdonshire District Council (HDC) announced in early October 2007 that Paxton Pits Nature Reserve would expand to 704 acres as part of the approval for Aggregate Industries’ plan to extract the remaining gravel deposits at Paxton Pits.

Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC), as the Mineral Planning Authority, has given planning permission after agreements were reached with Aggregate Industries, HDC and the landowners (Oxford University Chest and Thornhill Settled Estate) covering a range of issues raised during public consultation. Foremost amongst these was The Friends’ proposal to restore a large part of the quarry to high quality wildlife habitat to form an extension to the Reserve.

Through the phased release of quarried land over the next 10 years, Paxton Pits’ wildlife will be enhanced by the addition of 60 acres of reedbed – a nationally scarce habitat, extra lakes and new islands. Wildflower-rich wet grassland and rare wet woodland habitat will also be created. The plan’s inclusion of 60 acres of scrub habitat is especially important to ensure the future success of the famous nightingale population at Paxton Pits.

Friends' letter writing campaign helped to secure the reserve extension At a time when the district is facing unprecedented urban development, the landscape-scale of the Reserve’s expansion will mean room for wildlife and all who enjoy quiet countryside walks close to nature.

The Friends can be proud to have had a major influence on the development of the plan that has now won CCC’s approval. We have been closely involved in developing the community benefit aspects of the plan, working with CCC, Aggregate Industries, Natural England and the RSPB to create a blueprint for development of the Reserve extension for the next 25 years. This covers everything from Reserve boundaries, the phasing of land release into the Reserve and restoration plans, to access facilities and habitat management.

The formal consultation revealed widespread public support for extending the Reserve, with the County Council receiving hundreds of letters of support from local people. View the proposals presented to Cambridgeshire County Council.

Ray Matthews, speaking on behalf of The Friends, which has over 2000 members, said “This is an historic moment for the Reserve. At a time when the district is facing unprecedented urban development, the landscape-scale of the Reserve’s expansion will mean room for wildlife and all who enjoy quiet countryside walks close to nature. Over the last few years The Friends has worked with all the agencies concerned to achieve this outcome, and we are especially pleased that Cambridgeshire County Council, Huntingdonshire District Council and Aggregate Industries have siezed the opportunity to provide such an outstanding community benefit”.

Executive Councillor for Huntingdonshire District Council's Operations, Parks and Countryside, Colin Hyams said "I am delighted that we have signed this agreement to expand Paxton Pits Nature Reserve so significantly. I am very proud of the Reserve; it is a wonderful asset to the district, very popular with residents and visitors alike. It is already a beautiful place to visit, and this expansion will make it one of Cambridgeshire’s main visitor attractions".

Councillors, land managers and The Friends mark the announcement of the landmark deal: Ian Bates (Leader of Huntingdonshire District Council), Martin Bates (Cambridgeshire County Council), Edmund Thornhill (estate owner), Raymond Lafferty-Brennan (Cambridgeshire County Council), Colin Jenkins and Graeme King (Aggregate Industries), Tim del Nevo (Oxford University Chest), Phillip Swales (Chairman, Huntingdonshire District Council), Ken Churchill (Councillor for Little Paxton ward, Huntingdonshire District Council), and Ray Matthews (Chairman, Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve). Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of St Neots Town Crier.

What will happen?
Aggregate Industries, operating to the north of the Reserve, submitted a planning application to make a final extension to its quarry. The Friends of Paxton Pits worked hard to maximise the benefits of this proposal, and supported it because it is now convinced that it will deliver something very special for Paxton Pits.

The after-use plans make a commitment to:
- create important new habitats, including reedbed, marsh, species-rich wet grassland, and wet woodland;
- guarantee that existing pits currently outside the Reserve will be protected and managed for wildlife;
- provide hugely increased access for visitors, bringing the total length of footpaths at Paxton Pits to ca. 27 km, and providing a new circular cycleway and bridleway.
Some of the quarried land that will not be incorporated into the Nature Reserve will be available for other leisure activities operated by the private sector. This, together with the extended Nature Reserve, will eventually provide a complex of lakes and public open spaces at Paxton Pits covering some 1,500 acres in total.

The Reserve will be over 3.5 times bigger than at present. This will be vital, both to protect wildlife and to provide a valued amenity, as the local area comes under ever greater pressure from development. Aggregate Industries’ will restore extraction areas to wildlife habitats at its expense, and will contribute to the costs of management in the longer term. The plan provides for a phased release of land into the Reserve as areas become redundant to the quarrying operation. The first of the restored areas could be part of the Reserve as early as 2008, with a further major area being released in 2010. The project will be complete by 2017.

Huntingdonshire District Council has agreed to manage the extended Nature Reserve, building on its successful record in developing the existing Reserve to its very popular present state. The map shows the vision for Paxton Pits.

Latest News and Progress
The first phase of habitat creation, in Pumphouse Pit (East), was completed during 2009. This work was aided by a substantial investment from The Friends to ensure that the restoration earthworks achieved the best possible conservation outcome, and that the positions for three observation hides were prepared.

Then in 2010 the recession struck, causing Aggregate Industries to mothball the quarry and effectively prevent major (and expensive) restoration earthworks on the adjacent Diddington Pit – work that has to be completed before release of the area into the Reserve.

In late 2015 it was announced that the quarry would be re-opening. Volunteers and Rangers have glimpsed some stunning wildlife during many days spent installing fencing and gates, planting hedges and managing shorelines, scrub and grassland within the Pumphouse Pit (East) area (all funded by The Friends). And even more days constructing and implementating a massive water management scheme for the Pumphouse Pits and Diddington Pit, a joint project between The Friends, AI and Thornhill Estates. Pumphouse Pit (East) is virtually ready to receive its first visitors.