Coton Orchard is the largest Traditional Orchard in Cambridgeshire and the eighth largest in the country. Orchards such as this are hotspots for biodiversity, and so classed as Priority Habitats.
Undisturbed by ploughing or pesticides for more than a century, and with a mix of fruit trees, meadow, hedgerows, wild scrub and copse, this vestige of the county’s orchard heritage is home to a rich community of flora and fauna. We await the findings of the GCP's ecological survey, but we know that there are several Red List species, and that the hedgerows are foraged by at least eight species of bat, including rare Barbastelles and Narthusius Pipistrelles.
The off-road scheme would lay a 30-metre width of tarmac and concrete right across the site, and remove the section that contains the 100-year old bramleys. These are the 'veterans', whose decaying wood is alive with fungi and invertebrates, and sustains food chains found only in association with old fruit trees.
Already a vital refuge for many species, Coton Orchard has started a programme of restoration and management which will maintain and enhance its value – both as a productive, traditional orchard and as a wildlife site
“the extent of these [traditional orchards], crucial to the preservation of wildlife populations, has dramatically withdrawn, leaving many as isolated postage stamps within a sterile wider world. When an ecosystem collapes, the fragments that remain are often too small or scattered to save; to remain intelligible to the wildlife that inhaibited them”
Benedict Macdonald and Nick Gates, Orchard
The GCP claims that they will be able to provide a Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) of 10–20% through various planting schemes, on- and off-site. But the threatened destruction will far exceed the footprint of the busway, and no amount of new planting will be able to compensate or mitigate the loss of this rich, complex ecosystem . Moreover, the fact that there is a viable (and far less expensive) alternative to this off-road scheme means that any BNG calculation is necessarily invalid.
Cambridgeshire is the most nature-depleted county in the UK. The destruction of Coton Orchard is a loss it can ill-afford.