Our response to Coldham’s Common Management Plan Consultation.

Dear City Council

RE : Response to Coldhams Common Management Plan Consultation.
We thank you for your invitation to respond to your public consultation on Coldham’s Common management plan on behalf of Friends of Coldham’s Common.

We have included our responses below.

The issues we wish to highlight are :

  • – lets get the basics right first like litter, mowing footpaths and keeping the common tidy – we live in one of the most prosperous cities in England, but our common looks shabby and unloved;
  • – keep the Barnwell Road LNR end as a permanent cow-free area and don’t waste £20 000 more on fencing it and £3000-4000 a year on maintenance;
  • – remove huge lengths of illegal fencing and barbed wire, maintained at public expense of around £4000 per year, which cut off substantial sections of the common;
  • – save our trees for future generations and improve a beautiful landscape – don’t cut them down;
  • – improve the state of access points, especially from the Abbey and the Willows path, so that everyone can get on the common from their homes to enjoy it and get to work or school.

 

The group members can assist the council in writing the plan if you should so wish, based on our community links, common sense and local knowledge.

We look forward to the results of the consultation. Please contact us if you require any further points of clarity.
Your sincerelyChris Smith
Chair, Friends of Coldhams Common


Issue 1 : Council best placed to lead on a Management Plan for the Common ?

The issue raised most frequently with the Friends are getting the basics right on the common : keeping it clean, tidy and accessible.

Friends of Coldhams Common is happy to lead on the management plan for the Common, and make a more detailed proposal to the council on this.  It has very strong community links, a high level of technical expertise in land management, history and ecology, but is also able to focus on getting the basics right first.

We include a suggestion as the approach and structure in an Appendix.

Issue 2 : A vision for the common

The text presented is not a true vision: a vision describes a state.  The written text is closer to management objectives.  We would suggest the following s a better example :

“Coldham’s Common is recognised and protected as a unique common and open space in the city, and is an important green area integral to the Romsey and Abbey wards.  Free from unnecessary fencing and gates and with well-maintained paths, it is an attractive landscape, easily accessible to all in the community, whether for leisure or getting to work. The wooded surrounds of the site, by buffering against adjacent buildings, provide a feeling of tranquility and a strongly rural landscape character.   The site is free from unnecessary overmanagement by the council and clutter, and the rights of the citizens as commoners and owners are respected.”

Issue 3 : Monitoring progress towards the vision

We would suggest that you do not monitor progress towards a vision ; you monitor progress towards objectives OR you monitor the condition of the site.  Issue 3 is somewhat confused in this respect.

1. Operational management :

The cabinet member needs to have an annual plan and he needs to demonstrate that this has been adhered to.  It is suggested as a bare minimum there should be annual monitoring and narrative review of the action plan from the management plan.  A lessons learnt approach might also be helpful.  Performance measures are very old school and not of value.

2. Condition monitoring :
This would require a list of key features on the site to monitor against.  These are not audited or identified.  It could helpfully include condition of fences, footpaths, habitats or species records, historical features, water quality, user surveys, etc

Issue 4 : Grazing

FoCC were not aware that people said they liked grazing.  Indeed a significant proportion felt unsafe around grazing animals. Although there has been a tendency to dismiss this as the views of the uneducated “townies”, FoCC know of at least one serious incident involving hospitalisation this year. This year the cows are more belligerent than previously and a local was hospitalized following a cow attack.

It is neither safe nor responsible to assume that site uses will mix in all instances with grazing. Most people have no problem with cows on part of the common, but do on all of it.  FoCC have raised this issue during two petitions in 2013 and 2014.  We wish the following to be noted within the consultation :

– During the 2013 petition, close to 200 people objected to the extension of grazing onto the LNR and the associated erection of fencing and gating;
– During the 2014 a further 76 people signed a petition reiterating this view, and furthermore calling for all illegal and useless fencing to be removed.

We have not repeated our petition, but would if further evidence is require of opinion against this grazing on the LNR, even on a “short term” basis.

Option B

We are not sure why this option is presented, unless it is to present removal of illegal and unnecessary fencing as something farcical.  The removal of the fencing we have identified would allow access to around 2.5 hectares of land from which the public are excluded and save several £1000 per year.  It would not involve grazing the football pitch.

Option D

Under Option D, it is stated that alternative stocking rates need to be trialled. Because of over grazing in the last 4 years and the creeping thistles not being cut, the areas presently grazed are deteriorating both as pasture and wildlife habitat.  The site is without debate heavily overgrazed and the council appears to have limited control over the stocking rates.  It is stated that : “However we are reliant on a small number of local grazier that are willing to apply for a licence. If stock numbers and timings are considerably reduced this may cease to be viable for them and grazing may be jeopardised.”
The areas are on good permanent grass in the centre of Cambridge with a water supply.  The comments raise a series of questions :

 How is the grazing presently let and advertised ?
 How much do the graziers pay ?
 How much does the council expend on grazing in fencing and wages at this site ?

We would suggest that some financial robustness needs to be demonstrated.

Options E and F

The people who signed the two petitions directly [close to 300 signatures ] objected to Options E and F, and we would reiterate this now. FoCC and other users do not want the last two areas of “wild” common, being the railway line strip and LNR, grazed.

Furthermore sufficient fencing has not been installed to allow grazing on this section, and we estimate that at least 700m at a cost of £20 000 would be required, and there would be annual maintenance costs for the fencing of 1700m at a cost of £3000-£4000 per annum. The character of the area would be eroded by this.

The fencing would require Secretary of State permission, which FoCC would oppose at public inquiry.

After the hay cut for cattle and post Folk Festival, there is no grazing left on the LNR and any biodiversity benefits would be periperal or detrimental.  You have also indicated that the existing grazed areas on the rest of the common are overgrazed, which has adversely affected the wildlife.  Option E would simply extend the poor pasture management of the common by the council.  Grazing is likely to adversely affect the spring flowers on the site and there is an abundance of Cowslips on the site.

The access of the area would be restricted by further gates and the presence of cows.  The presence of cows would deter people from accessing the LNR and prevent access to Barnwell Road across the common.  This is an important route to get from Abbey to Barnwell Road [ Sainsbury’s etc ] and we know of people detouring all the way round the common when cows are present elsewhere.

Hay cut : The hay cut on the LNR part of the common is too early and adversely affects the wildife.  We also note at present that the council gains no income from the hay.  See below for further comments.

Option F

This is said to “benefit the volunteer’s work parties existing efforts to maintain and enhance this area” : their efforts would be better assisted by grants for equipment such as a reciprocating mower, financial support to community groups such as the Wildlife Trust, and by removing cuttings instead of creating a fire hazard as has historically happened.

Issue 5 : Tree management

This option is unclear and we also do not recollect an option about woodland management on the previous consultations or any mention within the Wildlife Trust report.  We suggest that you need to contact a qualified tree officer to come up with an action plan going forward for the lifespan of the tree on the common, i.e. the next 100 years.

The trees and woodland are extremely important for the landscape character of the common and outside of the common, there are few trees in Romsey or Abbey.  Woodland blocks will require a programme of tree thinning as per standard forestry operations.

Option A

The trees need a proper programme of maintenance and where appropriate selective thinning to allow them to grow to maturity in 100 years time.  This needs to be done by professionals to avoid damage and inappropriate action.  We would suggest entry into a scheme of management for the woodlands.

Coppicing requires felling of trees over large areas to ensure sufficient light reaches the ground to allow regeneration.  It is appropriate only where there has been a historical practice.  Coppicing is inappropriate within the woodland areas on the common, and will damage the landscape character of the site.  The existing “coppicing” by the Wildlife Trusts has not been successful in the adjacent LNR.  Coppicing would also perpetuate the need for fencing and increase running costs.

Option E : Pollarding

Pollarding is an expensive and sometimes dangerous method for tree maintenance and is really only applicable for veteran trees with a history of such management.  The maiden growth of the trees on the LNR is attractive and given another 100 years some will mature into very significant specimens.


Issue 6 : Scrub management

We would want to see no net increase or decrease in scrub at the site.

Scrub is not particularly difficult to control on the common and in our view is under control.  Scrub clearance does not need to be extended, since otherwise it will have a significant impact on the landscape character of the site.

The brambles and scrub need to be managed alongside footpaths. For example the base of the footbridge is completely overgrown by brambles now.  Where scrub is an issue for access then it should be permanently removed.

Please see our notes under trees about rotational coppicing. Large thorns are prone to shock in coppicing and will often simply die or the amount of light creates dense bramble thickets.

Issue 7 : History

Understanding the history of the site and its historic context is key to its’ management and not a peripheral “educational” issue.  Basic historical research needs to be done prior to the plan, in particular documenting the illegal fencing on the site and the site’s historical features.  There are several features on the common in need of protection e.g. the Weighbridge Cottage on Coldham’s Lane.


Issue 8 : Local Nature Reserve

The majority of common users have no knowledge of what a Local Nature Reserve is and would regard the whole of the common as a “local reserve for nature”.  Therefore focusing only on a single area would create a slanted approach in management of the common.  Furthermore would the adjacent Barnwell Road West LNR require separate treatment.

The production of the materials and signage for the LNR seems too narrowly focused, given that the whole of the common is used as a recreational resource by visitors. We have included our comment about signage in the signage section.

Issue 9 : Grass cutting

The hay on the LNR is harvested too early on the LNR and this damages the ecology. Furthermore the hay cut of the entire area at once leaves no refuges for wildlife.

The hay is given away, whereas its value is likely to be several thousand pounds if managed corectly.  We think that the hay cutting management needs to be looked at properly and an adequate income made.  We suggest that it is either sold by lots or that it could be sold directly to the public.

The thistles on the grassland need cutting before they seed and spread by mid July as part of a regular annual programme.


Issue 10 : Footpaths

We note that there is also cycle access across the site e.g. cycleway from Newmarket Road to Coldhams Lane, but also from Barnwell Road, much of which is by commuters.  Furthermore access to the common by less able users ( e.g. visually impaired, wheelchair, mobility scooters) needs to be considered.   The site is generally without impediment for access for less able and has good adjacent car park provision at Abbey.

This section is therefore better entitled “Access provision”. The council has no apparent audit for the access infrastructure (e.g. gates) on the site and this needs to be done. The Friends are happy to help with this.

Public Rights of Way

No mention is made of Public Rights of Way on the common. These are not “informal” footpaths, but have statutory protection e.g. the PROW running across the childrens play area behind Abbey Pool has been illegally blocked up by the council.   We include notes on the footpaths and their conditions below.

FP7 : The footpath is overgrown at the start of footpath, north of footbridge where fencing was. This requires more regular maintenance.

FP9 : This is obstructed at the northern end by fencing and then overgrown until the entrance gate near the butts. Its path should be a pleasant walk alongside the brook, but is completely unusable due to obstructions such as fencing and water troughs. The alignment now used is further west.  Further south alongside the arable field owned by St Andrews the footpath is often overgrown and narrow. Beyond the access onto Barnwell Road it is then completely overgrown and obstructed at the southern end.

FP10 : There is a missing bridge whose remnants lie in the brook. The legal line then passes through the play ground behind Abbey Pool and alongside the north side of the pool.  Here is deliberately obstructed by locked gates and fences on the Abbey Swimming.  The footpath the passes through the Willows, where it is completely overgrown and impassable.

Other paths : With respect to other paths, these are never mowed to a programme and it is down to users to keep them open.  Their mowing was requested for the Folk Festival in 2014, but was not carried out.

The footpath from Galfrid Road to Barnwell Road, marked as a public footpath by county for many years, is poorly maintained and muddy.

Parking  : The parking at Barnwell Road is well used by people and should be improved.  It is sometimes used by businesses for parking cars under repair, which should be discouraged.

Issue 9 : Waterways

The Cambridge East Drain is overdeepened and straightened.  The pipes feeding Coldhams Brook are not maintained, both from under Barnwell Road and over the drain near Galfrid Road.  We believe that this rather than expensive “lining repairs” are the issues behind its lack of water during summer months.

The East Drain could also be renaturalised to create better habitat [ e.g. by including pools and riffles ] : this has been proposed by the Friends of Cherry Hinton Brook.

The council do not own the mineral rights on the common and digging of a reedbed would be illegal without Secretary of State consent.  There is already a small reedbed near the BMX track that could be impoved by water level management.

The council need to control or contain the Crassula helmsii present alongside the football ground in Coldham’s Brook.

Issue 11 : Benches and bins

Benches

Outside of the playgrounds, there are two existing benches on the common adjacent to the football pitch, which are well used and they should be maintained.

Benches have been removed from the Coldhams Lane playground and not replaced. Those remaining are in poor repair.

Benches are helpful for the less able as a place to rest, but also may attract rough sleepers.  We suggest two more narrow steel benches as per existing design on the common may be best.  These should be sighted in pleasant areas, but without creating visual clutter or urbanising the common.  A suitable site may be in the Newmarket Road section near the football ground.

Littering on the common

There is a major issue with litter on the common, which is more than “bins”.  The issue is two-fold :

a. The site needs its build up of rubbish and trash removed.  This needs to include both rubbish such as cans and crisp packets, but also derelict, unused fencing and redundant signs, which are extensive.  The untidy common encourages more littering and makes its appearance shabby and unloved.  It is hard to believe that Cambridge is one of the richest and most prosperous cities in the UK with the state this common is in.

b. People hiring pitches need to tidy up or lose their deposit.  Rubbish from footballers and other groups is very common, and is mainly dealt with by the daily walkers, who tidy up after them.  Where people use the common, they need to take their rubbish home with them. A deep clean has been promised after the Folk Festival, but never happens, which in 2014 left human faeces on the American football pitch.

With respect to providing bins, we suggest that each site entrance should have a single dog bin plus a litter bin together with a direction sign, and there should not be a proliferation of them.  We note that there is no bin on the Coldhams Lane entrance nor at Newmarket Road or Barnwell Road.

Issue 12 : Communication with the public

The community understand what work is being done, and their fears are often well justified.  They are supportive of genuine work to manage the common.

 

Panels are highly expensive (£1000s per panel ) and easily vandalised or outdated.

A dedicated website is not needed, but we would suggest that key documents are clearly signposted.Events at the moment are not communicated to a regular plan. We suggest that a single individual is nominated for all communications and a communication plan is written annually. We also suggest that a schedule of events is placed on the notice board next to the Abbey Pool entrance [ presently this has duplicate copies of pitch layouts ].

The Friends of Coldhams Common would ask for a de-brief following the Folk Festival and briefings before next years new format Folk Festival.  We suggest that this is also extended to the wider community e.g. Station Cycles, Romsey Traders Association.

Issue 13 : Community involvement

A small notice board at the Coldhams Lane entrance might be useful.

FoCC are happy to be involved in co-ordinated audits of the common and litter picking.  We think these should be lead by the community or organisations such as the Wildlife Trust.

Other issues

Cycling has not been mentioned on the Common.  The Cattle Creep, the underpass to the railway line, is frequently overgrown by hanging brambles and thorns as is the area around the crossing of the drain near the football ground.  Cycle paths need to be kept clear from such vegetation.

There is no bike access or rack provision for the Coldham’s Common playground nor near the pool : both would be useful.  A low key construction e.g. as per Burleigh Street, would be preferable.

We suggest that the plan includes not only the common per se, but also the adjacent land e.g. Barnwell West LNR, Barnwell Pits.

==============================

===========================

Appendix : Approach for management plan writing

We suggest the following broad approach.
1. Gathering of relevant information, including commisioning of subreports [ see Appendices ]
2. Identification of key issues for discussion [ walking of common ]
3. Visioning workshop for common;
4. Consensus on objectives for common management;
5. Agreement of standards and site zoning for shared use;
6. Detailed discussion on site infrastructure requirements [ e.g. access points, fencing, landscape design, tree works ]
7. Costings feasibility
8. Draft of plan
9. Final plan

———————————————————————

Structure for plan

We suggest the following as a structure. In particular we suggest that a focus on the action plan, including annual maintenance plan, to be a priority.

1. Introduction

2. Context

i. Legal context
ii. Use by people
iii. Landscape
iv. Ecology and wildlife
v. Drainage
vi. Access and infrastucture

3. Management principles

Site zoning proposals
Access and recreation
Grazing management
Other infrastructure

4. Detailed action plan

i. Costings and funding

5. Bibliograhy

Appendices

1.Audit of infrastructure on common
i. Fencing
ii. Footpaths and access points
2.History of the common
i. Historical artifacts on the common
3.Biological surveys [ Cambridge Bird Club, WT report on grassland, cowslip and butterfly surveys ]
4.Landscape character study
5. Spreadsheet showing costings

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