Fenland meadow site earmarked for development is home to one of country's rarest insects
Wenny Meadow is home to a “substantial and healthy population” of rare pseudoscorpions, according to an invertebrate survey obtained via a Freedom of Information Request.
The 2015 invertebrate survey was produced in support of the East Chatteris Broad Concept Plan application, but had not been published by the developer or Fenland District Council.
Neither had it been submitted with the current planning application for 93 homes on the town’s former Manor Park, until after the FOI request was made.
Pseudoscorpions, otherwise known as “false scorpions”, are like scorpions but without a “stinger” on their tail-end. The particular species found at Wenny Meadow, is described in the report as “the largest British false scorpion, as well as one of the rarest”. They are only found on sites with very mature trees, like the ancient oaks and elms found at Wenny Meadow.
They weren’t the only interesting creepy-crawlies at Wenny Meadow: the site was found to be home to 811 different species of insect, 35 of which are described as “nationally scarce” and 18 of which are rare within Cambridgeshire. The report says that the site is of “county-level importance” for invertebrates.
Four species, including the pseudoscorpions, are “red-list” threatened species. These also included rare tree snails, found exclusively on the two ancient elm trees in the meadow, an assassin bug, and a rare type of beetle.
The wood-pasture parklands of Wenny Meadow are also a haven for “saproxylic beetles” - those that feed on old trees and decaying wood - with 63 different types of saproxylic beetles found during the survey. The report says the site “compares favourably” with “some ancient woodlands in Cambridgeshire, and ahead of some well-known and well-established parklands.”
In a national ranking, Wenny Meadow is deemed to have a higher quality of saproxylic insects than even the National Trust’s Sheringham Park.
The publication of the report, following a FOI request by campaigner Lawrence Weetman, has attracted national attention from entomologists and ecologists.
Objecting to the plans to build on Wenny Meadow, Dr Gerald Legg, head of the pseudoscorpion recording group for the United Kingdom, said the species has “a restricted distribution, generally being associated with ancient woodlands and wood pasture such as Burnham Beeches, Windsor Park, St. James’ Park and Sherwood Forest. This is one of our rarest and most spectacular species”.
Professor Brian Eversham, CEO of The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire, said the report contained a “top quality list” of invertebrates, noting that it is “rare to see a good population of tree snail in Cambridgeshire”.
Prof Eversham also said that the pair of ancient elms found at Wenny Meadow “are surpassed only by a couple of trees in Abbots Ripton, and the species is known only from a handful of trees in Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire.”
Referring to plans to retain the individual trees within the proposed housing development, Prof Eversham said that “the invertebrate habitat won’t survive fragmentation”.
Kevin Hand, vice-president of the Cambridge Natural History Society, visited Wenny Meadow last month. He described the meadow as a “special place”, also comparing it to Windsor Park. Mr Hand said “we hardly ever see old elms these days”, estimating the pair to be 200-300 years old.
Mr Weetman, a member of the Save Wenny Road Meadow campaign, suggested the reports had been unpublished because of its findings.
And said: “Experts are repeatedly telling us that Wenny Meadow is special - whether that’s due to its insects, its mature trees, its history, or its benefits for residents’ health and wellbeing. There isn’t another place like it in Chatteris, and almost nowhere else like it in Fenland, so it is extremely important that this magical place is preserved for future generations.
“We knew that these reports existed because they were referred to in Cannon Kirk’s glossy brochures for the East Chatteris Broad Concept Plan, but we didn’t know why they weren’t published by the developer or the council when the BCP was approved in 2017, and we were perplexed as to why invertebrates weren’t covered in the otherwise extensive ecology surveys submitted in support of the current planning application.
“Now we know. It seems that neither the developer nor Fenland Council wanted people to see the true extent of the importance of the meadow, and it is disappointing that we had to resort to using Freedom of Information requests to find information that should be publicly available as part of the planning process.”
“The council and the developer both point to the fact that the developer is retaining most of the trees as evidence that nature is not being harmed, but Prof Eversham has confirmed that much of the nature, including the invertebrates, will not survive the fragmentation of the mosaic of habitats that form Wenny Meadow. The Wildlife Trust says that there will be a huge net loss of biodiversity as a result of the plans being considered by the council.”
A spokesman for the Pegasus Group, which is acting as agent for developer Canon Kirk Ltd, said: "The proposals submitted are on land identified in the local plan as suitable for development.
“There have been a wide range of reports produced for the site over the years including the one you reference and all have been shared with FDC and have been publicly available.
“We are grateful to local residents for taking an interest in the scheme however our ecologists are fully aware of all the ecological interests on this site and we will be seeking to enhance and protect local wildlife habitats as part of the environmental management plan.
“The development is set to provide a large amount of public open space incorporating a LEAP (learning, evaluation and planning) and ecological benefits including the creation of new habitat as well as economic benefits including increases in local expenditure and support for jobs both directly and indirectly and as such represent sustainable development in the context of the adopted local plan.”