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This is how Fenland's newest crematorium might look as East Cambridgeshire District Council asks residents what they think

The former Mepal Outdoor Centre which is currently the focus of plans for a new crematorium is home to several protected species according to two studies.

Biodiversity and ecology studies undertaken by East Cambridgeshire District Council have found that the site of the previous Mepal Outdoor Centre is home to several protected and notable species and habitats.

These findings have been shared along with artists' impressions of how the proposed building may look, as part of the council’s public survey, ahead of applying for outline planning permission.

Studies show Mepal rich in biodiversity and ecology as public survey commences. (43977498)
Studies show Mepal rich in biodiversity and ecology as public survey commences. (43977498)

The site was already designated as a County Wildlife site because of rare pondweed in the lake, however since the closure of the outdoor centre, the ecology of the site has matured to create a unique biodiversity site in East Cambridgeshire.

To fully understand the ecology of the site, the council commissioned an extensive series of ecological surveys between March and November 2020.

The surveys confirmed that the site is still noted for hosting pondweeds, including the nationally scarce species. However, this habitat can also benefit species such as otters, bats, fieldfare, song thrushes and herring gulls. And evidence of otter field signs was found and recorded on the south-eastern banks of the lake.

Studies show Mepal rich in biodiversity and ecology as public survey commences. (43977493)
Studies show Mepal rich in biodiversity and ecology as public survey commences. (43977493)

The buildings were deemed as low to moderate potential for use by roosting bats, with no active roosts noted. Subsequently, vandalism during the summer has reduced the potential of roosting bats from low to negligible. The site itself, however, offers high value for use by foraging bats.

The Winter Birding Survey also identified 32 species of birds, 30 of which were present onsite and two of which flew over the site. Although the birds identified were predominantly common species at both a local and national level, three bird species spotted are listed on the Birds of Conservation Concern ‘Red’ List; fieldfare, song thrush and the herring gull.

The open habitat mosaic at the southern end of the site, shelving lake edge at the southern end of the lake and the plentiful dead wood resource are also critical to support the invertebrates that are on site and are of county-wide significance.

The ecologists, supported by the Wildlife Trust, have established that recreational activities can take place on the site, but they need to be limited to low impact activities and certain locations. The activities which could take place on site include recreational fishing, lakeside walking and bird watching. Monitoring would need to be in place for five years to assess any potential ongoing impacts from the proposed recreational activities on site.

Councillor Anna Bailey, leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, said: “It is great to see that the site, which has unfortunately been subject to vandalism, has been creating a new home for important wildlife and diversity behind the scenes.

“We are committed to ensuring that the findings from the biodiversity and ecology studies are at the forefront of any proposed development of the site and mitigation, precautionary and compensation measures recommended by the ecologist and endorsed by the Wildlife Trust have been put in place and will need to form part of any plans that go forward.

“We promised that we would consult with residents on our proposals for a crematorium, natural burial site and pet cemetery ahead of applying for planning permission and this is what we are doing.

“The survey aims to engage with the public about the proposals and provide crucial information to support the development of a facility that is functional for all.

“I am also delighted to see that the studies have identified some recreational activities can be undertaken on the site, which I hope will give residents a place they can visit to walk, fish and spot some of the great birds identified.

“There is a raft of information on the East Cambs website about the proposed plans and I would ask residents to take a look and fill in our survey.”

The proposal for the Mepal site includes: A main chapel and a small side chapel; an electric cremator that emits significantly less greenhouse gas emissions; natural burial plots; a modular function building for the natural burial aspect; a pet cemetery located away from the other facilities; one acre of new planting, 57 new trees and 40 fruit trees.

The proposed crematorium development will be confined to the existing footprint of buildings on the site and it is not anticipated to result in any significant adverse residual effects to the identified ecological assets.

The deadline to submit responses to the survey are Monday February 1.

For more information and to complete the survey visit: https://www.eastcambs.gov.uk/consultations/current-consultations

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