The natural environment of the Cambridge Road Estate

New developments around the Cambridge Road Estate have not only erased any pre-existing 'nature' but made it virtually impossible for any new colonisation, except perhaps by pigeons. There are borough policies to prevent this happening, but no one seems to know where to find them, yet alone understand them;  our officers seem too embarrassed to implement a 'no net loss of biodiversity' policy, let alone achieve the borough's aspiration of 'Net Gain'. When Natural England attempted to give our planning officers a lunchtime training session - which would have counted towards their continuing professional development (CPD) - no one actually turned up.

Key: Ppip common pipistrelle Ppyg soprano pip.
This does not bode well for the redevelopment of the Cambridge Road Estate (CRE). The site is full of wildlife, demonstrated by the bird song in the early Spring mornings. Listen to these recordings on Soundcloud here: Sparrows of Willingham Way . Keep listening and  you will hear the robins, jackdaws, crows, and blackbirds complete with the odd  police siren and speeding car. Not bad eh?

Great results were obtained during this season's bat survey. This is unusual for two reasons: the lateness of the year, 15.10.18 - as extended by the prolonged summer - as well as  the sheer distribution of  foraging animals. 

This can be explained by the amount of tree canopy cover - not replicated in many of the estates in the borough I have visited - a natural environment to be proud of. Unfortunately, many trees have been removed since 2016, see previous posts from January, 2015 here Cambridge road estate and kingston cemetery. A cynic could argue that the estate was being made 'development ready'. As the amount of canopy cover reduces, so  increases the urban gradient; it is thought that when the urban surface reaches more than 60% we lose our commonest bat species. See the distribution of common and soprano pipistrelles, in the above GPS photoplot. 

Plane with berries 
In the case of this plane tree near Fordham, the canopy and vegetation cover amounted to 60% and the built environment 40%. This is an explanation as to why these clusters of bat foraging activity are recorded throughout the estate. The tree canopies have the added advantage of shielding and filtering light pollution (LP). New estates emit LP in spade-loads from windows especially  in the 'curtain - walled regenerations'.

The natural environment, particularly at the fringes of the estate imparts an amount of peace and
tranquillity apparent on few comparable estates; perhaps the Alton Estate in Roehampton - managed by LB Wandsworth - is an example of an environment with a  calming effect on its ~ 800 households. This on one of the largest social housing estates in the country, where 11 storey tower blocks are distributed throughout the parkland setting.

Several hedge and tree lines help animals and birds move to and around  CRE. Berries provide much needed  food resources for birds, especially for thrushes and blackbirds: cotoneaster, pyracantha and snowberries. The seeds of the plane trees are popular with roving flocks of goldfinches as well as the  occasional  chaffinch, once our commonest bird, but now rarely seen. They seem to like the trees, which actually tower high above the majority of buildings.

Plane and  lime treeline
Willingham Way
Tree line near the Community Shop

How can redevelopment protect this ambiance and conserve the environment for plants, birds and bats; already curtailed by earlier  incursions, such as the massive portacabin erected at the rear of the shops,with the loss of a mature tree and  a mature black poplar given the type of haircut you generally get 'before you die'. The more recent Ely Court development, put this once beautiful willow tree into a 'straight jacket' losing a large amount of its canopy and it is fairly obvious that someone from somewhere will be on its case with a chainsaw before long.

Land at the rear of the Duke of Cambridge, was a great place for  sparrows - a bird on the red list of conservation concern - in a suite of  informal buddleja bushes at the rear, but the new 'Total Footprint Development' (VIBE) hasn't the habitat for much more than a spider.

Almost forty trees were lost at the Robert Peel pub, yes of course I am referring to Lleylandii surrounding the two beer gardens, but in an urban environment they were great cat - free places for small communal roosts of starlings. Blackbirds flew sorties around the back and front of the pub while revellers enjoyed their beer. Residents of the adjacent tower block often complained of thumping music, but they still appreciated the blackbird singing sweetly in the morning and the chooking and pinking of it's evensong. There are no  'opportunities' for birds in the glass and steel framed building - as currently  revealed - despite all the BREEAMS and the surveys and the planning and the more surveys and the Best Practice; it appears to be another 'Total Footprint Development'. 

Fine Foods Cambridge Grove rd.
Tree loss at the Old Laundry development along Bonner Hill Road has been particularly devastating, especially of lime trees with their wonderful blossom so enjoyed by bees and other insects; the tree produces fragrant and nectar-producing flowers, producing a pale but richly flavoured honey. Land managers of  property on the corner of Gladstone Road, further along the street, terminated the existence of two lime trees with the ending of a five-year  S106 agreement. The tank traps and metal shutters at the windows signal the imminent demolition and  development of  the Fine Foods  factory - a low rise light industrial warehouse - that will continue the erosion of sparrow habitat. This noisy flock can currently  be seen between the mix of 1960's and Victorian streetscape, often arguing in the middle of the road.

Total Footprint Development is the worst kind of vandalism. It removes opportunities  to routinely walk across our community, interact with neighbours and enjoy nature. Result poor mental health and a new generation divorced from the natural world; robbed of the blackbird and the starling as well as the occasional hedgehog, so we all lose.

That once maligned tree - the sycamore - may be all we are left, in some of our harsh urban environments. As the beech succumbs to the urban heat island effect, the oak to the processionary moth and the ash - Chalaria, or die back disease. Everything else has its own Phytophera with approximately 100 species of these water moulds described. Remember it was the loss of the buddleja at the back of the Duke that removed one small group of sparrows; the Lleylandii the starlings and the blackbirds; the intensification of our gardens and new fencing that lost the ability of the hedgehog to roam from my garden to the cemetery.

The continued pillage of public spaces can be seen everywhere, such as at the Packington Estate (above) in the L.B. Islington, where residents had their own shops, a new community hall, and  a series of  adventure playgrounds and pitches along the Regent's Canal. Now exchanged for 'poor doors' with only one communal open-space and contructed with dog-emptying resilience.

Lets hope that CRE's  resources won't be sequestered  in a search for lucrative spaces; or squeezed out - the last  natural features - from this part of the ward. Please retain them for the blackbird, sparrow, and starling; once all common, but now struggling. Choose; increase the urban gradient further and lose the  bat interest. Hedgehogs have already dropped off the list of fauna that our urban youngsters will see. 

Contact with nature, is so important for children, especially those who haven't had many advantages. Walks to school through Kingston cemetery and semi-natural spaces under a well-watched window; the crunching of cornflake-like autumn leaves; summer's greenery and the smell of lime blossom, the opportunity or not to play conkers. The 'good for the bones' sunshine for older people, pride in  small gardens, opportunities for contact with neighbours. Barbeques for the middle ages and a serious array of chiminea. see

Footnote: Approximate tree species and numbers
Oak 2
Sycamore 16
Plane 15
Birch 12
Beech 7
Lime 6
Horse chestnut 5
Willow 3
Stone pine
Alder 2
Norway Maple 2
Large olive trees 2
Hybrid black poplar 1
and lots and lots of cherries.


  1. Amazing article. The trouble is how do you get the Council to take note and, more importantly, to take action? They seem to be operating to a pre-agreed agenda that has no room for contemplation of issues of sustainability and the quality of the environment

  2. looking back on this you were absolutely right


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