Ordinary people doing extraordinary things are fuelling my hope for a greener future

By Nicole Barton, Cambridge Carbon Footprint

When it comes to climate change, the scale and challenge can make each of us feel small and powerless. However on my doorstep in Histon and Impington, I am increasingly witnessing ‘ordinary’ people doing extraordinary things and their actions feed my hope that change is in the air. That individuals, as well as policy, social and economic reform, will be key to enabling the momentous shift needed over the next ten years to tackle the biodiversity and climate crisis. 

A few weeks ago, the village secured for nature and the community, fifteen acres of meadow and biodiverse rich coppice that came up as parcels of land for sale alongside a farmhouse. Over lockdown many, many people had discovered the untamed and wildlife rich space on their doorstep and were devastated to imagine the seemingly inevitable land grab by developers. We already have one of the smallest amounts of accessible green space, per resident, in the region. 

A few people wondered if there was an outside chance that the community could buy it and asked via Facebook and village newsletters, whether people might be willing to pledge – and people streamed in to help. Within a couple of weeks over £100k had been pledged and this signalled to the hastily assembled core group that the rest could be raised. The land has been secured with a loan from a community member and a ‘Histon and Impington Green Spaces’ charity will be set up to raise the funds to purchase the land and manage it over future generations to enhance wildlife and community wellbeing. This huge victory hasn’t been all about money – a vision of something better, a group of committed people with the right skill-set and a respect for nature and the value it gives our community have been equally important. 

And then there’s people like Dan. A physicist, his latest voluntary project involves planting 1400 trees with the Cambridgeshire Tree Planting Community to replace those destroyed by the A14 works. His experience with community woodland creation goes back 25 years, and started with planting what appeared to be lifeless twigs into a muddy field. What had been an East Anglian mono-culture has now been transformed into a biodiverse woodland with an understorey of self-seeded trees and canopies of birch, oak and alder and a haven for birds, insects and other wildlife. In the intervening years Dan helped set up the local Community Orchard and now a group of dedicated volunteers have planted 70 fruit trees and over 250m of hedging and established a vibrant community space where people can learn traditional skills such as pruning and hedge laying, and help themselves to fruit. 

Cambridge Carbon Footprint identified Dan as a climate champion, and his tip to others is “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  And the second best time is now.  So go for it. But if you want to plant more than one, be prepared to be both persistent and patient!” Examples like these help us imagine and believe that things can be different. A ‘What if….?’ group is currently meeting in Cambridge and hopes to soon be able to invite everyone in to ask “What if…?” questions and to share their ideas and vision for a more sustainable, fair and resilient Cambridge. 

To read more about the land see here and read Dan’s full story here


Article first appeared in the Cambridge Independent on the 16th of June 2021.