Background to the Friends

1990s   In the early l990s, Cambridgeshire County Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridge City Council set up The Green Belt Project to organise conservation work on a number of wildlife sites, in particular the Devil’s Dyke, Fleam Dyke and Roman Road.  Since there was a huge amount to be done, the Project Officer, Sharon Hearle, applied for a Lottery grant. A substantial grant was awarded for the Devil’s Dyke, but rather surprisingly, the Roman Road and Fleam Dyke, although Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Scheduled Monuments, were judged not to be sufficiently well known or used.

Feb. 2001  Sam Agnew, Councillor for the Horseheath area and Chairman of the South Cambridgeshire Conservation Committee, suggested that if the two neglected sites had a group of Friends, it might be possible to obtain other grants. Sharon Hearle therefore organised a meeting on 1st February 2001 at the Six Bells on Fulbourn High Street; various supporters rang round their friends with the result that 78 people turned up. At this meeting, a County archaeologist, Tim Malim, talked about the history of the sites. Sharon Hearle described the flowers to be found in chalk grassland and the acute need to clear back encroaching scrub, maintain the flora by mowing and raking, and also to provide information boards and leaflets. Sam Agnew proposed that we set up a Friends group, receiving the complete support of the meeting. Sam’s offer to be Chairman was accepted enthusiastically. Jane Fenton, a fund raiser for Bird Life International and one of the founders of the Hawk and Owl Trust, offered to be Treasurer for a year. Julia Napier offered to write about butterflies for a newsletter, and about 35 people expressed their interest in joining. During the following weeks, the Friends of the River Shep gave us permission to copy their constitution and Julia Napier was recruited as Secretary.

Apri; 2001 At a meeting on 5th April 2001, the first members adopted a constitution which stated that the objectives of the Association were to:

• Conserve and enhance the biodiversity

• Raise the public awareness of the sites and encourage related activities

• Improve access where appropriate and provide information

The subscription was set at £5 per household per annum and about 35 people joined on the spot. A committee was appointed which included Sharon Hearle, the Green Belt Project Officer, Rob Mungovan, Ecology Officer for South Cambridgeshire DC, David Seilly, a Wildlife Trust member, for work parties and Robert Finch, an expert bryologist.

Dec. 2001  Membership grew rapidly to 100 and when the Friends applied to Awards for All for a grant of £5,000 in December 2001 they were successful. The grant was used to clear the top of the Fleam Dyke from Fulbourn to the disused railway. A stretch of dyke on which one could only walk in single file became a pleasant if narrow footpath, and there was an amazing eruption of the beautiful blue clustered bell flower, harebells, the purple common or black knapweed and greater knapweed and also very small numbers of the true calcareous flora for which this site had been listed: lady’s bedstraw, dwarf thistle,hoary plantain, dropwort, quaking grass, and a few others.

2003 In 2003, the Friends obtained a grant of £25,000 for work on the Roman Road to set back advancing scrub between Worsted Lodge and the Gunner’s Hall path, for a leaflet on the Roman Road, and five information boards and dog bins, which were erected in 2007. South Cambridgeshire District Council gave a grant of just over £1,000 for a leaflet on the Fleam Dyke, which was published in 2009. Both leaflets are available from the Cambridge Tourist Office. Most recently another Awards for All grant for the development of a long-distance circular walk linking the two sites, including the publication of a Guide Book.

The Friends continue to grow in number and influence decisions being made about the sites, the recently secured Traffic Restriction Order on the Roman Road being just one example.