Friends of Coldhams Common celebrate removal of barbed wire fencing

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Coldhams Common showing the wood opened up (on the left) following removal of barbed wire fencing

Our member, Friends of Coldhams Common, is celebrating the removal of over 330m of barbed wire fence on the common. The fencing was a serious hazard to dogs and walkers on the common and probably dated from a 1980s City Council grant for tree planting. The barbed wire was erected to protect the trees from cows, but never removed, preventing open access to about 0.4 ha of greenspace for 30 years [a football pitch is 0.6 ha]. Open access as well as grazing on the common is a “commoner’s right” enjoyed by all Cambridge citizens.

Chris Smith, Chair of Friends of Coldhams Common, explained what had happened : “My dog Lucy had serious throat injuries from cutting herself on the fence, resulting in a vet bill of more than £300 for treatment. At least one other dog has had similar injuries, and the barbed wire was rusty and at the head height of a small child. This spurred us to take action.

Part of barbed wire fence on Coldhams Common

We spent in all at least three years with the council campaigning for its removal. Legal advice indicated that the council had no lawful authority to have the fence up and prevent open access to this land. Although the council were always very positive and friendly, there was prevarication and ultimately the spur to the fence removal was the threat of legal action and publicity by Cambridge Evening News. There is more illegal or derelict historic fencing on the common scheduled to come down, and at least two blocked footpaths we are working on.

Historically the common was seen as an extended park and became cluttered and sub-divided by fences; significant sections have been taken by council developments. Our vision is of a natural and beautiful protected open green space. As well as the barbed wire, we have worked with the council to remove derelict signs and tree cages, install dog poo bins, remove gates, and regularly mow grass paths to help access. Things are improving with City. We look forward to working with them in the next few months.

Paradoxically another mature area of tree planting, also scheduled for fencing removal after 30 years and to allow access, is proposed to be bulldozed to construct the Chisholm Trail by the county. We are determined to protect the natural beauty of the common as an open green space and prevent piecemeal loss.”

The new access to the woodland has been greeted positively by walkers on the common, many of whom – due to the fence – were not even aware that this area was public land.

Says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary: ‘We are delighted that this unlawful fencing has been removed. We congratulate the Friends of Coldhams Common for their persistence in achieving this fine result.’

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