Conservation outcry over Cambridge University boat club plans

Melanie Etherton - News Reporter 25 April 2013

Cambridge University’s boat clubs have recently submitted a joint plan to build a new University Boathouse at Ely. Yet the planned development, which would provide a new permanent base for both the Men’s and Women’s University Boat Clubs, has come under fire from conservationists.

Currently, the plans for the two-story boathouse at Fore Mill Wash on the River Ouse incorporate both wet and dry docks for storing a fleet of nearly seventy boats of various sizes both on and off the river. Facilities such as dormitories, a boat workshop, training rooms, changing rooms, and parking would also be included.

The boathouse would enable Cambridge’s rowers to gain maximum benefit from a river described by Mr Pryce-Jones, the Executive Secretary of Cambridge University Boat Club (CUBC) as “the best rowing training river in the UK”.Pryce-Jones described Cambridge’s current facilities as “inadequate and temporary”, describing the current facilities as a “cramped and dilapidated tin shed with inadequate heating, rest and recreation, and gymnasium space”.

However, the location of the boathouse has come under strong criticism from environmental organisations including The Wildlife Trust, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Natural England.It is feared any development at the site, located within a County Wildlife Site and directly adjacent to two Sites of Special Scientific Interest, would have a significant adverse impact on the many rare species of wildlife such as otters and bitterns.

Wildlife Trust Conservation Manager Martin Baker commented to the Ely Standard that: “The new Cambridge University boathouse could hardly have been proposed in a more sensitive location for wildlife along the Ely stretch of the River Great Ouse. We advised the University boat club last year that it was the wrong location for their new development, but unfortunately they have ignored us as well as other local opinions, and seem intent on putting the interests of one boat race a year ahead of valuing the local environment.”

Yet Pryce-Jones asserted that CUBC has, throughout the design process, “consulted and worked with each and every statutory and voluntary body involved in the local community and environment”.He added that the University conducted “two years of exhaustive research” before deciding on the proposed site and that the club has “modified and refined its plans as required to take account of local conditions and concerns”.

However, this view is contrary to that of Dr Mark Avery, the former Conservation Director of the RSPB commented to The Cambridge Student that: “We always put ourselves first – and nature always suffers. It’s a one-way street and we need to find a better way.”

Melanie Etherton – News Reporter