Children from two local schools exchanged textbooks for spades when they helped the University of Cambridge to plant a new native woodland on the outskirts of the city.

The 800 Wood has been planted on former arable land owned by the University farm near Madingley village to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the University of Cambridge next year.

The 10ha new native woodland has been planted to join up with Madingley Wood, an ancient woodland designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. With over 15,000 trees planted, it is the largest planting project ever undertaken by the University.

Britain is one of the least wooded countries in Europe, with 2.7 million hectares covering 11% of the land area, while Cambridgeshire is one of the least wooded areas in the UK.

The Local Habitat Action Plan for the county aims for the creation of 20ha of new woodlands by 2010 to link up ancient woodland clusters. This new woodland contributes 50% towards that target.

Using grants from the Forestry Commission and the SITA Trust, 800 Wood has been planted with a variety of native tree species such as ash, oak and hazel, to reflect Madingley Wood SSSI.

A 20m width buffer zone between old and new has been fenced off from rabbits to encourage seeds fro the ancient stock to germinate.

A woodland path in the shape of a figure of eight runs through the new wood, to which the public will have access from next year. The woodland has been designed to retain views east across to Ely as the trees mature.

45 children from Madingley Preparatory School and St John’s College School were given a planting demonstration by forestry experts Lockhart Garratt, followed by a discussion about the positive environmental benefits the woodland will bring. The children then planted 120 oak and ash trees and attached wooden name tags to their trees.

Michael Bienias, Director of the University’s Estate Management and Building Service, who joined St John’s College School pupils on their visit said: “This is a very important project for the University and the whole Cambridge community.

“It is great that local children have been able to join us to plant some of these trees and help make a real improvement to the Cambridge natural environment, which many future generations will be able to enjoy.”

A Community Day of celebrations is planned for next year in 800 Wood as part of the University’s programme of events to mark the University’s foundation in 1209.

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