PAXTON Pits are to be almost tripled in size to become one of Cambridgeshire's biggest nature reserves by 2016. The go-ahead was given at Huntingdonshire District Council's cabinet meeting last Tuesday (September 5) to extend the 240- acre nature reserve in Little Paxton to over 700 acres. Chairman of the Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve, Ray Matthews, said: "We have been working on this project for four years and we are delighted with Huntingdonshire District Council's decision to take on the management of the extension of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve. "We can look forward to Paxton Pits becoming a major regional and national attraction, benefiting both people and wildlife." Paxton Pits Nature Reserve attracts 120,000 people a year and is nationally famous for the birds that visit there. It has the largest proportion of nightingales in Cambridgeshire, attracting 28 singing males in the past four years. It is hoped the extension, which will include a 24-hectare reed bed, will attract more nationally rare birds, such as the bittern. Once the extension is complete, the nature reserve and the adjoining land will provide a complex of lakes and public open spaces covering the area between the River Great Ouse and the A1 stretching from Little Paxton to Diddington. Councillor Jean Chandler, responsible for leisure, said: "I think it will be absolutely wonderful. The Friends of Paxton Pits have 1,800 members and for them the extension will be like their Christmas and birthdays have come at once." The plan is for Aggregate Industries UK to extend the gravel extraction in the area of the reserve and then the site will be turned into an extension of the reserve. The planning agreement includes the provision of \u00A3180,000 to cover staffing costs until 2012, \u00A320,000 for materials to build facilities such as car parks and about 20 miles of footpaths, bridle paths and cycleways. Agricultural grants, the sale of franchises in areas such as cycle hire, and fundraising by Friends of Paxton Pits will help provide future income for the reserve. It has also been suggested that Paxton Pits will have branded merchandise after 2012 to help pay for staffing costs. The nature reserve is staffed by two full-time rangers and 150 active volunteers. Work can only start on the extension when Cambridgeshire County Council has agreed to the section 106 (planning) agreement with the developers.