PAXTON Pits Nature Reserve could be extended to an area nearly three times its size over the next 10 years. The area already attracts 120,000 people each year from across the country and has become famous for birds including its 29 singing nightingales an

How it will be developed by 2016

PAXTON Pits Nature Reserve could be extended to an area nearly three times its size over the next 10 years.

The area already attracts 120,000 people each year from across the country and has become famous for birds including its 29 singing nightingales and winter wild fowl.

The planned extension - to more than 700 acres - would create an even more inviting home for wildlife and birds. It would be open free to the public at no expense to Huntingdonshire District Council for the first 11 years.

The reserve, now 240 acres, is on land previously used for gravel extraction by the company Aggregate Industries.

By 2016, the company will have excavated the rest of the land and - as agreed as part of its planning permission - it will release this land, too, as a public space and manage it at its own expense until 2021.

Before the expansion can go ahead, it must be agreed formally by HDC, which is responsible for the site, and could also take over the cost of running it after 2021. Cambridgeshire County Council has agreed in principle.

District council officers have recommended that the expansion is given the go-ahead when it comes up on the council's cabinet agenda tomorrow (Thursday).

The site would include 29 kilometres of footpaths, bridleways and cycleways possibly with cycle hire like the one at Grafham Water.

Pat Knight, countryside services manager for HDC, said the area would provide reed beds, wet woodlands and deltas, which would attract birds including avocets, lapwings and redshanks.

He said: "Wildlife is incredibly popular. When we held the British Bird Fair at Paxton Pits from August 18-20, people flocked in from Yorkshire and Derbyshire. At the district council stall, we had visits from 1,300 people."

Mr Knight said the expansion would take place in phases as the excavations were finished.

The land is owned jointly by Oxford University Chest and Thornhill Settled Estate which would offer the district council a long lease. It is believed it could be funded after 2021 by government grants for health and leisure.

INFORMATION: The Friends of Paxton Pits has 1,800 members and is one of the biggest wildlife support groups in Britain.

To find out more visit www.paxton-pits.org.uk