Open Farm Sunday 8th June 2014


A timely piece from the National Farmers Union (NFU) about school children wanting to visit farms leads us nicely into Open Farm Sundays (8th June 2014) in the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area and the wider Fens: 

Open Farm Sunday Park Farm, Thorney


Check out Hainey Farm, Barway –; Cornerways Lane, Wissington –; Redmoor Fruit Farm, Wisbech –; Manea School of Gardening, Manea –; Park Farm, Thorney – 



It’s all about the honey honey honey

Charmed and thrilled to find this source of local honey, both for my palate and to ease any hay fever symptoms.  It all goes to show that local is best! Robert sells his honey at the door (close to Manea station, park with caution) and I found him buzzing (sorry) around in his workshop whilst a few stray bees kept him company from the garden.Honey for sale near Manea station sign crop
He showed me some of last years ‘rapeseed’ honey and noted that my purchased jar (it’s cheaper if you take the jar back, very sustainable) perhaps contained garden wildflower nectar in addition to that from the local fields.  It tastes just lovely and gave me a good excuse to pop into a B&B in Welney ( to introduce myself and talk local produce and the all important breakfast offer… mmm

Though Welney WWT reserve does sell excellent Norfolk honey so perhaps this is a county divide issue? I would love to see Ouse Washes branded honey in the future – what do you reckon?

Just the honey jar crop

Hello from Abby!

LogosHaving been in post for a whole 3 days now a “Hello” from me is now long overdue! I am thrilled to be working as Countryside Engagement Officer for the Ouse Washes as part of this lottery funded landscape initiative and will be blogging regularly from now on – do feel free to get in touch with positive (and negative!) thoughts and opinions on my blog…

My most relevant work experience relates to my time as Community and Biodiversity Project Officer in the Brecks Natural Area where I was based in Thetford, Norfolk where I still live with my family (two teenage girls of great skill and wonder), husband (see before) and changing array of time consuming pets!  The Brecks echoes the Ouse Washes in its lack of national landscape designation (both a blessing and a curse depending on your role in this living breathing landscape) which can mean that it’s diversity and appeal can go underappreciated.  In the Brecks we had pine – lines whilst the Washes is all about the water, I hope you like the logo as much as I do?

I have lived and worked in London, Hull, Dorset, Hertfordshire, the Isles of Scilly (30 miles off Cornwall and never referred to as the Scilly Isles BTW), Greece and India so am used to “not being from around here” though I am keen to learn more about the area and to understand the needs, interests and any sore points as much as possible.

Within the team my main responsibilities revolve around communications, events and the media with the fantastic ‘washes wide’ Festival Fortnight in preparation for July/ August 2015.  Look out for Mark and myself at local events and do get in touch if you have got the creative bug (and want to donate some of your precious time?) or have any ideas about how we can best communicate about upcoming events (online? newspaper? posters? loudhailers?), input always welcome…that’s all for now but here is a photo of me to aid my identification!ASV intro photo

New LEADER programme for Cambridgeshire Fens – come and have your say


Those who live and work in the Cambridgeshire Fens LEADER area will have the strongest knowledge of challenges that need to be addressed in the local rural economy.

As such, Cambridgeshire ACRE is keen to involve local people, organisations and businesses in planning the Local Development Strategy for the 2014 – 2020 LEADER programme.

New Picture (17) We want people who might benefit from this funding to join us to explore the opportunity further and to contribute ideas to shape our bid, so that it reflects what the local rural economy really needs. To this end we are holding three workshops in June:

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Project part-funded by the Fens Adventurers LEADER programme

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Project part-funded by the Fens Adventurers LEADER programme

For those involved in farming, micro enterprise or small business:
Tuesday 3 June 2014, 3.30pm – 6.00pm
Lakeside Lodge, Fen Road, Pidley, Huntingdon, PE28 3DF

For those involved in tourism, cultural and heritage activities:
Tuesday 10 June 2014, 5.30pm – 8.00pm
Oliver Cromwell Hotel, High Street, March, PE15 9LH

For those involved in rural services and village renewal:
Tuesday 17 June 2014, 3.30pm – 6.00pm
E-Space North, 181 Wisbech Road, Littleport, CB6 1RA

To book a place at one or more of these workshops download the full Invitation below and follow the link to the booking form:

Cambridgeshire Fens LEADER Invitation

Cambridgeshire Fens LEADER Workshop Programme


To find out more about the previous, very successful Fens Adventurers LEADER programme, see: A total of 66, all very different projects were part-financed with LEADER funding in the previous period which ended in December 2013 ; see for some case studies.

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Funding for Local Farmers: Apply Now


DEFRA recently announced the launch of a third round of the Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme (FFIS), the government grant scheme for farming and forestry businesses.

FFIS scheme: Helping Farming and Forestry become more resilient

The FFIS scheme is administered through the RDPE (Rural Development Programme for England) network, to help farming, forestry and horticultural businesses to become more efficient at using resources: the scheme aims to help businesses to become more profitable, competitive and resilient, whilst reducing the impact of farming on the environment.

CaptureOver the previous two FFIS rounds DEFRA awarded grants totalling almost £19m to over 2200 applicants.

Through the third round DEFRA expects to award grants in excess of £10m.

Who can apply?

Farmers, foresters, contractors, woodland owners and horticulturalists across England are eligible to apply, for grants of up to £35,000

The Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme funds projects that:

  • save energy and reduce carbon emissions;
  • reduce dependence on artificial fertilizers through better use of manures;
  • improve soil quality;
  • improve animal health and welfare;
  • save and recycle water; and
  • promote woodland management by processing timber more efficiently.

How to apply?

The third round of the FFIS scheme will close on Friday 4 April 2014. Unlike previous rounds, DEFRA will start processing applications as soon as they arrive. Therefore you are strongly advised to apply as soon as you can.

For more information about the FFIS scheme and to download the guidance and an application form visit this site.

You can also download the FFIS leaflet here: Final PDF Flyer

For information about other DEFRA funding opportunities, look here

World Wetlands Day – family fun at WWT Welney

LogosIt is nearly World Wetlands Day!

2014 is the UN International Year of Family Farming – to link in with this, the Ramsar Convention chose Wetlands & Agriculture as its World Wetlands Day 2014 theme. The slogan is: “Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth”, placing a focus on the need for the wetland and agricultural sectors (and the water sector too of course) to work together for the best shared outcomes.

Wetlands are often intimately linked with agriculture. No more so perhaps than in the Fens. Wetlands have often been seen as a barrier to agriculture, and they continue to be drained and reclaimed to make farming land available. But the essential role of wetlands in support of agriculture is becoming clearer and clearer, and there are successful agricultural practices which support healthy wetlands.

The surrounding agricultural land is also of immense importance for the species living on the wetlands. See for instance a beautiful image of swans in the surrounding fields near Welney – they feed on the sugar beet stubble:

To celebrate what is so special about wetlands, why we need them and how agriculture is intimately linked to them, WWT Welney Centre has a family fun packed day of events lined up this Sunday, 2nd February. Activities include:

  • bird ringing demonstration
  • owl pellet dissection
  • guided walks
  • swan feeds: Watch a commentated wild swan feed at 12, 3.30pm or 6.30pm to find out about why the relationship between farmland and wetlands is so important for our winter visitors
  • and more

For the full programme, see:

More information can also be found here:

sunset at Welney @sailorgirl1984

Sunset at Welney, January 2014. Image from: @sailorgirl1984

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Swans – © Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust 2013

OWLP Ditch Biodiversity Survey: Results

LogosAs part of the series of consultancy works we commissioned in 2013, extensive fieldwork has been carried out by two specialist consultants to define the biodiversity value of the ditches in the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area (OWLP). The results of this work have been surprising and very useful.

OWLP’s ditches: key to area’s character, but poorly known

In the OWLP’s largely arable landscape there are numerous ditches; these form a key element of the area’s character. The ditches often have their own unique biodiversity, but their ecology is generally poorly understood. A survey was commissioned by the OWLP during the development phase and this was carried out by aquatic plant and invertebrate specialists Jonathan Graham and Martin Hammond. They investigated ditches from the Internal Drainage Boards (IDB) and field drains for their biodiversity value. To determine the conservation value of the OWLP ditches aquatic plant species were recorded; due to the sensitivity of invertebrates to water quality, aquatic Coleoptera were also chosen for this purpose.

Many rare species found

This work highlighted that the ditches in the agricultural zones of the area harbour a wide variety of species and include a very good number of important aquatic plant species; the OWLP ditches also support many nationally scarce and near threatened aquatic Coleoptera species. The consultants found that the biodiversity richness in some parts of the OWLP area is comparable to that of the SSSIs in the area.

Across 100 sample points, a grand total of 109 drain plants, 110 bank plants and 101 water beetles were recorded. Amongst the finds were many species of conservation concern; amongst these were: 2 Near Threatened, 3 Vulnerable and 1 Nationally Scarce plant species whilst water beetles included 4 listed as Near Threatened and 14 categorised as Nationally Scarce. Ditches in the study area are shown to provide an important habitat for several species of aquatic Coleoptera which have their British stronghold in the Fens such as Agabus undulatus, Hydrochus crenatus, Oulimnius major and O. rivularis.

Dytiscus dimidiatus

Dytiscus dimidiatus. Image: Jonathan Graham & Martin Hammond, for OWLP.

Agabus undulatus

Agabus undulates, a diving beetle (Dytiscidae); GB status: Near Threatened. Image: Jonathan Graham & Martin Hammond, for OWLP.

Observed differences between Internal Drainage Boards

The Internal Drainage Board (IDB) Districts of Over & Willingham IDB, Bluntisham IDB, Haddenham Level Commissioners IDB, Sutton & Mepal IDB, Manea IDB and Upwell IDB were surveyed. All 6 surveyed IDB areas had drains with quality ditch plant and Coleoptera indicator species, but ditches associated with gravel beds (within the Over & Willingham, Bluntisham, Haddenham and Sutton & Mepal IDB districts) were found to be of particular importance. Overall, two districts (Haddenham and Sutton & Mepal) had a considerable higher proportion of drains of high ecological value.

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This figure shows the mean number of quality ditch plant and aquatic Coleoptera indicator species per IDB area for all sample points. B = Bluntisham IDB; U = Upwell IDB; M = Manea & Welney IDB; O = Over & Willingham IDB; S = Sutton & Mepal IDB; H = Haddenham IDB. Source: Interim report Jonathan Graham and Martin Hammond, Sept. 2013.

Spined Loach

Spined loach, Cobitis taenia, is a European protected species; this one was accidently netted whilst sampling ditch Coleoptera. Image: Jonathan Graham & Martin Hammond, for OWLP.

Other noteworthy fauna

Ouse Washes LP area drains are also shown to be important for other noteworthy fauna: the Common Frog, Common Toad, Smooth Newt, dragonflies and BAP species such as Water Vole and Spined Loach were also seen within the ditches whilst sampling.

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One of the biodiversity-rich ditches in the OWLP area. Dominant stands of Myriophyllum verticillatum associated with Potamogeton trichoides and Sagittaria sagittifolia in open water of IDB drain. Image: Jonathan Graham & Martin Hammond, for OWLP.

Correlations between ditch types and ecological richness

The research has provided indications that there may be correlations between ecologically rich drains (based on number of quality indicator ditch plant and Coleoptera species) and larger drains (between 3 and 5.5m), and between ecologically rich drains and early successional stage drains (those with open water and good light penetration).

Both factors (larger ditches between 3 and 5.5m; early successional stage with open water and good light penetration) may also be directly linked to intensity of management. The majority of the high conservation value drains are IDB controlled and their management involves regular weed clearance (often annually), mild scraping of the bed (often annually as part of dredging works or as part of weed removal) and controlling of high water levels during the summer months (principally associated with agricultural irrigation of crops such as potatoes and beans).

There is a strong correlation between number of ditch plant quality indicator species and number of water beetle quality indicator species, although it is important to note that some  important water beetle species were recorded in ditches without good plant assemblages. Whilst the species-richness and quality of the wetland plant assemblage is evidently closely linked to management, water beetle communities are more likely to reflect the quality of vegetation structure. For open water species such as whirligigs, algivorous water beetles and larger diving beetles, regular management will be important in maintaining varied and structurally-complex aquatic vegetation. Many other taxa are, however, associated with the edges of the channel and depend more on the maintenance of refugia amongst the emergent fringe.

What next?

The work has identified biodiversity ‘hotspots’ in the area; these can now be targeted through wildlife friendly farming initiatives. The work has also outlined possible links of biodiversity richness with certain types of ditch management.

If the OWLP’s stage 2 submission will be granted, the research will be continued this year. The above correlations will be verified and further refined through further research in the remaining IDBs to the east of the Ouse Washes. this fieldwork is planned for the summer of 2014.

Following that research, a final report will combine the results of the 2013 and 2014 research and clear recommendations for management of the ditches.

This will be followed by targeted training sessions in 2015 and 2016 for staff at IDBs, landowners and farmers in the area, thereby ensuring that those who are responsible for the management of these ditches on a day-to-day basis will be provided with the latest information on best-practice management to conserve the unique fauna and flora of the ditches of the OWLP area.


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