The new Ouse Washes LP Website is Live!!

Today is a very exciting day as we are finally able to share our new website with the world!

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Website screen capture home page 18 12 2014

Please pass on the message to others: www.ousewashes.org.uk

 

This website is intended to be a ‘one-stop shop’ for local people and visitors to explore the Ouse Washes Landscape:

  • Explore the Ouse Washes LP area’s tourist attractions, nature reserves and museums in more detail through our interactive Explore map;
  • Find out what’s going on in the area through our What’s on section;
  • Find out how you can get involved through our projects, events and our volunteering options in our Get Involved section
  • Find out what makes the Ouse Washes LP area special, by reading through our Discover section;
  • The Ouse News is our old WordPress blog incorporated in this new website – keep up to date of all new events, project development and information about the area though this newsreel
  • And a lot more – go on, find out for yourself!

 

Do let us know what you think about the new website – we want this to be useful for you, so please help us make things better – drop us a line through the Contact section.

 

Happy reading!

 

Press release: Press release_New website for Ouse Washes Landscape now live!

Denver Sluice Complex, one of the key hubs in the Ouse Washes Landscape area. Image: Kite Aerial Photography by Bill Blake Heritage Documentation

Denver Sluice Complex, one of the key hubs in the Ouse Washes Landscape area. Image: Kite Aerial Photography by Bill Blake Heritage Documentation

 

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Swan in Sixty Seconds

This blog post I just stumbled upon really summarises the fantastic swan & bird experience you can have at WWT Welney Reserve this time of year.

Fifty-Two Weeks of Things With Beaks

On the way home from my weekend in Norfolk (Did I mention I’d been to Norfolk??), I decided to pop into the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Welney, situated on the Ouse Washes.  The Washes are the largest area of frequently flooded grazing marsh in Britain and are internationally important for wildfowl.

The purpose of my visit was two-fold: to provide me with a mid-morning tea stop and toilet break and, hopefully, enable me to tick off two new bird species for my 2014 bird list –Whooper and Bewick’s Swans.  Tea, toilet and swans…  Is that three-fold?  Never mind.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) is a conservation charity, founded in 1946 by Sir Peter Scott – a celebrated ornithologist, artist, one-time Olympic medallist and only child of Antarctic explorer Robert Scott.  He also designed the original panda logo for the World Wildlife Fund.  Quite a talented…

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Free Swan Researcher Workshops with WWT Welney

logosWould you like to become a trained volunteer with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust? Look no further!

 

As part of the WWT Welney Wetlands Centre’s project within the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnerships scheme, called ‘Species Identification & Monitoring’, a series of workshops are now being organised so that you can also become a trained swan researcher – join the WWT Welney at 21 or 22 November:

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Or download the poster here: Swan ring reading workshop 1

 

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Invasives non-native species – how to ID and control

logosOn Friday, a packed room of participants came together in March to learn about identifying and controlling non-native invasive water plants.

This was a very good event, judging from the numerous positive responses heard by my colleague Abby and myself, both of us attending this event to up our own skills and to meet a range of stakeholders.

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Consultant botanist Jonathan Graham in July 2014 during fieldwork in local ditches near WWT Welney reserve as part of the OWLP’s ‘Ditch Management to the East of the Ouse Washes’ project; using his grappling hook to collect plant samples. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE for OWLP.

This event was made possible through the Heritage Lottery Fund grant money for one of the 25 projects within the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme, the ‘Ditch Management to the East of the Ouse Washes’ project. Following successful fieldwork carried out by Jonathan Graham (consultant botanist) and Martin Hammond (consultant aquatic invertebrate specialist), Jonathan Graham, together with Cliff Carson (Environmental Officer, Middle Level Commissioners) delivered this exiting training half-day event.

After an introduction about invasive species, and a differentiation between ‘non-native’ and ‘invasive’ species (‘invasives’ being ‘non-natives which have a tendency to spread and pose a threat to the environment and/or human health), we continued with an overview of the mist important invasive water plants to look out for.

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Packed room during Friday’s event; Cliff Carson, Middle Level Commissioners, setting the scene for the day. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE for OWLP.

The top five ‘hazardous species’ (some of which are already wide-spread, some still only locally present) are [click on links to get to relevant description pages on www.nonnativespecies.org – note: click on ‘link to ID sheet’ for handy pdfs for each species]:

  1. Floating Pennywort
  2. New Zealand Pigmyweed
  3. Parrot’s Feather
  4. Floating & Water Primrose
  5. Water Fern

With examples on each table of these species, as well as native species with which they could be confused, we then all went to learn to identify these, with the help of several specialists walking around the room  (including both speakers as well as Charles Turner, Research Associate Quaternary Palaeoecology, for the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge).

A range of very useful handouts also passed on the day; these include:

 

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Jonathan Graham helping with ID of specimens, both native and non-native invasive water plants. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE for OWLP.

 

This workshop/ training event was a very practical approach to finding out what is there and how to identify the non-natives; plus guidance how to avoid mis-recording (e.g., some similar-looking rare fen specialist plants that could be confusing).

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A range of plant specimens and ID guides on each table during last week’s event. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE for OWLP.

 

The event was attended by a wide range of people, including staff from Internal Drainage Boards, Middle Level Commissioners, Natural England, several conservation organisations as well as representatives of various local community groups. Some of the abundant positive feedback we received from participants:

“Good to have some training, much better than just looking at books or cards”

 ” It always opens your eyes when you are shown what to look out for!”

“Session invaluable, very useful to see plants up close”

” The various methods of control were compared, contrasted and explained”

“Excellent idea for promoting and sharing knowledge of invasive plants”

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Torn asunder – The Fenland Parish of Coveney

LogosThe Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership (OWLP) area is fully of fascinating local stories, the ‘hidden heritage’ of local community stories.

The following was kindly provided to me a while ago by Rev. Peter Taylor, who is Honorary Priest-in-charge of Coveney and Rural Dean of Ely; he represents the Diocese of Ely on the OWLP Board.

Coveney’s church

Coveney is typical of many fen edge and fen island parishes. The high ground of the island has provided the location for the main settlement and year-round agriculture, and which was combined with a hinterland of fen marshland.

The church was built on the highest point of the island. Originally a simple rectangular structure erected in first half of the 13th century, a porch and the first two stages of the tower were added during the following century. The tower was completed in the 15th century and no further significant changes took place for 400 years.

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The Church of St Peter ad Vincula, Coveney. Image reproduced with kind permission from Rev. Peter Taylor.

Manea was part of the Coveney parish

The fen hinterland extended some 5 miles northwards to include the low-lying island of Manea. Initially, this land was not reliably dry all year round, but did provide valuable summer grazing. Gradually, with lowering sea levels and some improvement in drainage, a small settlement became established.

Communication was straightforward. A waterway ran from the edge of Coveney island to Downham Hythe. From there, the Ox Lode crossed the fen to Manea before linking up with other waterways around Chatteris.

The ambitious drainage schemes of the 17th century cared nothing for such ancient water highways. The digging of the two Bedford Rivers severed the Ox Lode rendering it useless and cut the ancient parish of Coveney in half.

Revd Richard Taylor’s 1830 diary

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Revd. Richard Taylor. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Taylor_(missionary)

 Something of the inconvenience this caused can be gleaned from the journal of the Revd Richard Taylor who was Curate of Coveney in the 1830s. He records frequent journeys to minister to his parishioners in Manea which involved crossing the New Bedford river by boat, walking half a mile across the washes, crossing the Old Bedford river and then walking a further two miles to Manea.

 

 

 

 

Returning on one occasion late in the evening, he discovered the ferryman had gone to bed and spent almost an hour trying to raise him from the far bank. Then as now, the washes were frequently flooded and in February 1833 Taylor records taking a funeral in Manea and finding the water in the washes more than 3 feet deep at the shallowest point. That, together with the wind ‘rendered the passage very stormy’.

Going down under

Richard Taylor left Coveney in 1836 to go as a missionary to New Zealand where he was subsequently involved in drawing up the Treaty of Waitangi. To find out more about Richard Taylor’s involvement down under, see http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t22/taylor-richard

He had been a strong advocate for separate pastoral provision for the two halves of Coveney parish. Eventually, with the break up of the ancient manorial estates in 1883, Manea became a parish in its own right thus formalising the division which the Ouse Washes had created some two centuries earlier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ouse Flooding: then and now

LogosComing back from a meeting in Peterborough earlier this week I crossed the Ouse Washes by rail, one of my favourite train journeys through the Fens.

Railway Bridge alongside Wash Road near Welney Reserve

Railway Bridge across the Ouse Washes. Source: http://keeppushingthosepedals.blogspot.co.uk/2010_11_01_archive.html

Best view over the Ouse Washes

By the way, the railway bridge over the Ouse Washes is quite an engineering feat in itself, spanning the Ouse Washes across one of the widest parts of the washes.

The bridge, rail line and surrounds have also been very creatively captured from the air by Bill Blake, one of the OWLP’s key partners. See for instance this image (https://www.flickr.com/photos/bblakecambridge/4101910909/in/set-72157622615800075/), or see more images within Bill Blake’s Flickr Ouse Washes photo stream.

The rail line between Ely and Peterborough opened in the late 1840s. For further historic information and some good historic images of the rail crossing, see Eddy Edwards’ research page on the Ouse Washes’ crossings, at http://www.ousewashes.info/crossings/bridges-and-causeways.htm.

By all means, also look at Eddy’s excellent slide show of the historic and modern elements of the Ouse Washes’ rail crossing: http://www.ousewashes.info/slideshows/railway.htm

Flood waters in Ouse Washes are receding

Back to the title of this blog post: as local people will certainly be aware of by now, the water within the Ouse Washes has been receding lately and the causeways at Welney and Sutton Gault are now open again.

This part of the UK has been lucky – although here we have received well-above average rainfall since Christmas, it has not been as bad as in the south-west. Also, the Ouse Washes, although not far off its maximum capacity, have proven to still function as intended over 350 years ago.

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Of course, there is no reason to be complacent, as some, localised flooding has indeed occurred along the Great Ouse further upstream and it would certainly have been a lot worse had we received the same amount of water as the southwest.

Despite the fact that the water on the Ouse Washes are receding, there nevertheless still is a fair amount of water on the washes, as these pictures I took from the train make clear.

Flooding now: multiple arguments

With all the discussions lately about the causes of flooding in the nation and how to prevent this in the future, a fair number of arguments have been thrown around over the last few weeks. I am not going into all of these now, but would like to highlight a few articles which show some of the arguments made:

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Proposed natural flood prevention measures. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25929644

Flooding then: same arguments?

Some people have been quick to blame others for the flooding, as we have seen over the last few weeks. Of course, there is no one single answer to these problems.

Looking at some historic flooding events in the Fens, most particularly the various flooding episodes in the Fens in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, similar arguments seem to have been used.

Below are two extracts from newspaper articles published around the time of the disastrous 1937 floods in the area: the arguments made are not much different from those made by some in the current flooding crisis (with special thanks to Mike Petty for providing me with these archival transcriptions):

Cambridge News, 23 March 1937:

The present flood conditions in the fens were raised in the House of Commons. A titanic struggle was going on between man and relentless nature. Children had been unable to go to school for months, housewives were marooned and unable to provide themselves with the necessities of life, crops had been destroyed bringing ruin to farmers and unemployment to farm workers. Half a million acres of the richest soil in the country were in daily peril during the winter. Much of the flooding had been caused to Government cuts in grants for land drainage, Arthur Greenwood declared

Cambridge News, 14 July 1937:

During recent floods the water in the Hundred Foot Washes had been held up causing great hardship to occupiers. Yet their drainage charges have greatly increased. The water is let into the Wash area through the Seven Holes Sluice at Earith. But Welmore Lake Sluice which had only been built about five years is unable to cope. The Hundred Foot should be dredged: at Littleport it was only 30 feet wide. Alternatively the water should be let through the Hermitage Sluice into the OldWestRiver and then out at Denver Sluice. But the washes were there for the express purpose of taking flood waters and grazing land was hired under those conditions. The problem is that rivers in the uplands have been cleared meaning water arrives in about a day, whereas it used to take a week.

How can you join the debate?

As part of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme, we are keen to get people together so that more people will understand better what the causes are behind the problems such as flooding episodes, and to find solutions to these where possible.

To start with, why not let us know what you think about the different arguments made above? Click on the ‘balloon’ to leave a comment; thank you.

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50th Swanniversary!

LogosThe Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) is celebrating its 50th Swanniversary!

This is the celebration of 50 years of successful research on the Bewick’s swans, one of the WWT’s iconic animals.

Sir Peter Scott’s great idea

The study started on 11 February 1964 when the conservationist Sir Peter Scott started painting the swans on the lake outside his window, close to the salt marshes near Slimbridge.

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Bust of Sir Peter Scott, founder of the WWT, at WWT Welney. Photograph: Cambridgeshire ACRE.

He noticed that the swans can be recognised individually as they each have a unique bill pattern of black and yellow markings. He meticulously recorded each swan that visited.

He appreciated that natural markings could be used as a powerful tool for the study of the migratory Bewick’s swans. Scott’s research has formed the basis for a very unique study which has grown into an important international population study in a collaboration that continues to this day.

As a result of the collaborative studies, the Nenetskiy National Nature Reserve in Russia, an important breeding area for the swans, was also given protected status in the 1990s.

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Unique bill patterns of Bewick’s Swans: original 1960s drawings as recorded by Sir Peter Scott. Source: https://www.wwt.org.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/bill-patterns.jpg

Even though more traditional tagging of the birds and – more recently – GPS tracking are also used in the study of the Bewick’s swans, the bill pattern recognition is still of utmost importance in this study – all down to Peter Scott’s original idea.

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Unique bill patterns of Bewick’s swans. Information panel at WWT Welney. Photograph: Cambridgeshire ACRE.

Swanniversary celebrations at WWT Welney Reserve

This Wednesday I was invited for a celebratory event at WWT Welney Reserve. Besides the delicious muffins in the WWT Welney café (do try them!) we were also treated with informative presentations from the WWT’s Chairman Sir George Russell; The Centre Manager at WWT Welney, Leigh Marshall; the Head of UK Waterbird Conservation, Eileen Rees; and Dafila Scott, WWT Vice President (who is Sir Peter Scott’s daughter). Dafila explored her personal memories of her childhood at Slimbridge, how she helped to paint and name dozens of swans, and her subsequent life-long interest in swan migrations and family patterns.

Recent changes at the WWT Welney Reserve

Leigh Marshall gave an overview of all the major, positive changes that the WWT Reserve has seen in just the last six years, since the new eco building was erected: two new hides, almost all footpaths having been resurfaced and made more accessible, and a dragonfly pond has been installed. In addition only in the last few years new land has been acquired to the east of the reserve centre: Lady Fen and Bank Farm, together accounting for c 200 ha of new wetland.

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Lady Fen to the east of WWT Wetland reserve centre, hugely important for swans and wader birds. Source: http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/welney/dont-miss/lady-fen-and-bank-farm/

Currently, works are taking place to convert the adjacent 100 ha of former farmland into wetland; a new hide is also planned. Although still very much developing, these new wetlands have already proven to be vital for such rare wader species as the Black-tailed gotwit of which 45 of the 50 UK breeding pairs breed at the Welney Washes [More about this great story in a separate post to come].

The future of the Bewick’s swans

Bewick’ swans numbers have gradually grown until they peaked in 1995 around 30,000 internationally. since then, there has been a rapid decline in numbers: currently there are only c18,000 Bewick’s swans left in the world.

In order to counteract this decline, international efforts have been stepped up: the last few years saw, for instance, the production of an international Bewick’s swan Action Plan which will be implemented over the next few years. This Action Plan has been drawn up with conservation colleague in numerous countries, including The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Russia, and was adopted by the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement in 2012. It is hoped that, through combined efforts, the population will reach healthy numbers again in the future: the aim is to halt the decline and maintain the population at 23,000 birds or above.

Changing weather patterns: lower numbers of Bewick’s swans at Welney

One of the changes that have been affecting the Bewick’s swans is the rapidly altering weather pattern we have been experiencing lately. With milder winters, fewer birds migrate all the way to the UK to overwinter, from their breeding grounds in Siberia.

As a result, this winter the lowest number of Bewick’s swans have been recorded at Slimbridge since 1965. At the Ouse Washes, where most of the UK Bewick’s swans congregate in the winter, this year has also seen a record-low number of c1,000 only whereas in a ‘normal’ year c5,000 turn up.

As a result of the internationally co-ordinated research we know that this winter many birds did not migrate any further than Germany: also The Netherlands, usually the last ‘stop’ before Bewick’s swans move on to the UK have seen record low numbers: whereas the Netherlands usually is host to 70% of the total Northwest European population they have only counted 4,800 Bewick’s swans this winter, down from the usual c13,000.

All of this may not be as bad as it seems: as the birds do not have to fly as much and do not experience harsh weather this winter, the birds are likely to remain stronger and thus, when back in Siberia in their breeding grounds, may actually turn out an above-average numbers of young. We will find out next year…

Further information

For further information about the Swanniversary, also see the following links:

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