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.

Coveney Church

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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The new OWLP Landscape Boundary

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As part of the development phase works we have reconsidered the boundary for the OWLP scheme area. This was included in the work done as part of the Landscape Character Assessment , commissioned by the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership to Sheils Flynn.

Redrawing the boundary

For our stage 1 submission, back in early 2012, the boundary drawn was still relatively simple. Not anymore. Following the recent finalisation of the Landscape Character Assessment for the OWLP area and the Landscape Conservation Action Plan as part of our stage 2 submission, I can now show you the final results of this work.

First of all, spot the differences:

A4_Boundary

Boundary as drawn for the OWLP’s stage 1 application, February 2012

337-LA-10 - Parish Boundaries

OWLP boundary as defined for the stage 2 submission, November 2013. Map created by Sheils Flynn for OWLP. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2013 – not to be reproduced.

In their comments on our stage 1 bid, the HLF considered the OWLP area boundary somewhat vague and arbitrary; despite numerous hours of discussion between partners had already gone into this.

A coherent landscape

A requirement for the stage 2 submission was, thus, to come up with a better described, understood and more coherent boundary. The new landscape boundary is based on careful consideration of a number of related factors:

  • The boundary surrounds a strongly coherent landscape. The vast majority of the OWLP landscape is below the 5 m contour line.This is a distinct landscape, with a unique history, linear waterways, significant wetlands and which plays an important role in food production, drainage and flood prevention.
  • The boundary is driven by the landscape using natural boundaries.
  • The boundary is understood by local people – as part of the community consultations held during the Audience & Access work, people were shown draft versions of the new map, to which people responded positively, as the boundary line follows local landscape features such as roads, drains and other, locally recognised landscape features.
  • The boundary reflects historic patterns of land use: the ‘territory’ associated with the Fen Isle villages, including for instance historic field patterns, droveways and outlying farmsteads, together describe historic patterns of land use and the present-day sense of community in this part of the Fens. Settlements developed on ‘islands’ of higher land in an otherwise expansive and historically marshy landscape. The most productive arable fields were concentrated on the more elevated, relatively well-drained land surrounding the villages, with pasture on seasonally water-logged meadows. The marshy fenlands, which covered vast areas of the Fen Basin, were an important economic resource, used for cutting peat, reeds and sedge and to provide a constant supply of wildfowl, fish and eels.
  • The boundary contains a relatively empty landscape, with a scatter of settlements on the areas of higher land on and around the edge; relatively well-drained soils fringe the low-lying fen that was the focus of the Ouse Washes drainage scheme. The settlements function as individual gateways to the central, lower landscape.
  • The boundary coincides with the historic road pattern: the alignment of roads and causewayed tracks connects the villages and forms a loose ring around the Ouse Washes.
  • The boundary contains an internationally significant wetland landscape: recent wetland and fen restoration projects and opportunities for new wetlands as part of the Great Ouse Wetland and Fens Wetland Vision projects contribute to the international value of the Ouse Washes and have the potential to provide superb opportunities for public access, recreation and environmental education.

Crossing multiple boundaries

The OWLP area covers two Counties (Cambridgeshire and Norfolk), five different Districts (Kings Lynn & West Norfolk BC, Fenland DC, East Cambridgeshire DC, Huntingdonshire DC and South Cambridgeshire DC) and no less than 29 Parishes.

In the process of redefining the boundary for the OWLP landscape, the total area increased from 199 km2 at the stage 1 bid to 243 km2 now, stretching for 48.5 km between Denver and Downham Market at the northern end and Fen Drayton and St Ives to its south.

The OWLP residents

The OWLP area contains 25 villages/settlements which are either fully or partially within, or directly abutting the area’s boundary:

  • In Norfolk these are Denver, Salters Lode, Fordham, Nordelph, Ten Mile Bank, Welney, Tipps End and Lakes End.
  • The Cambridgeshire settlements are Manea, Pymoor, Wardy Hill, Coveney, Witcham, Mepal, Sutton, Earith, Aldreth, Over, Swavesey, Fen Drayton, Holywell, Needingworth, Bluntisham, Colne and Somersham.
  • Close by are also the settlements of Hemingford Grey, Willingham, Haddenham and Little Downham (Cambridgeshire) and Hilgay (Norfolk).

The resident population of the LP area is 33,010. Outside the Ouse Washes LP area the neighbouring towns within a c10km zone are Downham Market, Littleport, Ely, Chatteris, March, St Ives, Huntingdon and Cambridge; they have a collective resident population of 236,688. The OWLP scheme’s delivery phase focuses on both the local residents and market town residents.

337-LA-001 - Location Map

Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area – Location Map. Map created by Sheils Flynn for OWLP. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2013 – not to be reproduced.

Click on the above map (X 2) to zoom in; the maps displayed here can also be viewed in our Resources section.

What do you think?

What do you think? Does this boundary indeed reflect local people’s perceptions of what makes a coherent landscape? Let me know your thoughts – click on the balloon at the top to leave a comment, or contact me directly. Thank you.

 

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Creating Cycle Networks

Heritage Lottery FundWhat do the Ouse Washes, the East Cambridgeshire landscape and Bradley Wiggins have in common? The last one probably gave it away: the relative flatness of the East Cambs landscape makes this – at least in theory – ideal cycling countryside. Since last year’s Tour and Olympic Games and certainly with the weather turning for the better recently, more and more people have been getting out on their bikes.

Ely Cycling Campaign

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Ely Cycling Campaign logo. A partner in the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership

Ely Cycling Campaign is one of the organisations active in our wider partner forum. Despite its name, it focuses on campaigning for better cycling facilities not just for Ely but also for most of East Cambridgeshire district. As such, this also includes a significant part of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership landscape area.

Before I go on, I’d better first declare an interest here. Born in The Netherlands, I could probably cycle before I could run; Living in Ely, I thus also naturally joined the Ely Cycling Campaign as a member when some people set up this organisation over a year ago.

Strategy & Cycling Network

OK, got that out of the way. So, what does the Ely Cycling Campaign have to do with the Ouse Washes? Well, the organisation has recently published an ingenious and well-thought out strategy setting out a vision for East Cambridgeshire for cycling as a safe, enjoyable, and practical way of travelling; this strategy does explain, for instance, the types of cycle infrastructure needed for the area to help encourage more people and a wider range of people to take up cycling.

The full Cycling Strategy can be downloaded here: Ely-Cycling-Strategy-v1-Feb-2013

The Ely Cycling Campaign’s Strategy also includes an interactive map showing the ideal future cycle network. In reality, many of the lines drawn on this cycle network are currently still unsafe or even a dream. But already it has won over councillors and other people with an interest in planning: the cycle network may well guide future planning of road changes in and around Ely.

cycling network region East Cambs

Ely Cycling Strategy’s proposed cycle network for the East Cambridgeshire District. Use the link above for the interactive version.

Cycle Links with the Ouse Washes area

One of the many crucial links the Ely Cycling Campaign is campaigning for is the creation of a safe, direct, connected and segregated route between Ely and Mepal. As it happens, most of this route is already as a separate path next to the A142. There are, however, a couple of dilapidated stretches and some dangerous points along the route and – crucially – a small section is missing between Wentworth bus stop and Witcham Toll. Furthermore, there are some issues in particular with the crossings with major roads at various locations, such as those shown in the below pictures:

Cycle links within the Ouse Washes area

As you can see in the above cycle network, the Ely Cycling Campaign is also campaigning for an improved off-road cycle route between Mepal and Bates’ Drove at the border with Norfolk further north, along the Ouse Washes itself, thus also linking up with the Welney Wetland Centre. This is already a bridleway at the moment, but could be improved to make it better for cycling, to ensure that more people can enjoy the countryside in a sustainable way.

National Cycle route links

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Part of National Cycle Network Route 11 –
between Ely and Downham Market, via Welney Wetland Centre. Source: www.cyclestreets.net

The national cycle routes 11 and 51 do also cross through the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area. See also this previous post for part of the 51 route through Fen Drayton lakes.

Otherwise, there are surprisingly few cycle routes within the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area as a whole.

A characteristic feature of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area is that there are relatively few access points and limited public access opportunities. This has also previously been discussed in this post, and is being investigated and addressed through our Audience and Access planning work.

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Part of National Cycle Network Route 51 -between Cambridge and St Ives, via the Guided Busway. Source: www.cyclestreets.net

Nevertheless, there are some good national resources where you can find other cycle routes for the area:

Coveney habitat creation scheme: new opportunities for public access

Only a couple of weeks ago, the Environment Agency put in a planning application for the first stage of the Coveney habitat creation scheme; the plans are now out for consultation and can be found here:

http://pa.eastcambs.gov.uk/online-applications [Then type in ‘Coveney’ in the search box and it will come on at the top of the list].

An Environment Agency leaflet also gives some information about this  pic.twitter.com/aY8Bbflv94.

The scheme will see the creation of c180 hectares of new wetland, generated from former farmland.

The main aim is to address the ecological deterioration of the nearby Ouse Washes with the impact of that deterioration on the breeding waders and wintering wigeon. The Coveney scheme will provide wet grassland habitat to offset the deterioration of the Ouse Washes, thereby helping the Government’s legal obligation to address this issue. See some more on the issue of the Ouse Washes’ deterioration in this previous post.

New Green Space provision for growing population

With East Cambridgeshire having one of the fastest growing population nationally, and 2,500 new houses planned for Ely alone, there clearly is a need for further Green Space provision for local people. The new habitat creation scheme at Coveney does provide one, easily accessible area which – with the Ely Cycling Network outlined above – can also be reached by non-motorised transport means.

I will keep you informed of further developments in the area.