Opportunities to view the 45 minute film called “Rich soil, rich heritage” all about the district and how it has been shaped by the many different people who have come here over the past 350 years.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
Ever since I heard stories about the Hovertrain at Earith I have been fascinated by the project, how it came about, what exactly is was and what happened to it. As Hidden heritage is one of our themes on the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership I thought I would do some research and tell the story. When I first looked on the internet several years ago when the Hovertrain was first mentioned to me there was very little information available, not even a single photograph. I am relieved to say that much more is available now including some really good film footage on YouTube.
So how did the project start?
Professor Eric Laithwaite was working at The University of Manchester and developed the Linear Induction Motor (LIM) whilst researching the field of Linear Motion. By 1961 he had built a small demonstration system consisting of a 20-foot-long (6.1 m) LIM reaction plate and a four-wheeled cart with a seat on top. In 1962 he started consulting with British Rail (BR) on the idea of using LIMs for high-speed trains. LIMs are basically stretched out electric motors, using the same principle of the interaction of magnetic fields repelling each other which rather than turning a motor propels a metal plate along. During this time a company called ‘Hovercraft Developments Ltd’ became interested in the concept of LIMs to propel high speed trains and built a test rig at Hythe, Kent in 1963.
Their concept was refined until in 1966 a scale model was demonstrated at ‘Hovershow 66’. While the Hovertrain was being developed, BR was running an extensive research project on the topic of high-speed wheeled trains at their newly opened British Rail Research Division in Derby, such a train could use existing rail infrastructure at lower speeds. BR’s thoughts at this time were turning away from the Hovertrain concept due to high costs but the development continued. In 1967 a company called Tracked Hovercraft Ltd (THL) was formed and was given a £1 million pound grant to develop a single prototype vehicle (RTV 31) and a short section of test track. It was at this point that Laithwaite left BR due to his frustration at the lack of funding and joined THL as a consultant. Interestingly during this period the French were also developing a similar concept called ‘The Aérotrain’, Laithwaite managed to secure another £2 million of funding at this point after persuading the government that they were about to lose out on the burgeoning field of high-speed transit!
Construction started on the test track in the early seventies with the first section of the track running from Earith to Sutton Gault, the original plan was to build 20 miles of track running all the way to Denver although funds only existed for the first 4 miles. Rising costs then limited this to just a 1 mile section. The track was a concrete box section about 1.8 metres above the ground. All that remains of the track today is the concrete foundations where the track ran across ‘The Gullet’
Ex-BR 3’0″ gauge ‘ED10′, a Ruston and Hornsby-built class ’48DS’ 4-wheel diesel mechanical (works No.411322 of 1958) along with two Rolls Royce-engined Austin Champs that were used as ‘prime movers’ and maintenance vehicles.
The original ‘hangar’ that housed the Research Test Vehicle 31 (RTV 31) Hovertrain is still at Earith and is now used by an engineering firm. RTV 31 went through several designs before its final version due to some problems with double sided LIM’s at high speed, it was decided to use single sided LIM’s. This led to another redesign of the Hovertrain guideway as a square box girder with the LIM stator attached flat on the top of the box, and the electrical pick-ups below on either side of it. Power pick-ups extended from the rear of the “wings” on either side of the vehicle, and the sparks they threw during operation are easily visible on test runs.
On 7th February 1973 RTV31 attained a speed of 104 mph on the 1 mile section of track with an 20 mph headwind. This was heavily publicised and footage was shown on the BBC news.
Beginning of the end
By the time construction had started on Tracked Hovercraft’s test track, British Rail was well advanced on their plans for the steel-wheeled Advanced Passenger Train (APT). The government found itself in the position of funding two different high-speed train systems whose proponents were quick to point out problems in the competing system. To gain some clarity, they formed an interdepartmental working party that studied several potential inter-city transit solutions on the London–Manchester and London–Glasgow routes. The options included buses, Advanced Passenger Train, Tracked Hovercraft, and VTOL and STOL aircraft. Their December 1971 report strongly favoured the APT. Another nail in the coffin for the Hovertrain was the development of Maglev technology, I could go on about the scientific and engineering differences but suffice to say that Maglev was deemed to be more efficient and cheaper! Only a week after the successful test run the project was cancelled by the government, Michael Heseltine who was the minister responsible at the time and stated that the project was too costly to continue and there was no prospect of a system being installed before 1985. Laithwaite tried to get funding to convert the test track to a testbed for his Maglev design but nothing ever came of it. Laithwaite’s work would eventually be used as the basis for the Birmingham Maglev, the first operational maglev system.
RTV 31 ended up being stored outside at Cranfield University for 20 years before being transferred to Railworld museum in Peterborough where it remains to this day.
If you have any memories or pictures that you would like to share of the Hovertrain, we would be delighted to hear from you.
My name is Anna Growns and, like Peter Stroud (see here for his previous post) I am also working as a summer placement volunteer for the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership Scheme. Now in my second week I think I can safely say that I am beginning to get a feel for it all! The scheme brings together a wide variety of projects, and it is fascinating learning more about what makes the Ouse Washes such a unique landscape. There is so much to find out, and I am becoming aware of how little I really know about the area where I live – my reading list grows by the day!
I am currently focusing on water management in the area, which is of particular interest to me as I am hoping to work towards a career in flood risk management. On Monday I visited the Denver Sluice Complex. The morning started with a talk given by Dan Pollard, who works for the Environment Agency, based at the Denver Sluice Complex. His job involves monitoring river levels and adjusting the sluices accordingly. I also met John Martin, a local farmer who owns land immediately adjacent to the Ouse Washes. He was involved in both the 1987 refurbishment of the Denver Sluice, and the Welmore Lake Sluice (which is now also known as the John Martin Sluice).
It was interesting to hear about the potential conflicts between those who use the area; farmers, conservationists, anglers and boaters, amongst others. I will discuss these issues in more detail at a later date, but for now all I’ll add is that there is no perfect solution to managing the area, but perhaps by working together to understand the problems, a fairer outcome could be achieved.
Anyway, I mustn’t get side-tracked – back to Denver Sluices! Denver Sluice is just one of several in the area that make up the Denver Sluice Complex. They play a vital role in controlling river levels, and are successful in stopping the low-lying fenland from flooding. I suppose before discussing the sluices it makes sense to begin with a wider look at the function of the Ouse Washes. The diagram below shows the area from Earith in the south to Downham Market in the north. The Ouse Washes lie between the New Bedford River to the east, and the Old Bedford/River Delph to the west. As previously mentioned in this post, these channels were created as part of Vermuyden’s scheme to drain the fens.
The first channel, the Old Bedford River, was cut in 1630, and the second, the New Bedford River or Hundred Foot Drain, was constructed 20 years later. As can be seen from the diagram, this considerably shortens the route that water takes from Earith to Downham Market on its journey to the sea (where previously the water would have followed the course of the Great Ouse River to the east), thereby diverting water from the surrounding fenland and discharging it more quickly.
The purpose of having two parallel channels was to create a huge flood storage area, i.e. the Ouse Washes, which protects the surrounding land from flooding. To put it very simply, when there is too much water in the River Great Ouse the water is allowed to flow onto the washes, normally through the Earith Sluice and the Old Bedford River, and stored there until it can be discharged. The following diagram explains in more detail how this works (see also this previous post):
For many years now, there has been a very fruitful cooperation between the RSPB, Hanson Aggregates and Cambridge Archaeological Unit; all three organisations are part of the Ouse Washes Partnership and play an active role in the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme, on the Board (RSPB), as deliverers of projects within the scheme (RSPB; Cambridge Archaeological Unit), or as part of our wider Partner Forum (Hanson Aggregates).
As a result of extensive aggregate extraction, in advance of habitat restoration schemes in the area, numerous fascinating archaeological sites have been excavated. This research has revealed many sites from the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman periods, many of which are considered of national significance.
There is a whole range of information on the web relating to the archaeological finds from the different periods, all of which were done as a result of the RSPB – Hanson cooperation. look here for more information.
In my last post I mentioned the recent closure of important crossing points over the Ouse Washes.
Limited or difficult access opportunities is a recurring feature of the Ouse Washes LP landscape, as shown in another, previous post.
Further exacerbating connectivity problems for local communities are the current works on Earith Bridge, one of the few crossing points over the Ouse Washes and Great Ouse River.
Although both Welney causeway and Sutton Ghault causeways have been down for traffic, Earith causeway is still unaffected. Nevertheless, this causeway is also prone to flooding and was shut for a prolonged period earlier this year.
Currently, a £350,000 project is being delivered to carry out repairs on the Earith bridge structure; this work started on March 1 and should take around six weeks to complete, with the bulk of the work carried out at weekends under a full bridge closure with off-peak working controlled by traffic lights during weekdays.
The road will also now be resurfaced to raise the level and fill in low points which are the most prone to flooding. As a result, there should be a noticeable reduction in the number and duration of road closures caused by flooding. Some articles which provide more details on these works: http://www.highwaysindustry.com/News/Raising-the-road-to-help-reduce-flooding-at-Earith-Bridge and http://www.huntspost.co.uk/news/latest-news/earith_road_will_be_raised_to_help_reduce_number_of_floods_1_1969395
This important crossing point over the Great Ouse river has a long history. Mike Petty recently wrote an interesting article about the history of the river crossing at Earith, with a succession of bridges at this spot going back to at least 1286. You can download a copy of Mike’s article here:Bridging the Gap – Mike Petty 25 03 2013 in Cambridge News
With an increase in traffic after WWII, the present bridge was built and was officially opened on 5th April 1963.
Just this morning, the Welney Causeway was shut down for the third time this winter – this may well be an all-time record. As road closures due to flooding of the Ouse Washes affect local communities directly, I thought to get this message out quickly.
This winter has seen a particular high number of days in which the roads crossing the Ouse Washes have been closed off due to flooding. See my previous post on an earlier road closure this winter which turned out to be the second longest in history.
When the Ouse Washes are flooded above a certain level, the road crossings at Welney and Earith will have to be shut down. The Welney Causeway was shut this morning, following a ‘severe’ flood warning. The Earith crossing currently has a ‘medium’ flood warning; according to the latest news from the Environment Agency the Earith causeway is still open. Check here for the latest updates.
To the right is an image of the current situation at Welney, as of 5:30 this morning. See here for more information, or see here for similar images for up-to-date information on other river level measuring points further south along the Ouse Washes (at Welches Dam and Sutton Ghault).
So, why do we get flooding in the Ouse Washes? The main reason is that – in times of high rainfall further inland – the water in the Great Ouse river rises. Once it reaches a certain level at Earith, water is automatically diverted and allowed to flow into the Old Bedford river, Vermuyden’s early seventeenth century masterpiece. From here, the washes in between the Old and New Bedford rivers are flooded. This prevents flooding of towns and huge stretches of agricultural land elsewhere.
More about how all of this works and the decision-making processes behind all of this in due course. For now, click on the below Environment Agency map to get a first idea of how the whole Ouse Washes water flow system works – it is rather complicated but also quite ingenious:
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