Have your own Ouse Washes Experience! 21st September 2014

logosFancy an active but charitable weekend out in the Ouse Washes?

Join The Ouse Washes Experience on the 21st September 2014 and raise money for the emergency medical charity Magpas amongst other local charities.

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Welney Nature Reserve

Walk, Run or Cycle. It’s your experience, it’s up to you!

The Headline Charity: Magpas

Founded in 1971 Magpas is a unique charity which offers support to the ambulance service. The charity heavily relies on public donations to provide the Magpas Helimedix Air Ambulance and rapid response cars. The Magpas Specialist Medical Teams attend to cases of life threatening illness and major trauma throughout the East of England. Operating 18 hours a day the teams are staffed by highly trained Pre-Hospital Doctors and EEAST Paramedics who volunteer their own time to work with the charity.

Get Involved- all are welcome!

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OWE Poster. Source: The Rotary Club of Ely-Hereward Website

The Ouse Washes Experience is organised by The Ely-Hereward Rotary Club in cooperation with the OWLP Scheme, WWT, RSPB, Environment Agency and Cambridgeshire County Council. It is a sponsored event with 3 routes of varied lengths running adjacent to the Old Bedford River between Welney and Welches Dam. For cyclist there is an extended route.

It is a great opportunity to get out and enjoy the unique and beautiful landscape of the Ouse Washes. Come and enjoy the wildlife and many other attractions the area has to offer, take in the fresh air, keep fit as well as raise money for charity through your sponsorship.

The Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership Team will be there to provide information on the OWLP Scheme as well as participating. So take the opportunity to learn about projects going on within the area.

Whether you are a keen walker, runner or cyclist, or if you just want to get out and about… join in! Whether you are participating individually, as a family or as part of a group come and experience the Ouse Washes!

For further information or to register for your own Ouse Washes Experience please visit The Rotary Club of Ely-Hereward website.

Have a meander along your river

Do you live in or near Welney, Denver, March or Ely? They have something in common… Can you guess what they all have? Rivers! They all have their own character and issues. Would you like to enjoy and learn about your local Fenland rivers?

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This is a chance to enjoy a lovely, informative and sociable walk along some of our local rivers whilst discussing and gaining an understanding of issues and impacts upon these and other Fenland rivers and on the Ouse Washes. It will be a laid-back endeavour with stops to view the scenery and features, or to chat and take photographs.

The Ouse Washes

The Ouse Washes. Image by Bill Blake Heritage Documentation, all rights reserved.

A partnership (The Water Care Partnership) is working to investigate and work towards solutions for the problems these rivers face and which have been pointed out by the Environment Agency. This is where you and your ideas and involvement comes in! It is important to consider local communities’ perspectives and skills in the care and management of these valuable natural resources.

Everyone and anyone are welcome on these ‘Riverside Walks and Talks’ however the walks may not be suitable for some people like wheelchair users. Light refreshments will be provided and you can find out how to get involved with protecting your local environment.

There are four walks around the area, all of which will be approximately 2 miles and may take up to 2.5 hours.

Welney – Sunday 14th September 10am

“A catchment based approach to the Old Bedford and Middle Level catchment”

River at Welney

River Delph at Welney

Riverside Walk and Talk Invitation – Welney

Ely – Sunday 14th September 2pm

“Our part in the bigger picture”

River at Ely

River Great Ouse at Ely

Riverside Walk and Talk Invitation – Ely

Denver – Saturday 20th September 10am

“A catchment based approach to the Old Bedford and Middle Level catchment”

River at Denver

The Tidal River and New Bedford River at Denver

Riverside Walk and Talk Invitation – Denver

March – Saturday 20th September 2pm

“A catchment based approach to the Old Bedford and Middle Level catchment”

River at March

River Nene at March

Riverside Walk and Talk Invitation – March

Bookings are now being taken for the Riverside Walk and Talk events hosted by Cambridgeshire ACRE for the Water Care Partnership. Places are limited and so to book your place(s), please visit: www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/walkandtalk. For more information on the work of the Water Care Partnership please visit www.watercarepartnership.wordpress.com. If you have any questions regarding any of the walks, please contact Jennie Thomas (Jennifer.thomas@cambsacre.org.uk or 01353 865044).

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.

Related posts:

The Fens Waterways Link

Heritage Lottery FundThe Fens Waterways Link is one of the most significant waterway projects to take place in the UK for two centuries.  It will connect the Cathedral cities of Lincoln, Peterborough and Ely, opening up 240km of new and existing waterways.  It is hoped the project will put the Fens on the map as a nationally recognised destination, as well known as the Norfolk Broads.

The map below outlines the sections of waterway that will be improved/created by the scheme.  The Ouse Washes come into this area, as can be seen on the map.  Not only are the Fens Waterways Link and the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership Scheme closely related geographically, they also share common goals, aiming to promote heritage, conservation and community engagement.  (See here for the aims of the Ouse Washes LPS.)

Fens Waterways Link Map

In detail, the aims of the Fens Waterways Link are to:

  • Create opportunities for increased leisure, tourism and regeneration, attracting economic development and employment.
  • Develop a unique image of the Fens Waterways as a world-class tourist destination, a place for healthy activity in the great outdoors, and place to escape.
  • Open access to the rich heritage, culture and history of the fens through time.
  • Benefit the natural environment, linking major wetland sites, creating new habitats and supporting the future of our unique fenland wildlife.
  • Help improve water supplies and flood defences by improving our water storage, transfer and drainage infrastructure.
  • Provide a regional water-based transport corridor for people and freight.
  • Give local people a sense of ownership of their local waterways as a place of belonging with rich opportunities for recreation, enjoyment and healthy activities.
  • Promote waterways as a venue for learning, training and skills development, providing opportunities for people of all ages to engage with their environment.
  • Enable visitors, businesses and other community members to become champions for the waterways at the heart of local communities.
Black Sluice Lock, Boston Photo courtesy of www.canalplan.org.uk

Black Sluice Lock, Boston
Source: http://canalplan.org.uk/gazetteer/5o1m

The project is divided into six phases.  Phase 1, Boston Lock Link, was completed in 2009.  This involved the opening of Black Sluice Lock (map item 1), thereby providing access to 35km of navigation which had been closed for 50 years.  The disused lock cottages were turned into a visitor centre and café, and new moorings were created.  Other improvements include picnic areas, footpaths/cycleways, fishing platforms, fish refuges and sand martin banks.

The Ouse Washes LP area is within Phase 6 of the project: ‘Peterborough to Denver Link – linking the River Nene across the Middle Level Navigations to the River Great Ouse’.  Details have not yet been finalised, but it is hoped that the following developments will be possible.

  • The Denver Hydro Hub would provide an array of information and activities for visitors.  Using existing rights of way, a number of circular routes would be created.  There would also be opportunities for bike, boat and canoe hire and boat trips.
  • New Hundred Foot Tidal River moorings near Mepal and Welney, allowing access to attractions such as WWT Welney, and providing the opportunity for boat trips to operate.
  • The Hermitage Lock Hydro Hub at Earith would involve commercial redevelopment of the lock keeper’s house, e.g. restaurant, holiday let, cycle hire, car parking.
  • Improving navigation around Welches Dam to better connect the Great Ouse system with the Middle Level Navigations.  Currently Welches Dam Lock is closed, so access between the Old Bedford River and the Forty Foot is not possible.

An implementation plan was created in 2004, and at that time the Link as a whole
was expected to take 15-20 years to complete.  Construction costs were estimated at £130 million, partly funded by the Environment Agency and partly from other sources.  In 2004 funds had been allocated for the initial stages of the project, and further funding was being investigated from possible sources such as local authorities, the Lottery and the European Union.  Although the current economic climate has impacted on the delivery of the Link, work is progressing.

More information about the Link can be found at: http://www.fenswaterways.com/

The John Martin Sluice at Welmore Lake

Heritage Lottery FundEarlier in the summer I visited the John Martin Sluice at Welmore Lake.  It is located at the point where the River Delph joins the New Bedford River, and can be accessed via a bridleway from Salters Lode.  This is the most northerly part of the Ouse Washes flood storage area (see here for a simple description of how the Ouse Washes work).  The location of the John Martin Sluice in relation to the Denver Sluice Complex can be seen in the diagram below (bottom left hand corner).

The Denver Sluices (Source – Environment Agency)

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Welmore Lake Pumping Station, opened 2010

The John Martin Sluice serves two purposes.  As levels rise in the Old Bedford/River Delph, water flows onto the Ouse Washes. This water spreads northwards across the washes, and is held back by the sluice. Water is discharged by gravity through the sluice when levels in the Old Bedford/Delph are higher than in the New Bedford River. In spring, gravity drainage is sometimes not sufficient to attain the desired water level on the Ouse Washes. When this happens the electrically powered pumping station is put into operation to pump the remaining surplus downstream of the sluice. The second role of the sluice is to stop tidal surges from the Tidal River entering the washes. This saline water would have an adverse environmental impact.

The current sluice, completed in 1999, was named after John Martin, a local landowner who over the years has made a large contribution to water management in the area.  It has three sets of gates and has a 50% greater discharge capacity than the previous 1933 sluice.

The John Martin Sluice at Welmore Lake

The John Martin Sluice at Welmore Lake

The old sluice was located 70 metres upstream of the outfall into the tidal river, which led to silt building up in front of the gates and stopping them from opening. To reduce the build-up of silt the current sluice is positioned closer to the tidal river and is also fitted with silt jetting equipment. However, in spite of these measures, frequency, duration and depth of flooding in the Ouse Washes is increasing, causing problems for both people and the environment, such as flooding of the A1101 at Welney and shortage of breeding grounds for wading birds.

There are multiple reasons for this increase in flooding.  One factor is the large amount of silt in the tidal river, which creates higher riverbed levels, resulting in higher water levels.  This reduces gravity drainage from the Ouse Washes, thereby causing water to drain more slowly than it did in the past.

Twice a day silt is carried in on the tide from The Wash. The outgoing tide travels more slowly than the incoming tide, and this causes silt to be deposited on the bed of the Tidal River. Good freshwater flows are needed to flush the silt out but, particularly during periods of winter drought, the silt accumulates.

The Ouse Washes in flood   Bill Blake Heritage Documentation, All Rights Reserved

The Ouse Washes in flood
Bill Blake Heritage Documentation, All Rights Reserved

The Environment Agency is responsible for managing this issue, but it is far from easy. Dredging to remove the silt is one option. In 2007 the Environment Agency employed consultants who found that 185,000 cubic metres of silt would need to be removed over a distance of 10km downstream of Welmore Lake. This is equivalent to the volume of ten football pitches filled to a depth greater than the height of the goalposts. Not only is this costly (estimated to be in the region of £4-5 million), but it is also not a long-term solution as silt can very quickly accumulate. It was found that in the same stretch of river between April and August 2007, 100,000 cubic metres of silt settled. There is also the problem of disposal of the dredged material, as well as significant environmental impacts.  (It is thought that the disturbance of aquatic ecosystems through dredging affects biodiversity and could reduce fish numbers.)

After several years of low river flows and increased silt build-up, last year’s high rainfall provided a well-needed flush of the system.  Bed levels of the Tidal River around Denver have now returned to circa the 2002 figures. In the future, rising sea levels caused by climate change are likely to have an increasing impact on how quickly water can drain off the washes, and so the problem of flooding is likely to increase.

Whilst the John Martin Sluice in itself works effectively, it can be seen that there are wider issues that reduce the rate at which the Ouse Washes can drain. This is an on-going problem for which there is no simple solution.

We would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the management of this complex system.

How it all works

Heritage Lottery FundMy 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.

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Dan Pollard (Environment Agency) explaining the complexity of managing the Denver Sluice Complex and its many waterways.

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.

Ouse Washes overview

Ouse Washes overview: geography and names of main channels. Source: http://www.ousewashes.info/maps/washes-lrg.jpg

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):

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Schematic layout of the Ouse Washes flood system. It also shows the relatively few crossings over the washes. Source: Environment Agency and http://www.ousewashes.info. Click on the map to enlarge.

Next time I will look in more detail at particular aspects of how this system works.  More information on water management in the Ouse Washes can be found at the following useful websites: ousewashes.org and ousewashes.info

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.