New job with RSPB for Ouse Washes LP scheme – now open

logosFollowing from previous staffing posts created for the WWT, Green Light Trust and for the Rosmini Centre, a fourth position with the OWLP key partners is now made available through the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme – with the RSPB, who is looking for a Community Engagement Officer.

This is an exciting opportunity to work closely with local farmers and conservation organisations, to help promote and enhance wildlife friendly farming in the Cambridgeshire Fens.

This position will be crucial to the delivery of the RSPB project within the OWLP scheme called ‘Wildlife Friendly Farming & Community Engagement’; the main aim, of this project is to bring wildlife-friendly farmers together in the vicinity of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area, to deliver an integrated community engagement programme designed to promote awareness of, learning about and on-going access to the area’s unique farm wildlife and archaeological heritage.


The post, which went live on Monday, is described as such:

We are looking for an enthusiastic and engaging person to grow our farm wildlife conservation efforts in the Cambridgeshire Fens, by increasing awareness, understanding and support for nature-friendly farming in the local community.

The RSPB has been successful in securing Heritage Lottery funding as part of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership, to help local people reconnect with a rich natural and cultural farmland heritage.

You will work closely with local nature-friendly farmers to design and deliver a programme of events, talks and wildlife ID training for local residents, schools and farmers.

By encouraging people of all ages to engage with their landscape through farm walks and activities, you will build support for nature-friendly farming and local producers, and enable farmers to tell the story of their work and the benefits for wildlife, ensuring continued support in the future,

An excellent communicator, you will have demonstrable experience of organising public events, as well as in-depth knowledge of farm wildlife and the challenges it faces.

With an office base at Welches Dam, Manea, you will be expected to undertake regular travel in the local area and elsewhere within the Fens.


The closing date for applications is 20 October 2014.

For the full job details and finding out how to apply, go to

local kids on a bug hunt on a wildlife-friendly farm

Families on a bug hunt on a wildlife-friendly farm. Image: copyright Niki Williamson / RSPB.


Latest Lectures – on drainage and flooding – don’t miss these!

A short post, just to highlight some very interesting lectures coming up:

First of all, tomorrow evening, Wednesday 5th March, there will be a lecture in March at the library on the drainage of the Fens by Iain Smith of the Middle Level Commissioners. This is organised by the March Society. See for more details the leaflet below or the March Society’s Facebook page or check for the latest on Twitter at @MarchSociety.

New Picture (15)

Another lecture will be held in Sutton-in-the-isle on Friday 11 April – Organised by Sutton Feast – this will be delivered by Mike Petty on the 1947 Fen floods. See flyer below (Source: Check for the latest at @SuttonIsle or @Sutton_Feast.

New Picture (16)

Don’t forget, there are also the ongoing Fenland History on Friday Lectures – for information on the remaining lectures, still running each Friday morning until early May – see this previous blog post.

Related posts:


Flooding in the Fens: 1947 floods

LogosFlooding is a hot topic at the moment. East Anglia, unlike other parts of the UK, is thankfully still spared the worst of flooding.

Nevertheless, all waters in the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area and the Ouse Washes itself are very high at the moment and the crossings at Welney and Sutton Gault remain flooded.

Article on 1947 floods

Mike Petty kindly sent me an article he wrote about historic flooding of the Fens. Mike Petty is one of the key partners in the OWLP Landscape Partnership scheme and is a well-known Cambridgeshire historian. He has a weekly column in the Cambridge News, reporting on the history of the area.

This week’s piece, 2014 02 03, showcases some dramatic images of the 1947 floods. The floods in February and March 1947 were devastating for the local communities. In all, 34 of England’s counties were affected by the 1947 floods, but the southern Fens were hit particularly hard.

Mike’s article focuses on the military efforts to save homes and lives and to try to restore breached banks. Images of the 1947 floods survive which were taken by the local press. However, a local man, Walter Martin Lane, an Ely shop manager had also joined the army on several of their expeditions in the area. Lane’s dramatic but beautiful pictures are now preserved in the Cambridgeshire Collection.

You can download Mike Petty’s full article here: 2014 02 03


Image courtesy of Mike Petty/ Cambridgeshire Collection


Image courtesy of Mike Petty/ Cambridgeshire Collection

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Image courtesy of Mike Petty/ Cambridgeshire Collection


Image courtesy of Mike Petty/ Cambridgeshire Collection

ns5- Operation Neptune

Image courtesy of Mike Petty/ Cambridgeshire Collection

As part of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership’s Delivery phase, Martin Lane’s photographs, some of which are in private collection, will be digitised and made publicly available, to commemorate this major event in the Ouse Washes 70 years ago in 2017, the end-date of our scheme.


One of Martin Lane’s images, showing a submerged farm bungalow (Palmer’s Farm) during the 1947 floods. Photo courtesy of Lorna Delanoy.

Related posts:

What is special about the OWLP area?

LogosThe OWLP landscape provides extensive wide views and contains huge skies, while being dominated by rivers, drains and ditches that cut across some of the most productive agricultural land in England. This landscape means different things to different people: some can find it featureless and intimidating whereas others find it exhilarating and value its tranquillity and distinctive lifestyles.

Now we have finalised the boundaries for the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme and we have a defined area, the following question may need reconsidering: what is it that makes the OWLP area special?

In a previous post, I have set out what came out of workshops held regarding the unique qualities and ‘specialness’ and ‘distinctiveness’ of the OWLP area. As part of further discussions with our key partners, ongoing research and discussions with local community groups, we have been able to refine this information.

This then also fed into the Landscape Conservation Action Plan, a key document we recently submitted as part of our stage 2 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund. The below word cloud formed part of our ‘Statement of Significance’ and sums up what we believe makes the OWLP area special:


Word cloud, summarising what makes the OWLP area special. Created using

The OWLP landscape is of important for several reasons:

Internationally protected wildlife and wetlands

At 3,000 ha the Great Ouse Wetland network , which lies fully within the OWLP boundary, is one of the most extensive and most important wetland areas in the UK. It comprises of a network of nature reserves, many of which are owned by nature conservation bodies, including the WWT Welney, RSPB Ouse Washes nature, RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes and RSPB Ouse Fen reserves, with further schemes planned including those to be created by the Environment Agency near Sutton and Coveney. Within the heart of this landscape is the Ouse Washes itself, one of the most important areas of lowland wet grassland in Britain.

The expanding network of reserves form a crucial core area in the proposed Fen-wide ecological connectivity network of wetland habitats, crucial for the survival of many rare and endangered flora and fauna species. The restored wetland areas which incorporate a particular high percentage of lowland meadows and reedbeds provide for a tranquillity not easily found elsewhere.


Fen Drayton Lakes. Image by Sheils Flynn for OWLP scheme.

Rich Archaeology

The OWLP area is of at least national significance for its repository of well-preserved, often waterlogged archaeological and palaeo-environmental remains. The OWLP area contains 18 Scheduled Ancient Monuments, including the well-preserved Earith Civil War Bulwark and several clusters of prehistoric barrows. The area contains especially rich prehistoric and Roman Period archaeology. The abundance of prehistoric remains in the southern part of the OWLP area demonstrate clear evidence for a major prehistoric ceremonial landscape, extending right across the floor of the Great Ouse valley.

Amazing engineering history

This man-made landscape lies largely below sea level demonstrating man’s amazing efforts in drainage engineering, executed here on a grand scale: with its abundant sluices, banks and dykes the whole landscape can be considered as a civil engineering monument. Human intervention regarding its management is as vital today as it was when, in the 17th century, the Ouse Washes in between the Bedford Rivers were created. The survival of the nationally significant Bedford Level Corporation archival collection, curated for by Cambridgeshire Archives, provides us with a unique insight in the historic developments of the drainage schemes in the area.

Unique Experiments

The landscape has also played host to some amazing social, economic and environmental experiments including the Flat Earth Society using the landscape to prove the earth is disc-shaped, the utopian social living experiment at Colony Farm in Manea in the mid-19th century, and the late 20th century hovertrain experimental track.


Related posts:


Upcoming events in and around the OWLP area

LogosThere are several interesting events in and around the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme area which I thought people might be interested in hearing about:


WWT Welney’s swan feeds. Source:

WWT Welney: Not only are the ever popular winter swan feeds back on the menu (see here for the scheduling of the regular, daily feeding sessions) , this Saturday and Sunday (16 & 17 November) will also see a special event, the ‘Festival of Swans’, with wildlife photography courses, storytelling, face painting, ‘guides in the hides’, nature detective walks and much more – see here for the full programme.


Famous Fenland site Flag Fen. Source:

At the Brook in Soham the famous archaeologist Francis Pryor will give a talk this Friday evening, 15 November (18:30 – 21:00), about the ‘Mysteries of the Fens’. See here for further details. Francis writes:

The Fens are seen as a once-wet wilderness where the people have webbed feet and yellow faces, living in mud cottages and living off eels. In short, the reputation of the Fens is grim and bleak. The reality was altogether very different. In the Middle Ages the area was prosperous, largely due to the wool and textile trade, which is why it still boasts some of the finest churches in the land. The Fens have also produced vast quantities of Bronze Age metalwork, and the huge hoard of Iron Age gold from Snettisham is unrivalled anywhere in Europe

Mike Petty alerted me to the new series of Fenland History on Friday lectures, held in Ely Library from 10.30 to noon  every Friday throughout this winter; £2,50 on the door:

  • November 15: David Rooney, Henry Morris and the fight for the countryman’s college. The fascinating account of one man’s struggle for education for all, and the betrayal of his ideal.
  • November 22: David Edwards, Something about Gravestones. Some gravestone mainly in the March/Chatteris area which are either interesting in themselves, or the manner of the deaths of their occupiers, or their lives, from a boxing champion to a Major General.
  • November 29: Philip Saunders, Fen Drainage archives – documenting fenland’s past. A unique insight into the original sources for fen drainage available in Cambridgeshire’s Archives.
  • December 06: David Barrowclough Ely: the hidden history – the latest archaeological discoveries.
  • December 13: David Taylor, The Lancaster Bomber and Witchford Airfield – the new book.

For more details, contact Mike Petty – 01353 648106 or

Also this Friday 15 November, a Lecture organised by the Ely branch of the local Wildlife Trust BCN, Fenland: That sinking feeling, by coastal ecologist Dr Pat Doody. 7:45pm – 9:30pm at Ely Museum. For further details, see here.


On-going exhibitions about ‘Fenland, Lives & Land’ can be seen in the area’s many museums. For more information about the five travelling exhibitions, see here. See also this previous post.

What is in a name? The Ouse Washes

Heritage Lottery FundHave you ever wondered where the Ouse Washes got its name? The Ouse is the name of the river, which has already been discussed in the previous Blog “The Ouses of Britain”. This blog looks at the meaning of the word “Washes”.

Natural England describes a washland as ”an area of flood plain that is allowed to flood or is deliberately flooded for flood management”; this is indeed the main purpose of the Ouse Washes; to stop the fens from flooding.

The Ouse Washes has been classified as a floodplain which is different from a water meadow, but both have water flowing over them seasonally. The difference is that in the Ouse Washes the water can often be stagnant for a period of time while in a water meadow the water is always moving over the land and never becomes stagnant.

Water meadows are often found where there is a spring or a stream flowing over land at a slow rate and these areas are not meant to be flooded. The water flows through the grasses which grow in the water meadows thereby reducing the impact of frost on the plants during early spring so enabling the grass to grow (and thus harvested) several weeks earlier than usual. In the summer, during dry spells, the water flows through the roots meaning that the plants are watered and are also able to get nutrients and silt from the flowing water which has a positive result in reducing the risk of the level of nutrients in the water becoming too high which could cause eutrophication. This also means that plants on water meadows are fertilised so increasing the growth of the grass and plants and making more and more nutritious grass available for livestock to feed on through the summer.

Most floodplains exist naturally and are areas where water is stored when rivers burst their banks. However, the man-made Ouse Washes is purposely flooded thereby reducing the amount of water in the Great Ouse River in times of high rainfall upstream, stopping the flooding of surrounding farmland and settlements. It is usually only flooded during the winter and during the summer it is used as grazing land for livestock (although recent years have seen many unseasonal flooding events – see e.g. this previous post photo). The Ouse Washes is able to hold 900,000 cubic metres of floodwater from the River Great Ouse which would otherwise flood the fields of the Fens.

Other Washes in the UK

The Nene and Ouse Washes are the only two washland areas in East Anglia; both are located in the Fens and were built to control the flooding of the Fens.

Nene Washes

The nearby Nene Washes are part of the River Nene which is the 10th longest river in the UK. The reason for the formation of the Nene Washes in the 18th century was to drain the Fens to allow the land to be suitable farming. The Nene Washes are used in the same way as the Ouse Washes, however it has a shorter length and only covers an area of 15 square kilometres, but it is still an important site for wildlife such as birds during the winter and summer and also prevents the Fens from flooding.

Washes and Nene Washes as ‘Core Areas’ within a Fen-wide ecological network source:

Washes and Nene Washes as ‘Core Areas’ within a Fen-wide ecological network source:

Shrinkage of the peat

The Land around the Nene and Ouse Washes has been sinking since the Fens were drained and the agricultural use of the resulting fields has caused a further decrease in the level of peat.

What are the main causes of the Fens subsiding? A relatively recent report provides several related reasons:

  • Shrinkage has occurred in the Fens as the removal of the water from the peat has meant that there has been internal shrinkage at a rate of 1.8 cm/yr.
  • Compression has happened after the removal of water, as the buoyancy effect has been reduced due to the removal of the water which held the weight up, so as the water was removed the peat shrank as the large weight was no longer partially suspended.
  • Oxidation of the peat caused when the water was removed as before the drainage the water did not contain oxygen so there were aerobic conditions underneath the peat which slowed the decomposition. By removing the water the speed of the decomposition of material increased causing the land to sink.

Others lesser components of wastage of the peat include

  • Wind erosion; loose surface soil due to strong winds
  • Accidental burning of dry peat

The Fens will continue to sink as it is continuously farmed and drained. The best evidence for the peat shrinkage is shown by the Holme Post: it was drilled through the peat down into the clay in 1851 in order to monitor the peat loss. The post now rises 4m above the ground and provides an impressive record of the ground loss in the Holme Fens. This area of the Fens is the lowest point of all land in Britain as it is 2.75 metres below sea level.

Holme Post over years from 1850 to 2000 Source:

Holme Post over years from 1850 to 2000 Source:

In the summer the Ouse Washes and the Nene Washes are used for grazing animals which has meant that most of the land has not been ploughed for centuries, which has resulted in both Washes being at a much higher level than the surrounding Fenland. This is clearly shown in the below image which demonstrates that the washes have preserved more of their original peat layers than the surrounding arable farmland.

The ranging depths of the peat across the Fenlands Source:

The ranging depths of the peat across the Fenlands Source:

‘Ours was the Fen Country’

Heritage Lottery FundThe Fens do not appear in the theatre very often. Not having seen this piece myself just yet, but having heard an interview with the director on the radio recently, I was intrigued: ‘Ours was the Fen Country’ is a dance-theatre piece that uses words, movement, music and lights to conjure up some of the atmospheres of the Fens, some of the heaviness and also the beauty.

For Ours Was the Fen Country, Dan Canham interviewed more than 30 Fenland people, from eel catchers and farmers, to stable owners and people who spent their whole lives there.

This is how the promotional website for this work describes the piece:

For the past two years Dan Canham has been capturing conversations with people of the fens in East Anglia. Eel-catchers, farmers, parish councilors, museum keepers, molly dancers and conservationists have all been interviewed. In this ethereal piece of dance-theatre Dan and his team fuse movement and sound with the words and memories of their native collaborators to get to the heart of this beautiful, bleak and mysterious expanse of flat land.


Ours was the Fen Country. Source:

This was recently brought to the Cambridge Junction; some news pieces about this:

An extract from the first of these articles explains how the show came about:

“For the last couple of years I’ve been going around the Fens, mostly on trains and on my bike, interviewing people, seeking out rare characters who have ways of life that are not so common anymore, talking to them about their lives, their histories, their relationships to the landscape, and about the future and their hopes and their fears around that.”

During his investigative travels, Dan stumbled across a cast of unique Fenland people with captivating tales to tell. “People that the likes of you or I might not necessarily come into contact with because they keep themselves to themselves and they’re relatively self-sufficient,” says Dan. “I met some really generous, warm-hearted, friendly people who were happy to share their stories.”

To see some short videos about the piece, see here:

The rural tour starts next week; it will come to Wisbech on Monday, followed by Ely, Peterborough, March and Chatteris. If you go, do let me know what you think of it.

  • Mon 17th June 2013, 7.45pm Angels Theatre, Wisbech Tickets £10/8 01945 474447
  • Weds 19th June 2013, 7.45pm The Maltings, Ely Tickets £10/8 01473 295900
  • Friday 21st June 2013, 7.45pm Key Theatre Studio, Peterborough Tickets £10/8 01733 207 239
  • Weds 26th June 2013, 7.45pm March Town Hall, March Tickets £10/8 01473 295900
  • Weds 27th June 2013, 7.45pm Chatteris Midsummer Festival, Chatteris Tickets £10/8 01473 295900