Impressions of the Ouse Washes LP conference

 

logosWe had a fantastic day last week in the Corn Exchange in St Ives. This excellent venue was the scene for the first annual conference for the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme. With a range of speakers, 112 attendees – representing over 64 organisations – and 20 exhibitors on the day we were off to a good start.

This conference, ‘Conservation, Farming, Flooding: our Natural Landscape?’ – the first in a series of three taking place annually – explored the natural landscape of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area. The conference aimed to provide attendees with an overview of future management challenges including issues around biodiversity value, wetland habitat creation, farming challenges, water management and flood relief.

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Full house in the St Ives Corn Exchange. Image: NorthLight Media, for OWLP

A range of speakers from several key organisations (Natural England; RSPB; National Farmers’ Union; Environment Agency; and a consultant botanist who has carried out work for the OWLP scheme) provided for a rounded view of the central theme of the day.

This was followed by lively discussions focusing on the question which priorities  Ouse Washes Partnership need to set for this important landscape to ensure a sustainable future for this landscape. By bringing together local people and a range of partner organisations with a range of land-use interests we have encouraged stimulating debate and helped promote a wider appreciation and understanding of the challenges of living and working in this ever-changing landscape.

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Impression of conference. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE

We have had a lot of good feedback, with the vast majority of people I have spoken to or received feedback from finding the day very enjoyable, highly informative, great for networking opportunities and with lots of food for thought as a result of stimulating round table discussions. In addition, there were 20 informative exhibitions from a range of organisations involved or associated with the partnership, great food, and an excellent walk to the nearby Holt island Nature Reserve at the end of the day.

Below are some images of the conference. If anyone, whether you attended or not, has any further questions, do drop me a line. Later down the line there will also be a report summarising the discussions on the day, and a short film will also be produced by NorthLight Media who took photographs and videos throughout the day – watch this space for further updates.

The results of the conference will feed into the ongoing legacy planning work of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership, with the recommendations and ideas generated helping the partnership’s work tremendously. Thank you all for your input!

 

Related posts and pages:

 

 

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The Mayor of St Ives starting the day. Image: NorthLight Media, for OWLP

 

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John Heading, farmer and IDB Chair, and OWLP Board member, Chairing the day. Image: NorthLight Media, for OWLP

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alastair Burn, Natural England, setting the scene for the day, talking about the wetland vision for the Fens. Image: NorthLight Media, for OWLP

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Jonathan Graham, Consultant Botanist, providing data of new research on the biodiversity value of the fenland ditches in the OWLP area. Image: NorthLight Media, for OWLP

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Jonathan Graham, explaining the biodiversity value of the Fen ditches in the OWLP area. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE

 

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Chris Hudson, RSPB, giving an understanding of the Ouse Fen nature reserve developments. Image: NorthLight Media, for OWLP

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Rob Wise, National Farmers’ Union, giving an overview of the Fen farmers’ challenges and opportunities. Image: NorthLight Media, for OWLP

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Peter Doktor, Environment Agency, explaining the reasons for the new habitat creation schemes next to the Ouse Washes. Image: NorthLight Media, for OWLP

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Peter Doktor, Environment Agency. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE

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Round table discussions. Image: Bill Blake Heritage Documentation.

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Round table discussions. Image: Bill Blake Heritage Documentation.

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Round table discussions. Image: NorthLight Media, for OWLP.

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Round table discussions. Image: NorthLight Media, for OWLP.

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Round table discussions. Image: NorthLight Media, for OWLP.

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Round table discussions. Image: NorthLight Media, for OWLP.

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Round table discussions. Image: NorthLight Media, for OWLP.

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Round table discussions. Image: NorthLight Media, for OWLP.

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ADeC’s display of the three newly created murals. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE

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ADeC’s display of the three newly created murals. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE

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RSPB and Jonathan Graham’s displays. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE

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Various displays in Corn Exchange. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE

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ACE’s display. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE

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Bill Blake’s display of KAP imagery. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE

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Athene Communication’s display of the results of the ‘Opening up the Ouse Washes to All’ workshops.Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE

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Barn Owl Conservation Network’s display. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE

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East Anglian Waterways Association’s display. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE

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Green Light Trust’s display. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE

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Fens Museum Partnership’s brand new animated film about the Ouse Washes. Image: Cambridgeshire ACRE

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Guided walk on nearby Holt Island Nature Reserve, led by Ian Jackson. image: @TheBrecksBNG

 

Conservation, Farming, Flooding: Our Natural Landscape?

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up the level from pymoor wide view Copyright Bill Blake Heritage Documentation

The Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership Annual Conference

Wednesday 19 November 2014  – 9am – 2pm

Anyone interested in the Ouse Washes area is invited to attend the first-ever Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership Conference which is taking place on Wednesday 19 November from 9am – 2pm at The Corn Exchange in St Ives, Cambridgeshire.

This conference – the first in a series of three, taking place annually – will explore the natural landscape of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area. The conference aims to provide attendees with an overview of future management challenges including issues around landscape-scale conservation, biodiversity value, agricultural importance and flood relief. A background to wetland creation schemes in the area will be given through presentations with discussion facilitated in small groups regarding the future importance of the natural landscape.

The Ouse Washes landscape area has a multitude of different uses. It has an important role in flood risk prevention; it is made up of high quality agricultural land; and its internationally-renowned nature reserves provide a vital home for wildlife. This conference will look at whether these competing uses can be reconciled and balanced whilst making the area a great place to live and work.

The Partnership aims to increase awareness of the significant natural heritage of the area. Bringing together local people and partner organisations with a range of land-use interests will promote a wider appreciation and understanding of the challenges of living and working in this ever-changing landscape.

Download the Invitation and Programme , or see depicted below: Invite p1 Invite p2 Agenda p3 Time has been allowed for opinions to be aired, giving all attendees a chance to contribute to the wider debate about the future of the Ouse Washes landscape. Change will continue to be a feature of this rapidly evolving landscape and the views and ideas generated by attendees will feed into the OWLP legacy planning work, with clear recommendations and actions coming from this conference.

St Ives Corn Exchange, the site for the first Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership’s conference. Image source: http://thecornexchange.org.uk/about-us/

To book a place, please visit: www.ousewashesconference2014.eventbrite.co.uk

The Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership’s central team looks forward to receiving your booking, and information if you want to book a display/ exhibit space.

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:

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

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Image courtesy of Mike Petty/ Cambridgeshire Collection

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Image courtesy of Mike Petty/ Cambridgeshire Collection

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Image courtesy of Mike Petty/ Cambridgeshire Collection

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Image courtesy of Mike Petty/ Cambridgeshire Collection

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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.

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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:

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Word cloud, summarising what makes the OWLP area special. Created using http://worditout.com

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.

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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:

 

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: http://www.lincsfenlands.org.uk/index.php?page=BiodiversityFensFuture

Washes and Nene Washes as ‘Core Areas’ within a Fen-wide ecological network source: http://www.lincsfenlands.org.uk/index.php?page=BiodiversityFensFuture

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: http://www.emgs.org.uk/files/local_geology/15(1)_holme_post.pdf

Holme Post over years from 1850 to 2000 Source: http://www.emgs.org.uk/files/local_geology/15(1)_holme_post.pdf

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: http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/Fenlandpeatassessment_tcm9-236041.pdf

The ranging depths of the peat across the Fenlands Source: http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/Fenlandpeatassessment_tcm9-236041.pdf

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/