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.

 

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High in the Sky: Heritage & Landscape photography from above

Heritage Lottery FundLast week I got into contact with Bill Blake, an independent heritage consultant who does an interesting range of work.

One of the things he has developed over the years is the creation of images of landscapes and structures including windmills and Martello Towers, all taken from the sky. This is not done in any conventional way, but he takes photographs with the aid of a kite, with a remote-controlled camera attached to it. This is also known as KAP, or Kite Aerial Photography. See for instance here on Bill’s Flickr site or here, on his blog, to get a better understanding of what KAP involves and how Bill makes his pictures.

The results of Bill’s work are absolutely amazing. No wonder his work has also been exhibited; see for instance this piece in last year’s Cambridge News.

The reason I want to share this information is that Bill is also fascinated by the Ouse Washes, and has made many pictures in this landscape over the last few years. A great number more of his pictures of the Ouse Washes can be found at Bill’s Flickr picture stream.

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Ouse Washes: unseasonal flooding in May 2012. Kite Aerial Photography by Bill Blake Heritage Documentation, all rights reserved.

He kindly allowed me to replicate some of his stunning images which also feature on his Flickr picture stream of the Ouse Washes, giving more people a chance to see the amazing and high-quality imagery. Unlike photographs taken from an aeroplane which are taken from over 300 m high, the kite pictures are taken from about 60 m high, allowing for very good detail in the images.

Talking to Bill, it is clear that he loves this work and has a particular soft spot for the Ouse Washes landscape. He is struck by the strong structures of the landscape, in particular its linearity, evident for instance in the waters, the banks and the Ely – March trainline, all of  which feature regularly in his photographs. Creating one picture can take many hours, allowing Bill to really experience the landscape. It is the tranquility and serenity of the Ouse Washes landscape which are particularly appealing to him.

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The Earith Bulwark flooded, taken early January 2013. Kite Aerial Photography by Bill Blake Heritage Documentation, all rights reserved.

He has also photographed the earthwork remains of the Civil War Bulwark at Earith, some of which are replicated here. As part of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme, the history of this significant structure will be better revealed, with better access and interpretation forming part of the plans.

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Earith Bulwark from above. Kite Aerial Photography by Bill Blake Heritage Documentation, all rights reserved.

As part of the Delivery phase we will probably work closely with Bill to create some unusual pictures of the landscape and public events held; we might also give school children and other community groups a chance to learn how to create similar images with the aid of a kite. Succesful community kite aerial photography projects have also been done in The Netherlands and Scotland; see for instance here for one such a project which could be replicated for the Ouse Washes.

You can see many more of Bill Blake’s images on Bill’s Flickr pages, and find more information on his blog and professional website.