Coming 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.
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.
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:
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.