Autumn and Winter events at Welney WWT

logos

Welney Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust is holding a series of fascinating wildlife and rural crafts events and workshops – wildlife photography, garden and willow structures and Christmas decorations, and watching, feeding and learning about swans from October to April. All of this is happening at the Welney Wetland Centre, Welney, Hundred Foot Bank, Norfolk, PE14 9TN. Take a look at these posters, take your picks and enjoy!

WWT Welney wildlife photography workshops 2014:

Welney WWT wildlife photography

Welney WWT wildlife photography

Willow workshops at WWT Welney poster:

Welney WWT willow and garden and decoration workshops

Welney WWT willow and garden and decoration workshops

WWT Welney Swans awake events 2014-15:

Welney WWT swan watching at dawn

Welney WWT swan watching at dawn

WWT Welney Swan feeds 2014-15:

Welney WWT opportunities to feed and learn about swans

Welney WWT opportunities to feed and learn about swans

 

A Walk On The Wash Side

We (Myself, Jono and Abby) took ourselves out for a few hours to see (and lunch at!) a major reserve, WWT Welney Reserve, that is within the OWLP area and on the Ouse Washes to experience part of what we are promoting…

We were not disappointed! We thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. It is a direct experience on the washes itself that is only possible during the summer because in the winter it is flooded and flocked with birds.

LogosWe hadn’t even got out of the car park – with its good samples of their wetland wilderness – before we coincidently bumped into and chatted to Carolyn Ash, who is one of the artists working on the Ouse Community Murals Project as part of the OWLP scheme, and Carolyn was also with a colleague from Arts Development in East Cambridgeshire which is a key partner in the Partnership. We were also lucky to see a beautiful example of Carolyn’s large damselfly mural. After crossing a sustainably-made bridge and pond, we entered the airy building that afforded fantastic views of the landscape beyond and met a few of the friendly WWT staff team.

Carolyn Ash is working on the Ouse Community Murals Project

Carolyn Ash is working on the Ouse Community Murals Project

As we crossed the large foot-bridge we saw the introductory interpretation for children. There were sizable hides – one barer and more serious and the other family-friendly and informative with fun displays and colourful artwork. The landscape was filled with bodies of water, wildflower and greenery, and featured various species of wading birds and cattle in the distance. The lake itself had interesting banks, and trees dotted the scenery, so the diversity on the land under the large Fenland sky is immense.

As the Welney website says: “Immerse yourself in pathways of wildflowers at the heart of the washes, leaving the stresses of daily life behind. We followed the “Summer walk” route.

As the Welney website says: “Immerse yourself in pathways of wildflowers at the heart of the washes, leaving the stresses of daily life behind.
We followed the “Summer walk” route. Source:  https://ousewasheslps.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/wwtwelneymap.pdf

 

You can download a pdf copy of the Welney map here: WWTWelneyMap

We ventured out on the tracks – the wilderness of medium to tall vegetation and trees surrounded us for the first part. We came across several features of interest – a few tiny, combat-like hides, a vegetation-rich dragonfly pond area (with a table and seating), a popular and well-equipped pond dipping platform, a bird-ringing net structure and sticks with woven ends holding useful information.

It was Charlock!

Wildflowers such as Charlock and Purple Loosestrife were spotted, and the verge was varied into patches of Nettles and Reed. The path soon became a grassy drove populated with Silverweed and an occasional Forget-Me-Not and continued. Great blocks of different species like Reeds dominated our scenery, which was peppered with other species like Water Mint and Meadow Sweet. Butterflies like Gatekeeper

Sunbathing on a leaf

Gatekeeper sunbathing on a leaf

and Red Admiral fluttered past and rested, a possible grass snake slithered past, evidence of mammal browsing persisted and a dragonfly couple mated as we walked and talked.

Love in the air!

Love in the air!

The Summer Walk we took wiggled onto dense, enclosing surroundings that consisted of Reeds, some Sedge and a patch of scrub where a bench is, and the immediate landscape variegated into tall vegetation, water and trees. We reached the loop at the end of the walk, saw the wilderness beyond and around then strolled back as we discussed our work and other things, we took the opportunity to sit in a hide and then on our return to the centre, browsed in the shop which held a wide range of wildlife-related merchandise.

We reluctantly left the centre glorying under a hot sun, having seen a handful of other visitors whilst we were there, and returned to the office more knowledgeable and enthused about our work.

Goodbye lovely wildflowers

Goodbye lovely wildflowers

Wildlife Safaris at WWT Welney reserve

LogosComing up soon at WWT Welney Wetland Centre: Wetland Safaris!

Put it in your diary already – first one coming up on Easter Bank Holiday, Monday 21 April. For more information and to see what else is on, check the WWT Welney’s website at http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/welney/whats-on/

Safaris at WWT Welney

 

50th Swanniversary!

LogosThe Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) is celebrating its 50th Swanniversary!

This is the celebration of 50 years of successful research on the Bewick’s swans, one of the WWT’s iconic animals.

Sir Peter Scott’s great idea

The study started on 11 February 1964 when the conservationist Sir Peter Scott started painting the swans on the lake outside his window, close to the salt marshes near Slimbridge.

P1000695

Bust of Sir Peter Scott, founder of the WWT, at WWT Welney. Photograph: Cambridgeshire ACRE.

He noticed that the swans can be recognised individually as they each have a unique bill pattern of black and yellow markings. He meticulously recorded each swan that visited.

He appreciated that natural markings could be used as a powerful tool for the study of the migratory Bewick’s swans. Scott’s research has formed the basis for a very unique study which has grown into an important international population study in a collaboration that continues to this day.

As a result of the collaborative studies, the Nenetskiy National Nature Reserve in Russia, an important breeding area for the swans, was also given protected status in the 1990s.

bill-patterns

Unique bill patterns of Bewick’s Swans: original 1960s drawings as recorded by Sir Peter Scott. Source: https://www.wwt.org.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/bill-patterns.jpg

Even though more traditional tagging of the birds and – more recently – GPS tracking are also used in the study of the Bewick’s swans, the bill pattern recognition is still of utmost importance in this study – all down to Peter Scott’s original idea.

P1000696

Unique bill patterns of Bewick’s swans. Information panel at WWT Welney. Photograph: Cambridgeshire ACRE.

Swanniversary celebrations at WWT Welney Reserve

This Wednesday I was invited for a celebratory event at WWT Welney Reserve. Besides the delicious muffins in the WWT Welney café (do try them!) we were also treated with informative presentations from the WWT’s Chairman Sir George Russell; The Centre Manager at WWT Welney, Leigh Marshall; the Head of UK Waterbird Conservation, Eileen Rees; and Dafila Scott, WWT Vice President (who is Sir Peter Scott’s daughter). Dafila explored her personal memories of her childhood at Slimbridge, how she helped to paint and name dozens of swans, and her subsequent life-long interest in swan migrations and family patterns.

Recent changes at the WWT Welney Reserve

Leigh Marshall gave an overview of all the major, positive changes that the WWT Reserve has seen in just the last six years, since the new eco building was erected: two new hides, almost all footpaths having been resurfaced and made more accessible, and a dragonfly pond has been installed. In addition only in the last few years new land has been acquired to the east of the reserve centre: Lady Fen and Bank Farm, together accounting for c 200 ha of new wetland.

Lady%20Fen%20early%20morning%20LM%20(7)

Lady Fen to the east of WWT Wetland reserve centre, hugely important for swans and wader birds. Source: http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/welney/dont-miss/lady-fen-and-bank-farm/

Currently, works are taking place to convert the adjacent 100 ha of former farmland into wetland; a new hide is also planned. Although still very much developing, these new wetlands have already proven to be vital for such rare wader species as the Black-tailed gotwit of which 45 of the 50 UK breeding pairs breed at the Welney Washes [More about this great story in a separate post to come].

The future of the Bewick’s swans

Bewick’ swans numbers have gradually grown until they peaked in 1995 around 30,000 internationally. since then, there has been a rapid decline in numbers: currently there are only c18,000 Bewick’s swans left in the world.

In order to counteract this decline, international efforts have been stepped up: the last few years saw, for instance, the production of an international Bewick’s swan Action Plan which will be implemented over the next few years. This Action Plan has been drawn up with conservation colleague in numerous countries, including The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Russia, and was adopted by the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement in 2012. It is hoped that, through combined efforts, the population will reach healthy numbers again in the future: the aim is to halt the decline and maintain the population at 23,000 birds or above.

Changing weather patterns: lower numbers of Bewick’s swans at Welney

One of the changes that have been affecting the Bewick’s swans is the rapidly altering weather pattern we have been experiencing lately. With milder winters, fewer birds migrate all the way to the UK to overwinter, from their breeding grounds in Siberia.

As a result, this winter the lowest number of Bewick’s swans have been recorded at Slimbridge since 1965. At the Ouse Washes, where most of the UK Bewick’s swans congregate in the winter, this year has also seen a record-low number of c1,000 only whereas in a ‘normal’ year c5,000 turn up.

As a result of the internationally co-ordinated research we know that this winter many birds did not migrate any further than Germany: also The Netherlands, usually the last ‘stop’ before Bewick’s swans move on to the UK have seen record low numbers: whereas the Netherlands usually is host to 70% of the total Northwest European population they have only counted 4,800 Bewick’s swans this winter, down from the usual c13,000.

All of this may not be as bad as it seems: as the birds do not have to fly as much and do not experience harsh weather this winter, the birds are likely to remain stronger and thus, when back in Siberia in their breeding grounds, may actually turn out an above-average numbers of young. We will find out next year…

Further information

For further information about the Swanniversary, also see the following links:

 Related posts:

World Wetlands Day – family fun at WWT Welney

LogosIt is nearly World Wetlands Day!

2014 is the UN International Year of Family Farming – to link in with this, the Ramsar Convention chose Wetlands & Agriculture as its World Wetlands Day 2014 theme. The slogan is: “Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth”, placing a focus on the need for the wetland and agricultural sectors (and the water sector too of course) to work together for the best shared outcomes.

Wetlands are often intimately linked with agriculture. No more so perhaps than in the Fens. Wetlands have often been seen as a barrier to agriculture, and they continue to be drained and reclaimed to make farming land available. But the essential role of wetlands in support of agriculture is becoming clearer and clearer, and there are successful agricultural practices which support healthy wetlands.

The surrounding agricultural land is also of immense importance for the species living on the wetlands. See for instance a beautiful image of swans in the surrounding fields near Welney – they feed on the sugar beet stubble: http://www.flickr.com/photos/9842362@N04/3267890638/in/set-72157602183911159/lightbox/

To celebrate what is so special about wetlands, why we need them and how agriculture is intimately linked to them, WWT Welney Centre has a family fun packed day of events lined up this Sunday, 2nd February. Activities include:

  • bird ringing demonstration
  • owl pellet dissection
  • guided walks
  • swan feeds: Watch a commentated wild swan feed at 12, 3.30pm or 6.30pm to find out about why the relationship between farmland and wetlands is so important for our winter visitors
  • and more

For the full programme, see: http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/welney/whats-on/2014/02/02/world-wetland-day/

More information can also be found here: http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/welney/news/2014/01/wwt-welney-news/get-involved-in-a-wetlands-bioblitz/

sunset at Welney @sailorgirl1984

Sunset at Welney, January 2014. Image from: @sailorgirl1984

Related Posts:

New Picture (3)

Swans – © Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust 2013

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:

WordItOut-Word-cloud-285478_2

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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:

 

Wetland Vision

Heritage Lottery FundFreshwater wetlands are considered to be one of the most important natural resources. They provide food, fuel, store and filter water, buffer against flooding and, store carbon. Wetlands are also important sites of recreation, allowing people to get in touch with nature. They also preserve important archaeological records such as organic materials and paleo-environmental deposits.

Over the past 1000 years, wetland habitats have been drained, developed on or polluted leading to a 90% loss of wetland area. Over the past 50 years, more than 100,000 wetland archaeological sites have also been damaged or lost. The dramatic loss of wetlands can be seen in the below maps.

Historic wetlands

This map is from the Wetland Vision report

Current wetlands

This map is from the Wetland Vision report

As a consequence of habitat loss, wildlife and ecosystem services have declined or been lost. The majority of fragmented and diminished wetlands currently within the UK’s are also in poor condition.

In 2008 English Heritage, the Environment Agency, Natural England, the RSPB and the Wildlife Trust published “A 50-year vision for wetlands”. This document outlines the aims and objectives these organisations wish to achieve in order to preserve, enhance and restore England’s wetlands to maintain wildlife and historic records whilst benefiting society. Locations where this is considered possible are shown in map 3.

potential wetlands

This map is from the Wetland Vision report

To achieve this vision, regional support is needed as local knowledge and thoughts are vital for the success of such large aims. The Fens were once England’s largest wetland, but over 97% of wetland habitats have been lost within the region. Therefore, a great deal of effort is needed to maintain surviving sites and restore others. This is already being put into practice through projects such as the Hanson-RSPB wetland project at Ouse Fen which will not only benefit the area but also contribute considerably to the Wetland Vision’s desire to double the area of reedbeds in England.   Additional local involvement will be achieved through the Fens for the Future Partnership. Their strategic plan will ensure that “the visions for wetlands” is implemented within this region through its own targets.

The Great Ouse Wetland network is one of the UK’s most important wetlands at 3,000ha. The area is comprised of a network of wetland nature reserves including the well-established Welney and Ouse Washes nature reserves, and newer reserves such as Fen Drayton Lakes and Ouse Fen, as well as planned schemes at Sutton and Coveney. These sites are mostly owned by nature conservation organisations including the RSPB, WWT and WTBCN.

The Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership will further work on these aims as the scheme looks to encourage the local community to take part in conservation through projects such as “Giving Nature a Home at Fen Drayton”, “The Great Ouse Wetland Engagement project” and the “Barn Owl Recovery project” which will all be implemented with our partner organisations as part of the scheme’s delivery phase, which starts in 2014.

???????????????????????????????

Reedbeds at WWT Welney Wetland Reserve’s visitor centre

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/

Ecosystem Services

Heritage Lottery FundThe Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership will play an important role in preserving and enhancing ecosystem services within the Ouse Washes. In 2005, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment thrust the concept of ecosystem services in to the political, scientific and social arenas. However, to understand why ecosystems services are important, it is important to understand what they are.

What are ecosystem services?

Ecosystem services are defined as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems”. Ecosystems, a combination of living and no living elements within a community, are all around us. Therefore, it is important that we understand how nature works to advantage us. There are four different groups of ecosystem services which provide different types of benefits.

  • The services that have physical benefits that are easily seen such as food, water, wood and fuel are known as provisioning ecosystem services.
  • The production of these rely on supporting ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, soil formation and photosynthesis.
  • Even if an ecosystem has healthy supporting ecosystem services, regulating services such as pollination, water purification and, climate regulation are required to guarantee the production of provisioning ecosystem services.
  • To further benefit from all of the above, ecosystems provide cultural services such as aesthetic, spiritual, educational and recreational benefits.

Due to the benefits they provide, it is now recognised that ecosystems have an economic value as services such as food and water have a market value. Work is currently being conducted to attempt to assign economic values to all ecosystem services.

Ecosystem dis-services

It is also important to note that ecosystems also have dis-services. These are services that are disadvantageous to the ecosystem within which they reside. For example, flooding or crop pests could be considered as dis-services. However, dis-services can be kept at bay by ensuring that ecosystem services are well managed thus, problems can be overcome. For example, flooding can be managed through effective landscape management that alters regulating services such as water purification through wetlands as the water is stored in a different area.

Ouse Washes ecosystem services

Wetlands are essential for water regulation, archaeological preservation and species habitat. The Ouse Washes contains wetlands that are extremely important. They are recognised both nationally and internationally as ecologically important leading to its designation as a Special Area of Conservation, Special Protection Area and Ramsar, with additional sites being recognised as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The Ouse Washes area provides numerous ecosystem services both within the proposed area for the landscape partnership and beyond the boundaries (table below); therefore it is extremely important to manage this landscape to continue to enhance its existing services and to reduce the likelihood of dis-services arising.

Ecosystem Service   Category

Service provided by   the Ouse Washes

Supporting Services

–            Habitat provision

Provisioning   Services

–            Biodiversity and genetic resources
–            Water Storage & Provision
–            Food production: arable and grazing
–            Aggregates

Regulating Services

–            Flood Prevention and Regulation
–            Carbon storage & Climate regulation
–            Water quality regulation

Cultural Services

–            Heritage values: Drainage History, Archaeology   & Palaeo-environmental resource
–            Recreation/Green & Blue open space   provision
–            Tourism economy (based largely on Wildlife   & Waterways)
–            Sense of Tranquillity & ‘Sense of Place’

The OWLP scheme themes (https://ousewasheslps.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/proudly-presenting-our-themes/) will address the above services by establishing and delivering projects working with other organisations.

Whilst all of the above is fairly technical, the take home message is that nature provides for us. Without it, we would have nothing. Therefore, it is important to learn to look after our landscape and our heritage both of which the OWLP scheme aims to do.

For more information visit:

Understanding ecosystem services:

The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’s ‘Ecosystem and Human Well-being Synthesis report

Ecosystem Services: living within environmental limits

Valuing ecosystem services:

An introductory guide to valuing ecosystem services by Defra

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)

P1000559

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.