Welcome to my independent research project on at

News and events in or affecting the Ouse or Hundred Foot Washes


This page was launched in late July 2012 with conventional text pstings, with the earliest postings at the bottom of the page,  I intended adding a number of back-reports from my files but progress has been very slow while concentrating on other parts of my project.

The pop-out menu on the left shows the entries posted to date and has direct links to each.

I found it diffiult to keep up with postings in 2014 and joined the world of twitter. After a couple of false starts, this is something I will continue with. You can view my tweets and profile at twitter or in truncated form below:




18th December 2014
The OWLP - Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership, a scheme begun in November 2011 by Cambridgeshire ACRE in colaboration with many local organisations - launched their website. The scheme's manager, Mark Nokkert, announced:
"Today is a very exciting day as we are finally able to share our new website with the world! Please pass on the message to others .... This website is intended to be a 'one-stop shop' for local people and visitors to explore the Ouse Washes Landscape"
In July 2012 OWLP were given £90,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and later a further £900,000 or so making nearly a million pounds in total. In March 2014, the figures in an OWLP document had increased the total to over £1.1m, of which nearly a third of a million was for staff, consultancy and overheads. After more than two years and many months late, and at goodness knows what cost, they now have a website - but with many pages devoid of content. By contrast I started this website after 3 days planning at a cost of £10 of my own money, and have continued to finance every aspect of the site, my travel and researches.
I am happy to publish a link (below) to the OWLP site to allow others to visit and see whether it meets their needs - it covers many aspects that will not be found here, e.g. the "character of the landscape", biodiversity, pre-history, events and tourist attractions (many of which are some distance from the Washes). There are some very good low-level aerial photos taken from a kite, and there should be folklore too, but I couldn't locate any. Sadly, OWLP have not had the courtesy or deemed it necessary to make a reciprocal link to this site despite it being well known to them that for the history and management of the Ouse Washes, and details of the engineering structures and experiments within and immediately adjacent, this site covers a much wider field, in much greater detail and more accuracy than theirs (and I believe with superior navigation too).  A "one-stop shop" that excludes reference or links to the leading information site for [those aspects of] the Ouse Washes (a visitor's description, not mine) is unworthy of the title. The decision by Mark Nokkert and Cambs ACRE to ignore my efforts is very petty; that decision, and their website, have already led to critical comments from a number of my visitors in just the first few days.

My feeling is that anyone who wants to study seriously the topics this site covers will return here pretty quickly, and my recommendation to anyone wanting to know what's going on at (say) the WWT and RSPB reserves should visit the source websites rather than a third-party one.

My news report of the launch of the OWLPS scheme is near the bottom of this page, here . The
OWLP website is at : http://www.ousewashes.org.uk
RSPB site is at: rspb/ousewashes/
WWT Welney website is at: wwt.org/welney centre



News postings pending.


30th December 2012


Water levels have continued to rise following the exceptionally heavy recent rains and the Washes have been flooded side to side and end to end for a week or so. The EA's website today shows flooding on all three "causeways":
  • Welney, A1101, 144cm (4ft 9in)
  • Sutton Gault, minor road, 111cm (3ft 8in)
  • Earith, A1123, 22cm (9 ins, down from 38cm/15 ins a few days ago)

There are signs of emergency precautions all round the Washes. Those I've seen or been reported to me are
  • Mepal, alongside the A142 on west side of washes: pumps in the Counterdrain to discharge into the Washes if necessary, Positioned 25th Dec but not actually used
  • Hundred Foot Pumping Station, on east side of the Washes near Pymoor. Auxilliary pumps from the IDB drain into the 100 Foot River, deployed 23rd Dec
  • Welney, sandbags across the A1101 placed 29th Dec. The bridge cuts through the barrier bank  so the EA placed about thirty 1-tonne tote-bags of sand  positioned in line with the barrier bank. EA say action was triggered when water level reached a certain (unspecified) figure. Another EA statement said there is no immediate danger

Oddly, the level of the drain leading to the Sutton & Mepal IDB pumping station was lower than I've ever seen it, yet water was still being pumped out into the Counterdrain.

More on all this and photos wil be posted shortly. 

17th December 2012

Welney Wash Road flooding

The A1101 across the Washes has been flooded almost continuously since 3rd November, reaching a peak depth of 4ft 9ins/ 1.45m (=3.85m AOD Delph River level) in early December. The floods dropped quickly for a while, then leveled out in the region of 16ins, 41cms, before dropping to just 4-5 ins, 11-12cms on 15th Dec. However, following rain on 14th Dec, the depth this morning has risen to 8ins, 20 cms. With a similar depth at Sutton Gault, the depth at Welney may increase a liitle more in the next few days before dropping again.

14th December 2012

Environment found guilty in crane-drivers death.

The Environment Agency (EA) was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay £28,000 costs at Cambridge Crown Court after pleading guilty over the death of one of its crane drivers. It had admitted breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act at an earlier hearing, but two other charges brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) were dropped.

The HSE outlined failures in planning, training, equipment and supervision and said the EA had failed to implement recommendations after a similar incident two years before and had failed to discharge its duty to ensure the safety of its worker. HSE investigating officers said the work should have been suspended because of the freezing conditions. See full HSE report.

EA's regional director Toby Willison said that mmediately after the accident the EA mounted a full independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident. New procedures developed by the EA in conjunction with the HSE, emergency services, and the construction industry, have now been implemented when working on mats.

See accident report and inquest

29th November 2012

Will the Welney Wash Road flood clear before Christmas?

Probably not. There have only been a few days this month when the Wash Road was passable by cars, and for the last week its been getting deeper. Currently all three Wash "causeways" are flooded - 50 inches on the road at Welney, just a little less at Sutton, and 14 inches at Earith - and more coming down and unfavourable tides, it seems it will be quite some while before the foodwaters can be drained away through Welmore Sluice.

The EA believe water levels will increase further and deployment of sand-bags at Welney is likely, possibly tomorrow, 30th November.

Later note: one Welney source told me on 4th December that sandbags had been brought to Welney a day or two earlier, but not unloaded. After a while they were taken back to Ely as the EA had calculated that levels had peaked.

See later report

3rd  November 2012

EA river level at Earith
screenshot of the EA's page for river level at Earith showing the huge drop on 1st November when sluice opened to winter drawmark.

Sutton Gault & Welney Wash roads flooded - was it avoidable?

At 9am on 1st November Earith Sluice opened (automatically) to its "winter" setting (known as a "drawmark") sending a huge surge of water down the Old Bedford and onto the already partly flooded Washes.

In just three hours the Bedford Ouse was lowered by two feet, and the surge continued although a little slower for another 3 hours. The following day the road at Sutton Gault began to flood, and the day after that the Wash Road at Welney was affected.

I had monitored the EA's river level pages for the previous seven days and noted that the Hundred Foot/New Bedford River had been coping with the waters coming down stream. So was it really necessary to open the gates at Earith, an event that inevitably led to flooding of two roads causing diversions and disruption to many travellers? Surely, in the circumstances (washes already part flooded and 100ft River coping) the settings could have been manually over-ridden?

The EA seemed unaware of the effect of the change and ddn't post a flood alert until 15:30 hrs on 2nd November - after water was already on the road at Sutton Gault.
Update: The flood alert was lifted early morning on 21st November, but it was back on before midnight the same day.
31st October 2012

Will the Welney Wash Road flood soon ?

The EA page for flood alerts on the Hundred Foot/Ouse Washes "including the causeways at Earith, Sutton Gault and Welney" at 09:10 today, Halloween, said "NO WARNINGS".

But the EA page for the river level at the Welney Wash Road shows 2.2m AOD which is 20 cm or 8 inches below the level at which the road starts to flood. but as there is a lot of water on the washes above Welney and more rain forecast, it does seem possible to me that the road will flood within the next day or two.

An important factor is whether the EA will be able to open the Welmore Lake Sluice gates to evacuate water from the Washes, something they found difficult during the May floods due to a build up of silt which took some days to clear.

Other difficulties for the public trying to predict the situation are problems with the EA's on-line river-level pages. Several have not displayed readings recently - Offord still has no measurements showing, and the Sutton Gault page is not displayed at all these days.

Update 3rd November 2012. Welney Wash Road flooded today, Sutton Gault causeway yesterday. Both predicted by many but not apparently by the EA. See news item above.

25th October 2012

above, water flowing over cill
below, river level gauge board

photos, EE, 25th Oct 2012

Old Bedford flowing over spillway into Well Creek

The level of the Old Bedford/Counterdrain at Salters Lode is very high, way above the levels set under the EA's Water Level Management Plan which are 0.91m AOD (target) and 1.15 (maximum), and water is flowing over the emergency spillway set at 1.65m into Well Creek.

At the time of my visit the level gauge board read 1.70, the highest I've seen but despite the tidal river being quite low, the Old Bedford sluice gates were not open to allow excess water to flow out. A local resident said he hadn't seen them opened for months and suggested they were silted up.

I also noted that the banks have not been cleaned for a long time and there is substantial reed growth which if not removed will narrow the river.

For more about the spillway see Well Creek Weir

20th October 2012

Welney Gate still closed

The guillotine sluice gate seems to have been closed for months, even in dry periods. It is supposed to close only when the pumping sation at Welches Dam operates, pumping surplus water from the Old Bedford/ Counterdrain into the Delph. Anyone have any ideas?

September  2012

Water quality

25th August 2012

More water quality problems in Delph

According to a report in the Cambs Times on 24th August 2012, it seems the lack of dissolved oxygen in the river water reported in June (see below) is still a problem.

The Cambs Times article said distressed and dead fish had been found in the water between Sutton Gault and Welches Dam.  Water was still on the Washes following heavy rainfall in July and was being aerated and dosed with hydrogen peroxide by the EA. Warm weather had encouraged algal growth, and sped up deterioration of rotting vegetation.

An EA spokesman apparently said "it could take up to three weeks to finish pumping July's rainfall off the Washes and out of the watercourse".

To me, this once again poses questions about the effectiveness of the Welmore Lake Sluice which should be able to evacuate most of the floodwaters by gravity, leaving the pumps to deal with just a small amount.

24th August 2012

Website Site Index

A new comprehensive "fly-out" or "pop-out" site index/navigation bar introduced on several main pages. This will be rolled out on other pages as time permits.

Page contents navigation bars will also benefit from the fly-out/pop-out technique

Next month a "What's new?" search will be added.
back to contents

15th August 2012

Website search facility

The facilty on the home page has now been activated. Provided free by Crawl-IT, and updated monthly.

Next month a "What's new?" search will be added.
back to contents

23rd July 2012

Ouse Washes LPS gets huge funding

From the OW Landscape Partnership Scheme (LPS) web/blog site:
"Cambridgeshire ACRE has received an earmarked first-round pass of £995,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) through its Landscape Partnership (LP) programme for the Ouse Washes area, it was announced today. The Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership aims to work with a wide range of partners to improve community interaction and participation to maintain the areas inherent beauty, natural and built heritage assets and international importance so that it is safeguarded for the future.

Development funding of £90,500 is included in this amount to help Cambridgeshire ACRE progress their plans to apply for the full grant at a later date. The Landscape Partnership will undertake conservation work on the assets of the area; tell the story of the history of the landscape and how it has been managed; encourage local people to get involved in managing the area today; encourage visitors and local people to learn about and appreciate the landscape; and improve the skills of local people by providing volunteering opportunities and work placements."

21st July 2012

Flood warnings withdrawn

 EA Floodline announced removal of flood warnings made on 15th July for "causeways" at Sutton Gault and Welney.

An earlier warning on 5th July was withdrawn the following day.

back to contents
19th July 2012

EA prosecuted over drowned operator

I have not been able to find the outcome of this from newspapers or on-line and would be grateful for any information.

Later note: see verdict at December 2012 hearing.

See inquest report below

back to contents

12th June 2012

Inquest on drowned EA operator

An inquest into the death in December 2010 of Simon Wenn  (see report below) was held at Huntingdon Coroner's Court on 11th June 2012.

Among those giving evidence were Stephen Faulkner, the Investigating Inspector from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE); Geoff Brighty, Central Area Manager for the Environment Agency (EA); and Basil Kent an EA operative  who had been working with Mr Wenn at the time.

The inquest heard that Mr Wenn had been operating a tracked crane/dragline on a bank of the Counterdrain/Old Bedford River [from the photos, I think it was the east, or south, bank, EE.] near Mepal during a seven-week de-silting exercise. The machine, which had a 19m boom, an 8.5 tonne counterweight and a dredging bucket, was supported on timber mats laid on the bank.
During a procedure to move one of the mats further along the bank the crane slid into the river and Mr Wenn was trapped in the submerged cab. Firefighters called to the scene were unable to free him, and he was declared dead three hours later.
A post mortem examination revealed that he drowned.

The inquest heard that Mr Wenn and Mr Kent had not been supervised during the works. Mr Brighty said both were fully competent and qualified crane operators. Mr Wenn had more than six years of experience, while Mr Kent had been an EA worker for more than 40 years, Mr Brighty said: “Simon was in overall charge of the day-to-day operation. He was the person on site.”

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death after advice from Coroner William Morris.

  Following the inquest, it emerged that the  HSE has instigated legal proceedings against the EA over the accident. A representative from the EA is due to appear at Cambridge Magistrates Court on 19th July accused of not doing everything 'reasonably practical' to protect employees. The Agency has also been accused of supplying work equipment that was not suitable and that the lifting operation of the crane had not been properly planned. Paul Carter an inspector for the HSE said: 'We are alleging that more could have been done, and should have been done, to curtail risk.

(Text by Eddy based on various reports.

See prosecution report above

 15th June 2012

My photos to follow

More summer floods result in fish deaths

Driving through Welney in the morning of 9th June I saw a fountain in the pool of the River Delph just north of the bridge. I stopped to investigate and met a smartly clad Environment Agency (EA) staff member who told me that the EA were aerating the water in the Delph and Old Bedford/ Counterdrain, and had placed two pieces of equipment in each river. He said the problem was a lack of oxygen, due to stagnant water being drained off the washes following the recent floods and that had resulted in fish deaths. He also said hydrogen peroxide was being added to the water to help.

Notices on the gates to the river banks warn people to keep themselves and their pets away from the water because of "potentially toxic algae".

As I drove away I wondered how the draining of the washes could effect the Counterdrain/Old Bedford as it is only the Delph that the washes drain into.

A couple of days later I came across three East Europeans fishing by Welney Gate, either unconcerned by the problem or unable to read the English-only warning signs (which, I ought to add, didn't actually ban or warn against fishing).

Later still, I read a newspaper report which stated that the EA said the problem was blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) known to cause illness in humans and animals. Apparently it was revealed by routine water sampling and the EA has notified farmers, water abstractors and angling clubs. It seems that in certain conditions the algae form blooms and can produce a surface scum, and both blooms and scums are capable of producing toxins known to have caused the death of wild animals, farm livestock, domestic pets and fish Humans can suffer rashes following skin contact and illnesses have occurred when Blue-Green Algae have been swallowed.

(later note: see also similar problem in August)

May 2012

Summer floods wreak havoc to ground nesting birds

From a report in the Daily Telegraph, 5th May 2012:
"the Ouse Washes ..... is under 6 feet of water after the wettest April on record. The nests of an estimated 600 wading birds on the reserve have been destroyed or washed away by the deluge.

The reserve is home to almost two-fifths of the country's lowland snipe, a threatened species that has suffered large declines in the past 25 years. Redshank, lapwing and rare black-tailed godwits are also among the species to be affected.

The RSPB said it could take three to six weeks before the water recedes to normal levels if it stops raining and this could be too late for the birds to attempt breeding again."


November 2011

Ouse Washes "LPS" (Landscape Partnership Scheme)

Launched, with the following aims:
"Working with a wide range of partners the scheme will create an integrated approach to promoting the Washes as a destination while maintaining the uniqueness of this valuable, wildlife rich, working landscape and its cultural heritage. The scheme will deliver a number of themed projects to raise awareness of this distinctive area, promoting its relevance to our lives today and in the future.

The aims are to:
  • Promote the Ouse Washes as a distinctive visitor and local destination.
  • Raise awareness and understanding of the role of the washlands, its pressures and man’s role in maintaining and conserving a dynamic landscape.
  • Work with a wide range of partners to improve community interaction and participation to maintain the areas inherent beauty, natural and built heritage assets and international importance.
  • Support the development of skills and provide training opportunities to enable local communities to be involved in conserving and managing the landscape."

Sept  2011

this website expands

Detais to follow

June 2011

summer floods 2012

Details to be added

14th June 2011

Steve Barclay, MP for NE Cambs, raises flooding concerns

Extract from his blog
"Later this morning [14th June 2011] I took a delegation including Cllr Tony Goodge, Andrew Newton (Engineer to the Board of the Littleport & Downham Internal Drainage Board) and Mark Gilbert (Vice Chairman of the Littleport & Downham Internal Drainage Board) to attend a meeting with the Environment Minister Richard Benyon MP. This was to ensure our concerns were raised at the highest level regarding the potential increased flooding risk which will increase from the Environment Agency’s current proposals for the Great Ouse Tidal River Strategy and their Wetland Habitation Scheme which causes me considerable concern.

There are a number of concerns I wanted to being to the attention of the Minister including the maintenance programme below the Denver Sluices, the lack of an adequate survey on the hundred foot drain and the Great Ouse to see what capacity has been lost to saltation [siltation] and the lack of detail regarding the programme of improvement works such as raising banks. A specific consequence of the increased silt is that the water channel is less wide and so the water level is higher. This results in the A1101 flooding more frequently.

I also expressed my concern with the effect the wetland creation may have on drainage and water levels, not least the representations I have received regarding the potential increase in the rate of runoff from saturated land. It was great to have Cllr Goodge present who brings 34 years experiencing as an engineer together with Andrew and Mark as engineers and experts in this area.

We have received a very positive response from the Minister not least as my sense was this had not been particularly brought to his attention before we raised it at today’s meeting. I have asked his office for two detailed notes one in respect of the Great Ouse and the cost and options for future maintenance, and the other in respect of the wetland creation so that we can have greater transparency on the amount spent so far, the proposed future costs and the extent to which any decisions are constrained by actions already taken by the previous Government.

I will set out this issue in more detail in a future blog."
See EA's Habitat Creation Programme

7th May 2011

My Ouse Washes Website

Launched, with just a single page

back to contents

8th January 2011

My Ouse Washes Project

The project began with the following aims:
  • to learn how the management of the Ouse Washes is worked in the face of so many diverse interests, such as flood limitation, drainage, irrigation, grazing, conservation & recreation.
  • to walk the total length of both banks of the Old and New Bedford Rivers photgraphing every man made structure within, surrounding, affecting or controlling the Washes
  • to research the history of the people and organisations responsible for the Washes, past & present.
  • to record and monitor the current management of the main water-control structures; compare actions with plans; and establish reasons for any differences.
  • to make all the above freely available on-line, presented in a simple format, hopefully in an easily understandable way
  • to encourage other individuals to assist in an informal way by commenting on and adding to the information posted

8th December 2010

Photo from Daily Mail on-line

Photo from Daily Mail on-line

Photo from Archant

EA worker killed in river bank accident

Simon Wenn, a 43-year old EA operative drowned in the Counterdrain/Old Bedford River near Mepal on the 8th December 2010.

The 28-tonne machine he was operating fell over and plunged into the frozen river, trapping Mr Wenn in the submerged cab.

Firefighters were said to have been on the scene in less than ten minutes and were able to release Mr Wenn's head and shoulders, but his leg remained trapped inside the cab.

Mr Wenn had been involved in a dredging operation using a tracked dragline working on timber matting, and the accident occured when the machine was used to move one of the mats further along the bank. Mr Wenn’s colleague, Basil Kent, said: 'I wouldn’t say Simon did anything wrong. He was going round nice and steady like he always did but for some reason the crane slid in. The cab was fully submerged. I knew I couldn’t do anything to help so I rang 999.'

Mr Wenn, who lived at Three Holes, had been an operator for six years. He leaves a daughter, Susan, 18 and twin sons Jamie and Lee, 17.

(Later note, June 2012: see inquest above)

(Text by Eddy based on various reports)