Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lodes - more good news from the EA

Campaigners fighting to save historic Fenland pike fisheries received a fresh boost today when the Environment Agency declared: "We won't abandon the Lodes..."

Pike anglers across the UK signed an online petition after the PAC joined retired councillor Geoffrey Woolard's campaign to stop Cambridgeshire's ancient lodes being lowered, when it emerged their future was under review.

There were fears the National Trust's plans to buy up farmland to extend its Wicken Fen reserve, north of Cambridge, would have dire consequences for Reach, Burwell and Swaffham lodes, which are believed to date back to Roman times.

Many pike anglers learned their craft on these ancient waterways, like Ian Moules, pictured above with a fine lodes twenty. The lodes remain popular with a wide range of anglers , along with dog walkers, boaters and bird watchers.

The PAC set about publicising the issues as widely as possible. As the campaign was taken up by the local and regional press, the trust held a briefing for journalists at which it insisted its Wicken Vision did not require the lodes to be lowered.

Anger erupted after Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office responded to the online petition, saying the trust's plans would dictate the way the lodes were managed after all.

But the trust hit back, saying the statement from 10 Downing Street was "unhelpful at best".

Then the PAC was leaked documents confirming that the Environment Agency intended to maintain the lodes because of the outcry over the threats some of the options on the table posed to them.

Today EA Lodes project manager Jonathan Fearnley said: "'We have investigated a number of possible options for the future of the Lodes, and have taken into account the views of all interested parties including parish, district and county council, other key stakeholders and the public.

"There were eight options considered, and each was subject to a full technical, economic and environmental assessment.

"The preferred option is to maintain the lodes at their current levels, providing maintenance as and when it is required. However, if changes in land use alter the risk of embankment failure, it will be necessary to consider other options, such as carrying out advance works to the banks to reduce their risk of failure."

The lodes are artificial river channels that carry water across the low lying fens to the north of Cambridge to the River Cam. Centuries of drainage has caused the land surrounding them to sink.

As the land has sunk, the lodes have been retained at their original level by bank raising so they can continue to drain into the River Cam and be used for navigation. The water level in the lodes is now up to 3m above the surrounding ground level in places.

Mr Fearnley added: "One of the benefits of our preferred option is that it provides a cost-effective and flexible approach, which can take into account future land use changes in the area, and should not have any significant environmental effects.

"For now, reactive maintenance is the best maintenance option for the Lodes, but we will review the strategy every five years to make sure that the most appropriate management regime is being followed."

What you can do...

I you haven't already signed the petition, please add your name in support by clicking here.

A copy of the EA's final consultation document is available if you click here.

Comments can be sent to: Jonathan Fearnley, Project Manager, Environment Agency, Bromholme Lane, Brampton, Huntingdon PE28 4NA.