Saturday, January 10, 2009

Waterways link could transform Fens

Fenland could be transformed by a new Waterways Link which would increase navigation and allow boats to pass along connected drains and rivers all the way from Lincoln to Cambridge.

That means many more Fen drains could be opened up to boats for the first time, offering pike anglers the opportunity to access remote areas of the system.

Feasibility studies have been doing the rounds of council chambers and committees for more than five years, while the public seem less than enthusiastic about the idea.

As a 90m stretch of moorings opened on the South Forty Foot at Hubberts Bridge, Lincs, South Holland councillors were being urged to do more to promote the benefits of the plans, which would link Lincoln, Boston, King's Lynn, Ely and Cambridge.

An Environment Agency report says:

"The Boston Waterways Link will provide a navigable link for recreational craft between the River Witham and South Forty Foot Drain and is the first key component of the Fens Waterway Link.

The Fens Waterway Link is a partnership project to develop a new navigation link within the Fens, starting in Boston, Lincolnshire and ending on the Great Ouse, Cambridgeshire.

This navigation link will provide a focus for new investment in the East of England and will support leisure and tourism interests.

It will open up 240km of waterway including 80km of additional navigable waterways, creating the largest waterway enhancement scheme in Europe.

The entire strategy will deliver rural regeneration on a major scale through water-based tourism."

The 18,000-strong Inland Waterways Association has this report, which lists the drains and rivers affected:
"Following promotion of the restoration of this waterway by East Anglian Waterways Association, Fens Tourism (a consortium of local authorities) undertook a feasibility study of the route.

This report was encouraging and EA adopted the project as ‘The Fens Waterways Link’, which it launched in 2004 with support from local authorities, EAWA and IWA.

The Link envisages:

(a) connecting the Witham to the South Forty Foot Drain at Boston,

(b) restoring the South Forty Foot,

(c) linking the South Forty Foot to the river Glen at Guthram Gowt,

(d) improving the Glen downstream to the Welland at Surfleet Seas End,

(e) creating a new non-tidal navigation from Surfleet Seas End upstream to Spalding,
(f) improving the Welland from Spalding up to Crowland,

(g) creating a new waterway from Crowland across to the Nene at Padholme Pumping Station,

(h) improving the route through the Middle Level to Salters Lode on the Great Ouse,
(i) improving the alternative Middle Level route via the Forty Foot River to Welches Dam lock,

(j) creating a new navigation, using the Old Bedford and New Bedford rivers southwards from Welches Dam to the Great Ouse at Earith,

(k) creating a landmark structure at Denver, involving flights of locks and an aqueduct over the New Bedford River, to eliminate the current tidal crossing,

and (l) creating a new direct waterway link from Chatteris to Earith."
While pike anglers of the future could be taking to boats to fish the drains and rivers, the plan has already suffered a setback of sorts.

West Norfolk council has scaled back plans for a marina in King's Lynn, which would have been connected to the Ouse at Denver via the Relief Channel and River Nar, because of infrastructure costs of raising bridges, dredging the Nar and and connecting it to the Relief Channel.

A new lock built at Denver Sluice, connecting the Ouse to the Relief Channel has been little-used.

But pioneering pike and zander anglers have been taking advantage of being able to fish the 12-mile channel from boats, which is permitted between June and October.

Did someone say zander..? Connecting drains and rivers linking Norfolk and Lincolnshire could have another consequence as far as the species is concerned.

While they are present in the Welland, zander are not currently found in much of the Lincolnshire drain system. That would doubtless all change once waterways were linked.

Similar plans to link the Ouse with the Grand Union Canal and the rest of the Inland Waterways Network via the proposed Bedford and Milton Keynes Link have been on the table for some years.