Fens 5 Welney

The continuation of our exploration of the Fens.

The first large scale work on draining the Fens was completed in 17C by the Duke of Bedford and a Dutch engineer Nicholas van der Muyden. We drive along by one of the main drainage channels, called the New Bedford River (featured image), although it’s not actually a river but an extraction of some of the waters from the Great Ouse River.

The waterway is long and dead straight, with a high bank separating it from the surrounding lower ground. Nearby is an earlier parallel channel, the Old Bedford River. The land between these two channels, the Ouse Washes, is used as a flood relief area when the old River Ouse would have flooded. It’s also good for wetland bird conservation and bird watching, hence our visit here to WWT Welney, where hides that look out over the wetland.

We take turns to visit the hides as there is no provision for dog walking here. There is a fair bit of birdlife around, notably martins, avocets, lapwings. I also see a single black tailed godwit in the distance – evidence that the WWT project to establish a viable population here may be working. The avocets are particularly photogenic.

Following the channel towards the sea, via circuitous Fen roads, we arrive at our second destination, the Denver Sluice Gates near the Norfolk town of Downing Market.

Denver sluice

These sluice gates manage water flows both ways from here up to the coast near King’s Lynn – and specifically prevent the Fens from being inundated by high tides. It is salutary to realise that without these gates this whole area of the Fens would be under water at high tide.

Black necked stilt

Perhaps the most prolific area of wildlife we saw in Costa Rica was the Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge, in the north of the country near the Nicaraguan border.

One of many highlights during our boat trip on the river was this large group of black necked stilts, apparently fairly common throughout the central Americas. Fairly obviously, the name comes from those long pink stilt-like legs and the black rear of the neck.

black_necked_stilt_pair
Black Necked Stilts

According to the RSPB, stilts are rarely seen in the UK, apart from avocets, which are of the same family but have an upward curved beak.

I may be paranoid, but along the river there were just small signs of creeping low level development – the odd landing stage, clearing, dwelling, fishermen – along the banks of this magnificent wildlife haven. For how long?