Fens Biosphere Progress: November 2019

The Fens Biosphere Area

One of the first steps in achieving Biosphere designation is to draft out a map of the Biosphere area. This is then submitted to  the UK Man and Biosphere committee (UK MAB) – the committee which oversees the UK Biospheres on behalf of UNESCO.

Many other UK Biospheres have used existing designations to define their areas such as National Park boundaries. We are not in this position. Over the past months we have been working on defining an area which we think captures the essential nature of the fens – soil, water, farming, nature and people. The current map is based on the peat soils, the Internal Drainage Board ditch network and Parish/Town/City boundaries. It is already one of the largest proposed Biosphere areas.

Defining the exact geography of the Fens Biosphere is proving tricky and is still a work in progress. We will be consulting further on this issue over the next two months and adding a new map page to this website. On the plus side the UK MAB are very interested in our unusual situation, the uniqueness of the Fens strikes again!

Good News – Candidate Status

On the 6 November we presented the map of the proposed area and other progress to the UK Man and Biosphere Committee. This is the first step towards designation and welcoming the Fens Biosphere to the family of UK Biospheres.

Spreading the Word

Popular topics of conversation the last few months

Over the past few months we have:

  • Met with Local Authorities and Statutory Agencies
  • Met with Internal Drainage Boards
  • Met with local organisations and businesses e.g. Water Resources East, The Water Care Partnership, The Local Nature Partnership, Ely Chamber of Commerce and G’s Growers Group, Fens for the Future, The Fenland Trust, Visit Cambridge and Beyond
  • Talked to communities and community members: The March Society, Fascinating Fens, Fenland Flag, Stretham Old Engine Trust, Parish and Town Councils
  • Attended and presented at events: Cambridge Conservation Forum Autumn Symposium, Local Councils Conference, Agri-Tech East REAP
  • Supported and met with new initiatives: Doubling Nature, The Fenland Peat Pilot
At the Local Councils Conference

What’s Next?

  • “An Introduction to the Fens Biosphere”. An afternoon event and workshop  on the 18 December aimed at helping people to find out more about the aims and potential benefits  of the proposed Fens Biosphere
  • A new website is being developed, this will be ready in the New Year
  • Map consultation: November & December 2019
  • More meetings with Local Authorities, Research Institutions, Farmers and Academics
  • Community Engagement – will start Spring 2020

National Lottery Climate Action Fund

National Lottery Climate Action Fund: for community led partnership work which reduces the carbon footprint of your community. £100 million over 10 years. Initial ideas in by Dec 18 2019, full application by March next year. https://www.tnlcommunityfund.org.uk/…/climate-action-fund%2…

Peat plant plugs?

G’s Growers Nurseries Ltd. (near Ten Mile Bank, Norfolk) produce small plug plants for the rest of the G’s group farmers to grow into mature plants. These will eventually supply our major supermarkets with lettuce, celery and other salad crops.     

A plug plant: Photo courtesy of GrowVeg.com

Plug plants are baby plants grown in their own individual cells of growth material – usually a peat-based compost.   When large enough these small plants are planted out in the fields – because the plants have been grown as individual  plugs plants (i.e. not in a large tray of plants)  root disturbance is reduced when they are moved on which means they are less stressed and start growing more quickly.

Each year G’s Nurseries supplies over 130 million plug plants to its growers. Each plug is made from compost – usually peat -based. However, G’s have been trying to reduce the amount of peat used in their plugs and have got it down to 20%. They would like to get it to zero and are currently trialing alternatives to peat such as sphagnum moss.  

Good news for the environment and a fantastic example of a business tackling  sustainability challenges.

Reduced peat “plugs” ready for their seeds at G’s Growers Nursery Ltd

The colour-coded cottage

Canary Cottage

Canary Cottage can be seen on the right-hand side of the A47 if you are heading towards Peterborough, between Guyhirn and Thorney. It has just been made a Grade II listed building. Tony Calladine, regional director for Historic England in the East of England, said: “By protecting it we are helping to ensure it can be enjoyed by future generations, helping them to understand life in the Fens in times gone by.”

The cottage dates to the late 1700s and was believed to have been built after the fen was drained. It sits on Knarr Farm and was part of a local colour coding system. The owners of the farm owned several other farms and associated machinery, to keep a track of them all everything was colour coded and the colour assigned to Knar Farm was…canary yellow.

The cottage was lived in by farm workers until 1965 – it had mains water, an outdoor toilet, no electricity and gas lighting.  

The current owners – Dalton Seeds –  are proud of their little  cottage and regularly maintain the exterior  and have said they would like to refurbish the interior one day.

 Historic England said it hoped people would share their own stories, memories and photos of the cottage through its Enriching the List project

Aerial photos of the Old West river

These photos are aerial shots taken by a local farmer – John Parish as he flew his own plane over the Old West. They show the course of the Old West from west to east starting at RSPB Ouse Fen and ending at the junction of the Old West and the Ely Ouse and were taken in early summer this year. Mr Parish has generously offered to take this series of shots on an annual basis for the Cambridgeshire ACRE New Life on the Old West project team to demonstrate any changes taking place in the landscape over the course of time (and the project) .

Sooth of RSPB Ouse Fen
RSPB Ouse Fen, Earith in the background
Queenholme Farm, Willingham
Aldreth Causeway, Aldreth in the background
River, north of Cottenham
Quarry off Twentypence Road, A10 in background, Willow Grange Farm to the right
Stretham Ferry bridge and Marina in centre, biodigester in centre, solar farms top right
Fish and Duck pub and Marina, junction of Old West River and Ely Ouse

Water Resources East – joined up thinking about water

On the 1st of this month I went to the Water Resources East (WRE) Norfolk and Suffolk Stakeholder assembly – a Cambridgeshire version is being planned. Below is a very short summary of who WRE are and what they stand for. The slides and links expand on this.

Water Resources East is part of a network of regional groups established by the Environment Agency to act as a framework for national water resource management.

These groups arose out of recommendations from several reports and policy papers (all available from the information page of this website):

  • Preparing for a Drier Future: National Infrastructure Report 2018
  • Water Abstraction Plan: Government Policy Paper 2017
  • Water Resources Long Term Planning Framework: Water UK 2016

Anglian Water started the partnership in 2014 but this June WRE became a not for profit independent company.    

 Water Resources East believe: 

“There isn’t a lack of water, but a lack of sustainable and resilient water management.”

It aims to encourage the organisations and authorities involved in water resilience planning to think and plan outside of their traditional operation areas and to develop new, collaborative approaches to resolving the problems surrounding water supply and demand. The national network of Water Resources groups is also looking at the how best to solve the redistribution of water resources in the country from the wetter North and West of the country to the drier East and South.

They will do this by: 

  • Looking at how all sectors and interested parties can collaborate in infrastructure development.
  • Looking at how to increase the efficiency and affordability of water use.
  • Looking at how these activities can provide added environmental benefits.

You can find out more about WRE on their website here.

Slides from the 1 July event