Project Hereward enjoys a new dawn in an ongoing campaign with a name change

Skipper John Revell negotiates his narrow boat 'Olive Emily' along the narrow muddy tidal stretch le

Skipper John Revell negotiates his narrow boat 'Olive Emily' along the narrow muddy tidal stretch leading into the tidal doors of the Old Bedford sluice - Copyright Mike Daines - Credit: Archant

A project aimed at opening more of the area’s waterways for navigation has had a name change.

The Project Hereward New Dawn has now become Project Hereward - Welches Dam to Horseways - with the group believing the new name is more reflective of its ambition.

The change comes just as a successful attempt was made by a March based narrow boat to enter the Old Bedford river via the tidal doors at Salters Lode.

Skipper John Revell with ‘volunteer’ crew member David Venn negotiated his craft NB Olive Emily the short distance from the lock at Salter’s Lode into the shallow and muddy channel leading to the tidal doors of the Old Bedford sluice.

On hand to open the tidal doors, on behalf of the Environment Agency (EA), was the Middle Level, Salters Lode lock keeper, enabling Olive Emily to enter ‘on the level’, that is to wait for the tidal river Great Ouse to equal the level of the Old Bedford.


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This was John’s second attempt this year to navigate the Old Bedford, one of Britain’s oldest artificial rivers constructed between 1630 and 1636, pre-dating the English canal system by 100 years.

Although still retaining a Public Right of Navigation it hasn’t been available or used as a through navigation since 2006 when the EA, concerned about flood risk, sealed the channel with a cofferdam at Welches Dam Lock in Manea. This action effectively prevented boats from using it to reach the Forty Foot River.

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John’s first attempt in September, in the company of Roy and Lois Parker in their cruiser Marie II was unsuccessful but the Parkers triumphed on that occasion making theirs the first passage for several years through the Old Bedford Sluice. They cruised for a mile southwards before eventually being stopped by weed.

“This latest attempt to again navigate the Old Bedford was to show that it is still possible to access the waterway in a narrow boat,” said John.

“There was enough depth of water at the start to collect more crew and we set off hoping to reach the Lamb and Flag at Welney. However, just over a mile into the trip the river became shallower and the propeller began to collect masses of cottweed bringing us to a complete standstill. We turned around using poles and slowly made our way back to the Old Bedford sluice.

“This trip proved once more that it will remain difficult to reach Welney or Welches Dam lock until the Environment Agency takes action to make this river navigable again. It is not rocket science. They could increase the depth of water in the river, they could dredge and they could remove the cottweed,” he added.

Looking on from the river bank were Roger Mungham and Jeff Walters, who along with David Venn, chairman of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) Peterborough Branch, form part of the team running Project Hereward.

Project Hereward, first launched by the East Anglian Waterways Association in 1993 has empowered significant improvements to navigation on the Fenland waterways.

Recently a new partnership was forged between the EAWA, IWA branches Peterborough and Great Ouse and The Middle Level Watermens’ Club.

Project Hereward’s ‘new dawn’ is a renewed campaign to re-open the vital Middle Level southern navigation link from the River Nene to the Great Ouse via the Forty Foot River through Horseway Lock and Welches Dam.

Currently the Forty Foot River between the two locks is totally neglected, overgrown with vegetation, no fish and no boats. Using voluntary labour the cost of the work on the channel and the locks has been estimated at around £2.3m. Happily in September an anonymous benefactor donated £10,000 to go towards the cost of restoring Welches Dam Lock.

To this end Roger Green, secretary of Project Hereward, has submitted a method statement to the Environment Agency on how they would proceed with an inspection of Welches Dam Lock to enable project engineers Andrew Storer and Roy Sutton to produce a full structural survey.

“Hopefully once everything has been agreed with the Environment Agency in principle and permission granted we could make some real headway and start to get on,” said Roger.

Meanwhile plans are progressing far more rapidly with permission just having been granted by the Middle Level Commissioners for voluntary work to begin clearing the Forty Foot River approach to Horseway Lock. It will involve hand dragging the channel and clearing vegetation to a width of two meters, it took just one month to gain formal agreement from the MLC.

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