Waterways Campaigner and mooring customer John Revell updates us on his latest success on the Old Bedford River.
In July 2017 two boats, Olive Emily (built by Fox Narrowboats and moored at Fox’s marina) and the cruiser Marie II, successfully navigated the Old Bedford River from the tidal River Ouse at Salters Lode to the current head of navigation at Welches Dam lock. This is an ancient and attractive waterway and a statutory navigation. It is about 14 miles long and is managed by the Environment Agency (EA). There are many difficulties in using this river and some readers will be aware that non tidal access to the Old Bedford ended 11 years ago when EA arbitrarily piled the entrance to Welches Dam lock in 2006.
John Revell, owner of Olive Emily, takes up the story.
“I took part in a trip along the Old Bedford in April 2017 when 3 narrowboats managed to reach Welches Dam. This was the first successful trip by narrowboats since 2006. EA were very helpful and cooperative but had made it clear beforehand that they would have preferred the trip to have been made later in the year. So Lois and Roy Parker (Marie II) and myself gave EA two months’ notice that we would like to make a second voyage in July. The tides seemed right and the dates chosen were just before the main school holidays.
EA (Waterways) acknowledged our request and consulted other parts of EA. One distinct advantage of this was that when we reached Salters Lode we found that EA (Water resources) had asked the local Middle Level Commissioners lock keeper to put more water into the non tidal river. This made the normally tricky access from the narrow tidal stream much easier.
Apart from one big snag the trip to Welches Dam went really well and we returned the following day after stopping overnight close to the excellent Lamb and Flag. A lot of people knew about our trip and commented how good it was to see boats on the river again.
None of this would have been possible without the help and advice from the EA staff we met and the Middle Level lock keeper so what was the big snag?
Out of the blue and at the last minute, EA’s (Waterways) Team Operations Manager, asked for the whole cruise to be called off or delayed until October (four months later) after the next scheduled weed cut had taken place. A similar request for delay had occurred prior to the trip in April 2017, albeit for a different reason and with rather more notice whereas I had been advised that my unsuccessful trip in November 2016 would have been more successful if I had made it earlier in the year.
The lengthy email from EA (Waterways) cited concerns from EA (Fisheries) about low dissolved oxygen from “wind blown accumulations of decaying algae” in one section of the river. EA (Fisheries) were of the opinion that navigating through this in our two boats might give rise to a “significant risk of an environmental (Fish distress /kill) incident. ”
Following discussions with David Venn, Chairman of IWA (Inland Waterways Association) Peterborough Branch, we decided that a proportionate response to this concern would be to continue the planned trip and assess the situation when we reached there as the problem appeared to be very localised (close to the village of Welney).
As we approached Welney we found a short stretch of foul smelling, floating rotting material – see photo. Removing this before we reached there would clearly have benefited everyone and everything. Someone commented that EA appeared to be more concerned about the DO (dissolved oxygen) than the DO (disgusting odour).
We were met by two helpful staff from EA (Waterways) team and we discussed what to do. It was decided that the narrow boat could proceed very slowly and cautiously along the middle of the channel under their close supervision. The cruiser was stuck (see photograph) and so it was pulled through the weed by ropes from the narrow boat again under EA’s close supervision.
Everyone present was satisfied and I am pleased to report that subsequent tests at Welney by EA after the passage and return of our 2 craft showed minimal effect on oxygen levels.
EA had known about the “wind blown accumulations of floating algae” for some time and personally I feel they could have done more to remove it. This was such an obvious environmental problem and leaving it was not in anyone’s interest, least of all the residents of Welney and those who walk, fish, collect eels, and occasionally boat along the river.
I returned to Welney by car 2 weeks later and I am pleased to report that these ”accumulations of wind blown algae” have gone so I wonder whether we were asked to delay our trip for four months until October 2017 for another reason.”
John Revell 15 Aug 2017
Narrowboat Olive Emily