March boater calls for Old Bedford to be cleared

Skipper John Revell successfully negotiates his narrowboat ��Olive Emily�" through the tidal doors of the Old Bedford sluice onto the Old Bedford River.
Skipper John Revell successfully negotiates his narrowboat ��Olive Emily�" through the tidal doors of the Old Bedford sluice onto the Old Bedford River.

A March-based narrow boat has managed to navigate part of a river which has been closed for eight years.

Skipper John Revell and David Venn took the NB Olive Emily along the Old Bedford River.

This is one of Britain’s oldest artificial rivers, constructed between 1630 and 1636, but has been closed since 2006 after the Environment Agency sealed the channel over flooding fears.

Calls have been made to re-open the Old Bedford, which still retains a public right of navigation. Mr Revell and Mr Venn were hoping to navigate Olive Emily from the lock at Salter’s Lode to the Lamb and Flag at Welney.

But, unfortunately, they had to turn back a mile into the journey due to the weed.

Mr Revell said: “This latest attempt to again navigate the Old Bedford was to show that it is still possible to access the waterway in a narrowboat.

“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.”

This trip was part of the Project Hereward New Dawn Campaign, which is calling for a Middle Level southern navigation link from the River Nene to the Great Ouse via the Forty Foot River through Horseway Lock, Chatteris, and Welches Dam, at Manea.

The Forty Foot River between the two locks is overgrown with vegetation and requires an estimated £2million of work.

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.

Mr Green said: “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.”

The Middle Level Commissioners have granted permission for voluntary work to begin clearing the Forty Foot River approach to Horseway Lock.