No shortage of water in the Fens

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WITH the summer practically upon us and a worrying drought, a hose pipe ban is inevitable. Farmers and gardeners badly need rain.

It is ironic that in the Fens there is no significant shortage of water. The lowland, in places several feet below sea level, might be regarded as a huge controlled reservoir.

Numerous drains and rivers intersect the region and water can be held back and pumped out at will.

We live in England’s largest and lowest sump which is constantly replenished by water from surrounding upland and farmers there would gladly like to keep it.

Their loss in aquatic terms is the Fen’s gain, bearing in mind in the past, water on excess draining into the lowland could prove disastrous, topping the river banks and inundating thousands of acres of Fen fields, causing serious loss of revenue.

Flooding of the Fens is legendary stuff, but nowadays the most sophisticated of land drainage schemes ensures our feet and the fields of the country’s bread basket keeps dry. One of numerous pumps, the largest in Britain, can pump away 100 tonnes a second.

Water brought the Fens into being and given the right seasonal weather and co-operation of the Uplands, the prolific area is well able to hold its own, even in the driest of conditions, though a little rain is better than irrigation.

The drainage scheme devised more than 350 years ago in the face of rivals, works well. We are indebted to the hundreds of immigrant Huguenots, Flemings and the Dutch and Scottish prisoners of war, hundreds dying of ague and exhaustion. Most were buried in the embankments they themselves had toiled on. It could not have happened without immigrants and their skills.

TREVOR BEVIS

March