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Drop in visitors and cash constraints blamed for cut to number of RSPB hides at local beauty spot

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The number of bird watching hides along the Middle Level barrier bank at Welches Dam in Manea is to be cut.

The number of hides is to be cut along the Middle Level Bank including at Welches Dam in Manea. (11455844)
The number of hides is to be cut along the Middle Level Bank including at Welches Dam in Manea. (11455844)

The RSPB's application to demolish five existing hides in the Fenland District Council area and replace them with just two has been approved. The remaining five fall under the authority of East Cambs District Council and will be replaced with just three.

An officer's report on the application explains the current five hides are located along the raised bank adjacent to the Ouse Washes nature reserve and due to their elevated position are noticeable from a distance.

It continues the proposal, approved by Fenland planning officers this week, seeks to build two new hides on the footprint of two of the existing ones - Welches Dam hide and Rickwood hide.

The report said: "The applicant has advised that due to financial constraints and lower visitor numbers in recent times, it is no longer viable to maintain the existing five hides and the hides themselves are all in need of repair. As such the proposal is to erect two new, improved hides to serve visitors following flood defence works to the banks.

A design and access statement submitted with the fenland application explains the decision to reduce the number of hides coincides with work to raise the Middle Level Bank. It says the existing 10 hides have been deemed unfit for removal and re-assembly once the bank work is complete.

The hides are leased to the RSPB by the Environment Agency, which owns the bank, and the two organisations have concluded there is “no longer a need for the same quantity”.

The statement points out the move will reduce disturbance to birds and wildlife “whilst still meeting the requirements of visitors to this scientifically important site”.

Spacing of hides means visitors can choose a short walk to the south of welches dam with the nearest hide only 400ms from the car park; or a longer route suited to keener birdwatchers, with the nearest hide 1km away.

It adds: "The new structures will be built exactly upon the existing locations of the hides that have been in place since at least the last reservoir bank works in 1992. They will be orientated to face the wash-land where they will afford spectacular panoramic views across the site. The two hides within the Fenland District Council area are two different sizes; the nearest hide (Welches Dam) will be the largest at 9m wide (currently 18m) though the front design will differ slightly by having angled edges. The second hide, (Rickwood) will be 7.2m wide (currently 9m), whilst having a standard rectangle shape.

"Existing blinding screens positioned between the steps and the hide will be reconfigured to allow for access along the bank top. This is being done to make sure there is unobstructed access along the existing Public Right of Way that exists here, and also to allow for Environment Agency maintenance vehicle to drive along the bank top without having to open gates, as is the case currently."

* The Environment Agency is holiding a public drop-in event at Welney on June 26. The event will give an up date on the progress of the work to raise the Middle Level Bank and is at the William Marshall Centre, Hurn Road, from 2pm to 8pm.

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