Wildlife on the Middle Level

Below is a report from Cliff Carson, Environment Officer for the Middle Level Commissioners on how the MLC Biodiversity Partnership has benefited wildlife over the past 5 years. All photo credits:Cliff Carson.

Five years of working towards biodiversity targets have produced real gains for wildlife in the districts of 36 Drainage Boards in the Middle Level Biodiversity Action Plan Partnership. 

One much-loved species that has benefited from Drainage Board Biodiversity Actions is the kingfisher. To provide nest sites for these jewels of our waterways 150 holes have been drilled during the last five years through steel, brick and concrete structures at 80 Internal Drainage Board (IDB) sites. When a 50 to 70mm diameter hole is drilled through steel piles or concrete headwalls that have soil behind them an opportunity is created for kingfishers to establish very safe nesting tunnels and chambers. Natural nest sites in riverside soil cliffs are often quickly eroded and only last a few years but sites like these behind steel piles will remain available for more than 20 years. 2015 has been a boom season for kingfishers in the Middle Level with many more sightings than usual reported from drains and rivers throughout the area.



Kingfishers nesting at drainage board sites drilled in concrete at March Third IDB (top left), in steel piles at Sawtry IDB (top right) and in brick at Needham & Ladus IDB (bottom right). Bottom left, a kingfisher with a fish at a Whittlesey IDB site.

Other species that have benefitted in the five year biodiversity plans of the 36 IDBs have been bats, barn owls, water voles, otters and black poplars.

Bat bricks fitted in a Churchfield & Plawfield IDB culvert

Bat bricks fitted in a Churchfield & Plawfield IDB culvert

82 large panel bat boxes have been attached to pumping stations and 26 bat bricks have been installed in culvert tunnels.

During the first five-year IDB Biodiversity Action Plan period 91 barn owl boxes have been erected in the 36 Drainage Board Districts, consolidating the Middle Level of the Fens as a stronghold for the species.

Barn owl leaving a nest box in Upwell IDB district

Barn owl leaving a nest box in Upwell IDB district

Barn owl chick from a nest box in Waldersey IDB district

Barn owl chick from a nest box in Waldersey IDB district







The 70,000 hectare Middle Level catchment is also a national stronghold for water voles. 1,770 meters of coir rolls pre-planted with native marginal water plants have been installed at 23 sites to create ‘instant habitat’ for water voles, provide pollen for insects and to stabilise bank margins.

Coir rolls being installed on the Old River Nene near Ramsey IDB

Coir rolls being installed on the Old River Nene near Ramsey IDB

Coir rolls on the Sixteen Foot Drain near Bedlam Bridge, March

Coir rolls on the Sixteen Foot Drain near Bedlam Bridge, March







water vole wisbech

Water vole: Hundred of Wisbech IDB district

water vole ransommoor

Water vole in Ransonmoor IDB district







Otters have benefitted from the construction of 79 otter holts (dens) in the banks of Middle Level waterways and spraints (signs of their presence) have been recorded at over 60 bridges throughout the 120 miles of drains and rivers in the catchment.

Otters have been returning to Fenland waterways in recent years although sightings in daylight remain rare

Otters have been returning to Fenland waterways in recent years although sightings in daylight remain rare








The black poplar is the UKs rarest timber tree and traditionally grows in damp locations beside water. 140 black poplars have been planted from cuttings taken from local trees and have been established at new sites throughout the Middle Level.

A black poplar cutting thriving beside the Black Ham in Holmewood IDB district,

A black poplar cutting thriving beside the Black Ham in Holmewood IDB district

The source of Bury Brook?

It has always been my intention to visit all the Parishes along the course of Bury Brook   and eventually work my way back upstream to its source.  Tracing the river back from Ramsey starts off simply; it goes through Bury, Wistow, Broughton and the two Riptons ( Abbots and Kings) with many other smaller tributaries joining along the way.

Bridge over Bury brook at Wistow

Bridge over Bury Brook at Wistow

Bury Brook downstream of Wistow Bridge










Bury Brook in Broughton

Bury Brook in Broughton


The Bury Brook waterbody boundary is as follows (as defined by the Environment Agency)

BB catchment

The source could be in one of two places from the look of this – Monks Wood near Wennington or just north of Alconbury. If you look at an OS Map you can see many tributaries and drains upstream from the Riptons and also the river itself seems to stop and start. A discussion with Ramsey Town Council last week revealed that some Councillors considered the river to extend as far back as Northamptonshire and if you look closely at a map there do appear to be water courses extending this far but how connected to Bury Brook they are I am not sure.  Hopefully as this project continues this will be a mystery that can be solved.




We all need Ecosystem Services…

Since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005 there has been increasing emphasise on the importance of conserving and enhancing our ecosystem services. But what is meant by this term and how does it affect you and your community?

Whether you realise it or not, you and every single person on Earth benefits directly and indirectly from the environment and the ecosystem services it provides.

Downstream View of Old Bedford River

Downstream View of the Old Bedford River. Source: Cambridgeshire ACRE

What are ecosystem services?

Ecosystems are a combination of all living (plants, animals, organisms) and non-living components (water, air, soil) in the environment around us. In turn ecosystem services are defined as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems”. These include security, health, basic material for a good life and good social relations. The services provided by the environment fall into four categories: Provisioning, Supporting, Regulating and Cultural.

How do they affect me?

The most likely to pop to mind are provisioning ecosystem services. The environment and ecosystems supply the food and fresh water we consume and use in industry. It also provides the wood, fibre and fuel we rely on to keep us warm, build our infrastructure and drive our vehicles. Without the provision of these you would not have the clothes you wear, the paper you write on and if you travel by car, your journey to work would be very different without these ecosystem services.

wildlife habitat and food production side by side

Wildlife habitat and food production, demonstrating ecosystem services side by side. Source: RSPB

Supporting ecosystem services occur around us continuously. They provide benefits to humans indirectly and therefore aren’t necessarily the first that you would think of when considering ecosystem services. Soil formation, nutrients cycling and primary production are all examples. Think of the trees and flowers in your garden. Without the continual formation of soil you would not have the growth and rich diversity of colour that you experience. As a gardener or someone who enjoys the outdoors you would not receive the enjoyment from the plants that you do.

For farmers nutrients are hugely important in the success of crops and growth of livestock, contributing to soil fertility and good quality agricultural land. Through the process and knowledge of nutrients cycling farmers can manage their crops to provide the optimum nutrients supply and enable optimum growth. In terms of primary production the process of photosynthesis is a significant aspect maintaining the clean oxygenated air we and all living organisms breathe and require to survive.

Regulating ecosystem services include the regulation of climate, flooding and disease. We also heavily rely on the water purification services that the environment provides. When referring to flood defence we tend to think of man-made defences, not the natural defences provided by our environment.


WWT Welney. Source: Cambridgeshire ACRE

The habitats native to the Ouse Washes and Old Bedford and Middle Level Catchment are great examples of natural flood defences. The wetland habitat acts as a giant sponge, absorbing and holding water, slowing the speed at which runoff is received by the rivers. Upland bogs and moors, woodlands and species-rich grassland also work in similar ways. In fact these natural ecosystem services are now the inspiration for new flood defence schemes as considered by The Wildlife Trusts.


Ely Ouse. Source: Cambridgeshire ACRE.

Lastly cultural ecosystem services include aesthetical, spiritual, educational and recreational aspects. Every time you take the dog for a walk, take the kids for a bike ride or go on a boat ride you are benefitting from the ecosystem services of our environment.


As well as enjoyment, and education for locals these services encourage people from further afar, bringing tourism and other benefits to the local economy.

Even those people who are located in urban areas benefit from the aesthetic value of ecosystems. It is as simple as looking out of your office window and admiring a tree, we all benefit from ecosystem services on a daily basis.

Nature Reserve

Local Nature Reserve on the River Witham, Lincolnshire. Source: Cambridgeshire ACRE

You are given the option of two walks; both are equal in terms of distance and health benefits. One walk would take you down a busy high street. The other would be along the river bank taking in the local environment and wildlife. Which would you choose?

Whether you recognise it or not ecosystem services are significantly important for everyday life, we rely on them and they affect all of us in multiple ways. There is a lot of pressure applied to the preservation of the services that nature’s ecosystems provide. The Water Care Partnership within Cambridgeshire ACRE aims to raise awareness of their importance and contribute to their conservation.