The National Trust hope to combine the User Forum with other local groups for 2013, to form a Wicken Fen Community Liason Forum.
The final meeting of the User Forum was held on 11th September 2012, at Wicken Fen visitor centre. Topics discussed included the ongoing proposal for a cattle crossing of Harrison's Drove, the new cattle crossing point on the Maltings Path and works around the Burwell Cock Up bridge.
The NT have said they would prefer to install a bridge over Harrison's Drove, for their livestock to use. At the present time, plans have not been finalised, nor funding secured, but estimates for the cost are not unreasonable and it is hoped that the scheme will go ahead.
Meanwhile they are spending some currently available funds on preliminary work around the Burwell Cock Up area, in anticipation of securing further funding for a new bridge over Burwell Lode. The work includes diverting the Internal Drainage Board ditches, surfacing of the existing pathways and building an isolated earth ramp with another path to the top of it.
A special meeting was held on 1st May to discuss the issue of livestock crossing Harrison's Drove. The National Trust had circulated a 30 page consultation document with proposals to link the grazing areas either side of the drove.
They finally admitted at the meeting that there is no scientific evidence to support their grazing policy, it is all an experiment. There is strong opposition to any kind of obstruction such as gates or cattle grids on Harrison's Drove, which has recently been awarded public bridleway status after a public inquiry. Even their supporters seem to agree that it would be unreasonable for the NT to block the bridlepath.
The preferred option is to build an up and over crossing, such as a green bridge, with a tunnel for the public underneath and grazing animals roaming across the top without needing to mix with people. This was supported by everyone present, as well as the local Parish Council. It is estimated this might cost about £150K.
The NT stated that they wanted to acheive a crossing of Harrison's Drove prior to a proposed animal bridge being built over Burwell Lode, close to the existing Cock up Bridge. They were unable to provide any justification for this, as many people thought it would be easier and more cost effective to build the two at the same time.
The National Trust seem to have accepted that they have no right to build on a highway they do not own. They have also suggested they could try and fence off the end of Harrison's Drove and put gates across the bridlepath on the Wicken Lode underbank, if funding cannot be found for the bridge option, as they claim to own a strip of land here.
It was pointed out that previous attempts to obstruct the drove with gates had seen them destroyed and any future attempt to do so would cause resentment. Local people are sick of the NT trying to block local paths whilst making noises about improved access. It was refreshing to hear a change in attitude from asserting a divine right to obstruct paths towards an apparent desire to work with local people, but disappointing that they should be even considering blocking this hard won right of way.
There had not been a meeting of the group for a very long time, other than a site visit to look at bird hides and disabled access, when the group met at the Wicken Fen visitor centre in March. Not since members of the group had suggested they should be able to put items on the agenda themselves.
The first item on the agenda was a suggestion by the National Trust to merge the User Forum with the Steering Group, which consists more of representatives of local Councils and interested groups. This was generally accepted as a reasonable idea, particularly as some people are on both groups and some on only one. As such, this could be the last User Group meeting ever.
However, this discussion was overshadowed by a raging debate that has erupted following the National Trust issuing a 30 page consultation document for a possible cattle crossing on Harrison's Drove. It has been suggested that an up and over crossing, such as a traditional cock up bridge, or a green bridge with a culvert for the public would be acceptable. Local users of this public bridleway are furious that the National Trust have suggested gates or cattle grids as an option.
Harrison's Drove was won as a bridlepath following a lengthy campaign by local people and a Public Inquiry. The Inspector had found that there should be no barriers or obstructions on the route. People have better things to do than read 30 page consultations on issues that have already been settled.
The National Trust appear to have no legal basis for their suggestion of cattle grids on Harrisons Drove, although in a move that has disgusted those who fought for the route, Wicken Fen manager Chris Soans suggested the National Trust could challenge the law in the High Court. National Trust members should note how their money is spent!
Former NT area manager, Philip Broadbent-Yale has moved on to promoting cycling and outdoor activities for the NT nationwide and is no longer in overall charge of the Wicken Vision, responsibility lying with Wicken property manager, Chris Soans. Good wishes to Philip in his new role.
A naturalist has resigned, leaving the group under-represented in this area.
The new ha ha alongside the Lodes Way across Burwell Fen has been built. A ha ha is a steep sided ditch to prevent livestock crossing, in this case, onto the path. Cattle have been re-introduced to the area and walked straight across it. It seems the sides are not steep enough and need to be improved, if possible. Given the nature of the fen soil, fences may need to be built, instead.
Controversially, new gates and cattle grids have been installed on the Maltings path, between Burwell and Wicken.
The main subject of discussion was the plan to install a cattle crossing on Harrisons Drove, Burwell. NT plans to install cattle grids on the road have not gone done well with local people, especially those who were involved in the long running battle to have a bridlepath between Burwell and Wicken recognised along this route. A member of the public has produced plans for a bridge over the route, that would not impede the existing traffic on the route, including horses and small vehicles. Large plant belonging to the EA would be able to bypass the bridge by way of a diversion involving gates or cattle grids at the side of the route. This plan was preferred by the group and the NT are now considering it. A further meeting on th eissue is planned, once cost implications have been looked into, but it was felt that cost would not be substantially different from the original suggestion, which would have obstructed the route. It may even be cheaper!
Lois Baker was welcomed as a new member of staff at Wicken fen
New gates and cattle grids are being installed on the Maltings Path section of NCN 11, between Priory farm, Burwell and Monk's Lode, Wicken. The section of Maltings Path alongside Monk's Lode has now been fenced off from cattle.
The National Trust now want to put cattle grids on Harrison's Drove, so their cattle and horses can wander across the road. They suggest a Cock Up style bridge alongside the drove and over the proposed grazing path, for non motorised transport. Harrison's Drove is a road at this point. Further along, a recent public inquiry found that it is a public bridlepath that connects Burwell to Upware.
Plans were presented for an all new river crossing at Burwell Cock Up, with seperate lanes for cattle and people. Ponds will be dug, ditches and paths diverted, boat moorings and a car park may be included. Funding for the project is not yet available.
The National Trust intend to offer cycle hire from Wicken, starting this summer. It is intended to keep hire charges down as far as possible, to encourage usage.
The idea of creating zones of different conservation levels was discussed. It was felt that putting land that the National Trust do not own into high level conservation zones could affect property values and create planning difficulties.
It was felt that the National Trust has begun to take more notice of local opinion, which is positive. Community Officer Emma Shepherd has left the NT and her replacement is Lois Baker. It is hoped everything goes well for Emma.
The NT have produced a guide map aimed at cyclists. A later version would be more comprehensive and include horse access. They hope to have downloadable maps available by new year.
The NT announced a proposal for zones, with varying access available, from open access, through path access only, to innaccesible wild zones. They thought they might want to move permissive paths, in response to future land aquisition, but would provide new alternatives.
The Lodes way and Reach Lode bridge are now open, initial problems are being identified and dealt with. Access to the Lodes Way is still restricted from Burwell, but this issue is due to be resolved imminently. There are still some problems with cart drivers being given the wrong combination for removable bollards. There is some concern about horses cantering or galloping on the surfaced cycle path, rather than the bridlepath that runs alongside. It is hoped that once the bridlepath settles down and grows over, horses will use this. Meanwhile, horse riders are asked to walk if they need to use the cyclepath, to avoid damage.
Initial plans have been produced for a new bridge at Burwell Cock up. A discussion of how best to retain access to the underbank droves was held, if the design goes ahead. It was noted that the culverts under Reach Lode bridge work well.
The NT also asked how best they could allow cattle to cross Harrison's Drove, without restricting access along it. It was felt a traditional Cock up bridge, like the one at Upware, would be the best solution, with cattle going under it.
It was noted that a bollard, a field gate and two picnic tables had been stolen from Split Drove. The next meeting was set for 17th January, 2011, at 6.30 pm.
The July meeting was held at Wicken Fen. With the new bridge at Reach Lode in place, a discussion on access routes around it was held. The NT confirmed that they would still like to extinguish the Highway known as Hightown Drove (2nd Drove, The Weirs, Burwell). This was so that they can put locked gates across it, allowing cattle to roam from one side to the other, via the culverts under the bridge approach ramps. It was suggested by Philip Broadbent-Yale that User Forum members could sign a letter in support of this proposal, which would need to be approved by a court. The Fenland Bridleways Association support public access rights, including vehicle access to Byways. The National Trust have received £1 million in a government grant for improved access and want to spend it on improved access for cows! It was pointed out to the NT that any such proposal would meet with opposition and it is stated here that at least some of the User Forum will refuse to sign any such letter. They may instead make a formal objection to the proposal!
Meanwhile, attempts to provide a circular ride at Oily Hall have been kicked into the long grass. Rather than upset a landowner who is not keen on the plans, the NT state they would like to leave it all on hold for a couple of years, in case there is a change of heart. There is the possibility of access on the south side of the access drove from White fen, with a new bridge over the main Interline Drain- the objecting landowner has rights over the north side, but this would not stop horse or cycle access!
Things may be looking up for a route alongside Tubney Fen, between the Reach to Upware road and Straight Drove, by way of Old Bar Drove. The owner of the land it would need to cross has been ascertained and he may not be as opposed to the NT as first anticipated.
The June meeting of the User Forum was held on site at the newly positioned Reach Lode bridge, particularly to discuss access issues over and around the bridge.
It was agreed to drop the earlier plans for cattle grids, in favour of gates, which would be positioned on Hightown Drove, Burwell, close to Reach Lode, so that grazing animals could access the culverts under the bridge ramps, allowing them to move freely between sections of NT land on either side.
It was generally agreed that the culverts for floodwater under the approach ramps were big enough for cattle and horses to pass under easily. The one closest to Reach Lode will carry horseriders using the Underbank Drove on the Burwell side and the one furthest from the Lode could take grazing animals. This would allow free access along the Underbank Drove and also along the new 'Lodes Way', including access from Burwell, without needing to cross the grazed area.
Only those wishing to join 'Lodes Way' or cross over the bridge, from the Reach Lode Underbank Drove (Burwell side) will need to cross the grazed area. Likewise, access from Hightown Drove to Reach Lode bank will cross a short section of grazed area.
The type of gate on Hightown Drove was the subject of much discussion. The NT would like to extinguish the Highway at this point, so that they can put locked gates, with permits for the combination issued by them to cart drivers and fishermen wishing to open them. This would require an application that may not succeed. If implemented, there would be a pair of bridlegates with a boxed area, on each side of the grazed area, ie 4 gates in a 20 metre stretch.
The other option suggested by the NT was to have a system of two gates on each side, so that if one is left open, there will be a back-up. However it was felt by some that this was an unnecessary obstruction, as people will be inclined to leave one of them open, for convenience. It was noted that there is only one gate on a gated road, in other parts of the country and if people are determined to leave them open, they will!
There will not be grazing around the bridge on the Swaffham side, so gates here are not an issue.
The design of parapet on the bridge approach was discussed. It was generally agreed that a 1.8 metre wooden parapet would be best. The NT would like Cambridgeshire County Council to adopt the bridge and be responsible for it's future maintenance, but it is unclear if they will, particularly as the bridge is over-spec for a bridle bridge, being built to take NT Landrovers as well.
The April User Forum meeting was held on Tuesday 20th at the Wicken Fen visitor centre. We welcolmed several new faces to the group, representing horse riders and disabled users.
The NT have consulted Wicken Parish Council, who have agreed that horse riders may use the section of footpath and cyclepath beside Wicken Lode, where they are landowners. This had not been formally agreed before. They would not allow the NT to erect bollards across the route, however.
Following calls from Wicken residents, as well as representations by the FBA, the NT have announced that they plan to fence off Monks Lode bank from grazing animals, so that it will be possible to take a circular walk or ride from Wicken via the Maltings Path, crossing Monks Lode and continuing along the line of National Cycle Route 11 via Monks Lode and Wicken Lode banks back to the village.
For the remaining section of the Maltings Path, from Monks Lode bank through to Priory Farm, Burwell, plans were unveiled for a new cattle grid to replace the kissing gate at the Burwell end, with a double bridle gate and box enclosure arangement for horse riders. The same arrangement is also planned for the Monks Lode end of the path, with the existing cattle grid being repositioned a few metres towards Burwell, to leave unhindered access along Monks Lode. This will result in a gap of a couple of hundred metres through the grazed area, but at least it will be possible to see if there any grazing animals nearby before riders go through the gate. For more on the Maltings path see: Maltings Path
Work has started on the new bridge across Reach Lode. Excavations for the foundations have revealed peat to a depth of two or three metres in this area, so this has been dug out and replaced with clay. The Bridge is due to be lifted into position in May, in time for opening in the summer.
The Cattle grids that the NT had planned for Hightown Drove, off The Weirs, Burwell, are still a matter of dispute. The NT have now agreed that if they are installed, then gates will be put in front of them so that if a horse bolts it will not run into the grid. Seperate gates will also be installed beside the grids for users with animals. It is wondered what purpose the cattle grids will serve as everyone would then need to open and close gates to use the route and could equally well use the stock gates provided for users with animals. It is thought that the NT still have some cattle grids in stock, that were planned for Straight Drove, Reach, before a campaign to keep the route open was successful and it is wondered if they are just keen to put them somewhere.
Additionally, there are to be a number of 3 metre high culverts through the ramparts leading to the bridge, for flood relief purposes. It was suggested that the cattle could easily cross the road and bridge approach by going through these, dispensing with the need for cattle grids and still allowing animals to graze freely between the two areas. The NT thought the design would not allow for this. A heated debate ensued, resulting in an agreement to have a site meeting once work progresses, but before any contracts to install cattle grids are awarded. Hopefully a common sense solution can be found.
The Environment Agency have funded the drawing up of plans for a new bridge across Burwell Lode, near the existing Cock-Up bridge. The NT suggest a time scale of one to two years for this project, which will allow horse riders and wheelchair users to cross Burwell Lode.
Considerable discussion was had on the subject of keeping people away from areas with wildlife. It was said that the best way to discourage people was the presence of large grazing animals, such as cattle and Konik ponies. A local birdwatcher was very keen on the idea, but it was pointed out that this was at odds with the NT's assertion that they are safe to ride through on NCN 11/ Maltings Path.
The NT have met up with a representative of Reach Parish Council to discuss a safe route across Tubney Fen, segregated from the livestock. The prefered route is on the village side, if landowners can be persuaded to give permission for access along a short section of track that links up this route.
The NT are still investigating improvements to the bridge across the main interline drain at Oily Hall, Lode Fen. If permission can be obtained from the relevant landowner, a replacement bridge could be built for about £10,000. Otherwise the cost would be closer to £25,000, which the NT agree is not a vast sum, considering the scale of the Vision and the length of circular ride that would be introduced. Hopefully this will move forward when the NT have a chance to discuss the matter with the landowner in question.
The meeting lasted about 2 hours and 15 minutes. The next User Forum meeting is scheduled for July, at Wicken.
The first User Forum meeting of 2010 was a site visit to Burwell Fen, meeting at the Cock-Up bridge on Wednesday 10th March. We were shown the latest plans for the proposed new path between Burwell Cock-up and the new Reach lode Bridge. Generally we can be quite pleased with this route, which follows Hundred Acre Drove, a road that has fallen into disuse, then Hightown Drove. A 6 metre bridlepath and cart track will run alongside a 2.5 metre cycle path. Grazing animals will be fenced off, except at three points, where there will be a 10 metre gap in the fencing (with gates), so the animals can cross.
The biggest bone of contention is the proposal to put cattle grids on Hightown Drove, a public road, so that animals can wander across it. Local horse riders are concerned that if a horse bolts, it could run into the grids and be seriously injured. It is noted that cattle grids can normally only be placed on a public road if this is an improvement (eg on a gated road).
It has been proposed that a bridge or culvert be implemented in such circumstances, but the NT have said that it is too late to incorporate such a design into the current works, as the contract has been awarded to BAM Nutall (also responsible for the Guided Busway) and work started on the other side of Reach Lode already.
A suggestion was made to put a diversionary fence part way across the cycle path, at the points that it approaches the small cattle grids, which are alternatives to the gates at the crossing points. It is hoped that these would divert any horse that bolts away from the grids and back onto the bridlepath without inconveniencing cyclists unduly. The suggestion was generally well received.
On a more positive note, The NT have said that there is no reason that the kissing gates on the existing footpath that runs parallel to the route can be enlarged, to accomodate horses, when they are replaced as part of the plans.
The old metal sheds, pictured below, at the top of Newnham Drove are of conservation interest, as they date from the wartime and few such structures still exist.
The meeting lasted about a couple of hours and was generally enjoyable, although very cold!