14 September 2023

Written by

Chris Howes

Two influential boating figures from the Anglian Region have retired. Irven Forbes, Waterways Manager for the Environment Agency, and David Thomas Chief Engineer and CEO of the Middle Level Commissioners have both ‘hung up their boots’. They are replaced by Katherine Briscombe at the Agency and Paul Burrows at the MLC. Both Irven and David were friends to boating in the Anglian Region and we wish them happy retirements, just as we wish their successors, Katherine and Paul, the very best. Paul has come from the Environment Agency to the Middle Level. We strongly hope that these changes herald even closer working ties between the two Navigation Authorities. Initial indications are promising!

Siltation of the tidal Great Ouse between Denver crossing and Salter’s Lode is becoming an increasing problem, and has demanded an increasing frequency of dredging. Works on the tidal side of Denver Sluice coincided with the exit to Salter’s Lode Lock (downstream) becoming blocked and a hire boat grounding. This was quickly remedied with minimal interruption to boating. We are confident that ‘lessons have been learned’ and the risk of further blocking of Salter’s Lode minimised.

The crossing from Denver to Salter’s Lode is tidal. IWA has recently written a guide to this crossing, with helpful ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ which can be viewed and downloaded at

Prior to the clearing of Well Creek in the 1970s, The Old Bedford River was the only navigable link between the Middle Level and the River Great Ouse. This link was sadly lost when Welches Dam Lock was closed in 2006. A small, but determined, band of IWA members like to occasionally make passage up the Old Bedford River. This involves backing into the entrance and cutting through the silt with your propellor! Passage was last achieved in 2018 to coincide with the IWA Festival of Water in St Neots. On 2nd May Chris Howes & Christine Colbert (on Lily May) and Paula & Gerald Syred (on Platinum Fox) tried to again make passage. The siltation was 5ft up the tidal doors, and despite valiant efforts by contractors, it was impossible to get onto the Old Bedford River in the available tidal window. Thanks are due to everyone assisting, particularly Paul Separovic of the E.A. and Tom Lanarch (formerly Cams Conservators) of River and Rural Ltd.

Let’s hope the next attempt will be more successful !

A preferred site for the new Fenland Reservoir has recently been announced. This is on the Middle Level, North West of the junction of the Forty Foot Drain and the Sixteen Foot Drain. We are lobbying hard for Open Water Transfer (rather than sealed pipe). This offers the real chance of restoring boating to Welches Dam and the Horseway Channel, as well as providing a welcome and wide range of healthy outdoor leisure opportunities.

The Middle Level Commissioners invested a lot of time and effort in putting the Middle Level Bill through Parliament. This allowed them to charge boats wishing to use their waters a licence fee. Funds generated by the licence are ring fenced to be spent on the provision of navigation facilities on The Level. However because of unfortunate administration by Canal & River Trust, funds from the Gold Licence that should be going to improve facilities on the Middle Level are getting ‘lost’ and instead probably going to the Environment Agency. We are lobbying Canal & River Trust hard to remedy this clear injustice.

The small city of Ely with its shops, restaurants and glorious cathedral, has long been a popular stopping point on the river Great Ouse. The District Council enforce mooring time restrictions which in summer months ensure everyone gets a fair opportunity to moor for up to 48 hours. However in winter these same restrictions can appear over zealous. Ely District Council issues fixed penalty notices to over-stayers. We pointed out that when, this winter, the river was frozen, forcing boats to move was unreasonable and dangerous. The Council has now agreed to relax mooring restrictions when they have a ‘severe weather protocol’ in place.

Ben Di-Giulio, one of the two Denver Lock Keepers left in August, for another job within the EA. Ben will be greatly missed as a friendly face and knowledgable source of information. We all look forward to seeing the first picture of the new ‘management’ Ben, spruced up in shirt and tie, and wish him and his family the very best!