Fenland Update

Published: Wednesday, 03 April 2024

ANOTHER win for Cambridge, writes Kelvin Alexander-Duggan.

What a start to the cruising season with a double win for Cambridge in the Boat Race with, we hope, the last of the winter rains. Here in the East of England over the winter months, months of heavy rain has see the ground across the region became water logged and the three major rivers in flood condition.

River levels dropped

River levels have since dropped nearly back to normal in the last week or so. There are still vast quantities of water to drain from the waterlogged land and this will take another few weeks to drain. Hopefully farmers may be able to save some of the winter crops once the water logged fields start to dry out.

St Germans Pumping Station, operated by the Middle Level Commissioners, has been working harder than ever before discharging on average 77 cubic metres of water per second over the winter—a level it has never previously needed to operate at.

The pumping station has a maximum capacity of 100 cubic metres a second when all six of its pumps are spinning at their absolute maximum, which it has had to do at times over the last few months. At times of peak electric demand the pumping station has used it's backup diesel generators to provide power to the pumps. Over one 48 hour period when all six pumps were spinning at maximum rpm over 11,000 litres of diesel was used.

Comes at a cost

All this increased pumping comes at a cost to the Middle Level at this time of high electric prices, not helped with a average 509 percent increase in the standing charges at its 67 electric meters, from £25,547 to £155,662 as a result of the Targeted Charging Review. The standing charge for St Germans Pumping Station has increased by 1,282% from £3,915 to £54,140. These hikes in charges over the last 12 months have been 'punitively eye-watering' as will be the bills themselves for the winter months. There is one pump that does concern boaters as it's sole use is to pump water up from the Main Drain into Well Creek to keep the water level up and replace water that is lost.


On licences, the fee increase is only four percent across all three navigation authorities.




The Middle Level has added a 3rd type of licence for boats undergoing a refit or fit out. Half the price of the standard navigation licence it can be applied for two years in a row with a gap of ten years before you can apply again. Pictures of the boat are required as part of the application along with details of the work to be done. Progress has to be seen to be done. If no or little work is done or there seems to be no progress, the licence may be revoked and you be required to pay for a replacement navigation licence.

No full living aboard will be permitted, but after discussing the subject with the Navigation Officer I pointed out that some moorers' home addresses are some distance from the Fens and that out and back in a day would be a problem with the distance and time. For example my home address is in Dorset which is a average travel time of five hours each way leaving only a few hours to get any work done. So the odd night or two on board will be permitted in any one week.

Income from Navigation licences are now covering 67% of the yearly navigation running costs. Of this income 25% is ring fenced for new boater facilities on the main link route plus new moorings on the system.


Work done last winter

Over last winter new gates were installed at Marmont Priory lock on Well Creek. Mid-lock bollards, signage and new fencing will be installed in due course.

At Salters Lode Lock, 280 tonnes of tidal silt has been removed from the main lock pen and tidal exit/entrance. The crossing between Salters Lode and Denver is still closed UFN due to the amount of silt washing down the the river. As the guillotine gate at Salters Lode is part of the first and only line of tidal flood protection through the lock there is a risk that a build up of silt tidal-side will slump into the lock if the gate is opened. This then creates the risk of not being able to fully close the gate.

The pump-out and water point in the centre of March will be relocated sometime in the next few months to another location on the river bank. It is not know when Fenland Council will do this.

Anglian Pass charges for this season are:

Up to 5M £30

5M to 10M £60

10M to 15M £90

Over 15M £120

The Anglian Pass is a pass that enables unrestricted visitor access to partner navigations. You need to hold a full licence from the EA, Cam Conservators or Middle Level to apply.


If you hold a CRT Gold Licence you will either need an Anglian Pass or Middle Level visitor licence to visit Middle Levels. The Gold Licence arrangements are a partnership between the CRT and the Environment Agency and it has been concluded that there is insufficient demand to justify changes in IT systems and legal agreements to include the Middle Level Commissioners within the formal arrangements.


As a warning to all, failing to keep your boat in good repair will invalidate your insurance as some have found when they put in a claim when their boat has sunk.

This is in the small print of your insurance policy, even 3rd party and salvage insurance. Remember the prime duty of the loss adjusters job is to save his company money.

Small turn-out at Paddington Basin

While heading down to Dorset for the rest of the weekend, due to problems on the lines out of Waterloo I rerouted myself via Paddington Station and, as the train I intended to use to Reading was leaving from platform 12 and it was about midday, I nipped over to the basin moorings to do a quick headcount. So much for a turnout of hundreds to the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) demonstration. Wishful thinking for them as I only was able to see a small crowd of about 50 waving their signs. Heard quite a number of people passing by telling them to 'Get a Job' or 'Have a shower' plus other things. Hardly a surprise considering the way many were dressed. Did not stay long as I had that train to catch.

It's no wonder that most people see them for what they really are - as a group of freeloaders. When you consider that someone on the national minimal wage working 35 hours a week is earning before deductions £20,820.80 and that the average household now spends 42% of their income on rent; this rises to 72% in London, plus council tax on top, 'Affordable rent' is deemed 30 percent or less. Yet these people moan to everyone about paying less than seven percent of the national minimal wage on the licence. And by squatting on the towpath, no mooring fees. They all use council services in one way or another, yet don't pay a penny in council tax. Where ever there is a large group of these towpath squatters, you find a council in funding trouble.

They refuse to accept that they are the cause and the reason for CRT going down this route and copying other countries' navigation authorities or statutory bodies that add a mooring surcharge to the navigation licence. For example Waterways Ireland have two levels of surcharge for mooring depending how long you wish to stay (Either five days or less, or five to ten days) at a time.

Through their actions or rather lack of action as regards navigating around the system and the chancers either using cloned or swapping licences rather than moving the boat, they have required CRT to greatly increase it's enforcement department using funds that would have been used to repair the system. As it is, CRT is having trouble recruiting bankside staff to check boats since the murder of Clive Porter on the Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Union Canal in April 2021 by Sylwester Krajewski (also known as Daniel Wisniewski) when Clive stuck a enforcement notice on a boat near Krajewski's own boat. Over the past number of years there have been other attacks on enforcement staff.

All you ever hear from NBTA is how poor their members are and that the navigation licence costs too much and that they get very little in return for the licence. It's always the same old chant 'We Want', 'We Want'. Many are not even paying for their navigation licence, instead it is paid for by the taxpayer through the DWP.

And in London and other cities they have very good transport links, so no good reason that they cannot get a full time job, unless they are work shy or unemployable as there are more than a million jobs waiting to be filled, many in the London Area. The national minimal wage from Monday for the over 21's is £11.44 per hour; for a 35 hour week £400.40 per week, £1,735.06 per month, £20,820.80 per Year.

Kelvin Alexander-Duggan BSc MSc