Fen farmers flood fears after "400 year old" river clay removed

  • Watch a report by ITV Anglia's Stuart Leithes

A group of Fen farmers are raising concerns about flooding after contractors working for the Environment Agency stripped a 400 year old drain of it's river clay.

The campaigners are angered by dredging that they fear has damaged the historic man-made river across the Fens.

The group 'Stop The Floods' managed to get the Environment Agency to halt the work on the New Bedford River - which flows through Cambridgeshire into Norfolk.

But they believe the dredging has removed large amounts of the clay lining - which makes channel watertight and stops it flooding.

The clay which has been dredged Credit: ITV Anglia

The farmers contacted the Environment Agency to get it to stop its dredging work. After they spotted what they believe are tonnes of the river's clay lining dumped on the bank.

Ross Taylor, from the group Stop the Floods, said: "It was made out of clay, built with clay, as a foundation and in the last week, few weeks, they have took the clay out of the river and exposed the subsoil peat, which in our opinion is going to create a disaster."

The straight channel was built by the renowned Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden. It was created as part of works in the mid 17th century to drain the Fens to create more farmland.

The farmers run a group called Stop the Floods which was formed in response to flooding in places like the Billing Aquadrome near Northampton also at St Ives in Cambridgeshire.

They campaign for more action to be taken. But dredging out this river's clay lining wasn't on their list of priorities.

The clay next to the New Bedford River Credit: ITV Anglia

The Environment Agency says: "The desilting work on the Hundred Foot River is part of an annual maintenance programme. Before doing any work we conduct quarterly surveys to understand silt build up and inform where to focus our desilting efforts."

"We were advised of concerns about the current works from local residents on Monday, 11 October, and we ceased work. Our initial investigations did not highlight any cause for concern. Nevertheless, we have instructed an independent engineer to carry out an inspection and assessment of the entire works."

This channel was built 370 years ago to control the flow of water. Now these farmers fear that the dredging could undo that historic feat of engineering