100 people taught to spot rare species in Fen ditches at Haddenham biodiversity days

Consultant botanist Jonathan Graham (centre) at Galls Drain Bridge, with Cliff Carson, environmental

Consultant botanist Jonathan Graham (centre) at Galls Drain Bridge, with Cliff Carson, environmental officer for the Middle Level Commissioners, behind. - Credit: Archant

A ditch biodiversity workshop in Haddenham drew a huge crowd and discovered some interesting and rare plants – proving that ditchwater is not dull.

More than 100 people from nearly 30 organisations discovered how to identify aquatic plants during the workshop.

Among the flora spotted in the Haddenham ‘hedgerows of the fens’ was whorled water-milfoil – a species in decline in northwest Europe that has ‘vulnerable’ status in the UK.

The ditch biodiversity days - part of OuseFest - were organised by the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership to draw attention to the ditches’ vital role in conservation, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The day began in Haddenham’s Arkenstall Centre where attendees, including members of the Haddenham Conservation Society and village residents, alongside representatives from the Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency and Froglife, learnt about the history and role of the local ditches.

After a tutorial from consultant botanist Jonathan Graham, they spent the afternoon at two ditches on the outskirts of the village identifying the aquatic plants living there.

Organiser Mark Nokkert said: “The workshop proved so popular that we had to organise a second day to accommodate all those who wanted to attend.

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“I was delighted so many had such a keen interest - these ditches are the hedgerows of the fens, yet their contribution to conservation is little known and often undervalued.

Attendee Caroline Brown, a Haddenham resident, said: “The workshops drew attention to the unexpected beauty and biodiversity of the ditches, and highlighted the crucial work of the drainage commissioners in maintaining them for the benefit of both farming and flora and fauna.”

As well as whorled water-milfoil, participants noted arrowhead, shining and broad pondweeds, greater water parsnip, fan-leaved water-crowfoot and water violet.

Attendees heard from the Haddenham Level Drainage Commissioners and the Middle Level Commissioners about their management of the ditches, and explored displays by the Haddenham Conservation Society and the Cambridgeshire Mammal Group.