Contractors 'did not follow the brief' when it came to drain maintenance

Bishops Way following the works

An independent review into clearance works at Clayway Drain has found contractors "did not follow the brief". - Credit: Submitted

An independent review into the way trees and vegetation were cleared along an historic footpath has found the contractors who carried out the work “did not follow the brief”.

The Ely Group of Internal Drainage Boards commissioned the assessment with an ecologist following complaints over how the works were handled and its impact on the wildlife.

Trees had been cut down, vegetation significantly cut back and heavy vehicles had churned up the ground along a stretch of the Bishop’s Way footpath near Queen Adelaide.

Bishops Way after clearance works

The Ely Group of Internal Drainage Boards has said the review was commissioned to learn lessons from the incident. - Credit: Submitted

Andrew Newton, the board’s lead engineer, said: “It was important to undertake a report so the board can learn lessons from these works when its undertaking similar improvements in the future.”

Contractors carried out maintenance works on Clayway Drain, next to the footpath, in mid-March to protect the area of north Ely and prevent homes particularly at the nearby Redrow development from flooding.

A property close to the drain was also flooded last winter.

Visitors were shocked at how the area had been left following maintenance works on Clayway Drain

Regular visitors to the Bishop's Way footpath were shocked at how the area had been left following the maintenance works on Clayway Drain, near Queen Adelaide. - Credit: Submitted

Damaged trees at Bishops Way

Trees were damaged during the works on the Bishop's Way footpath. - Credit: Sumbitted

But those who regularly visited the footpath during lockdown were shocked at the level of devastation within a short period of time and that semi-mature trees had been removed.

And the review – a draft of which has been seen by this newspaper – judged the works “to be disappointing” and revealed the contractor lacked experience in handling trees.

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The report, from consultants Ward Associates, said: “The brief to the contractor was to clear the debris from the previous works and flail vegetation, including bramble and young scrub, on the right bank so as to allow access for inspection.

“Some tree work was required to allow clearance for the flail.”

However, it later said: “Review of the works judged them to be disappointing and it is considered that they did not properly follow the brief.”

Bishop's Way footpath

The works at Clayway Dray had been carried out in the mid-March. - Credit: Submitted by Juliette Stanning

The report does not reveal who the contractor is but later recommends they “should not be used again on tree works”.

In future, it also states “trees to be removed and / or works to be undertaken shall be specifically identified to the contractor on site and marked if necessary".

A written brief should also be provided, and regular supervisory visits should take place during the clearance works.

The report also says that while there could have been breeding birds when the works were taking place, there were no indications of any during the review visit.

Ditches cleared at Bishop's Way

The works were part of ditch clearance by the The Ely Group of Internal Drainage Boards - Credit: Submitted by Juliette Stanning

Cleared Clayway Drain near Queen Adelaide

Trees and vegetation were completely cleared along the Clayway Drain, near Queen Adelaide. - Credit: Submitted

“No signs of breeding birds were seen in the immediate vicinity of the watercourse during the review visit and no signs of damaged nests were found,” the report said.

“Nevertheless, there were good numbers of birds present.”

Mr Newton said: “We have learned a number of key lessons here.

“We need to improve our communication with members of the public to ensure they are aware of the works being undertaken.

“This, for example, could be in the form of advance warning notices providing the opportunity to comment.

“We will also inform local councillors, who may wish to share the information on their social media.”

He added: “We will also use specialist tree contractors for such works going forward and everything will be completed by the end of February to completely avoid the window for the potential breeding season.”

The Bishop's Way after the ditch clearance took place

The Bishop’s Way route is a favourite of walkers and runners around Ely. - Credit: Submitted by Juliette Stanning

The Bishop’s Way route is a favourite of walkers and runners around Ely, and the circular route follows tracks out of Ely across the Fens and to Little Downham.

It is understood to have been used by the Bishops of Ely to reach their Palace in Little Downham.

Juliette Stanning regularly walks the route with her family and complained about how the maintenance work had been carried out.

She has now been invited to participate in the consultation process for future works along the Clayway Drain. 

In response to the review, she has queried with the board as to whether any remedial work will be carried out by tree surgeons.

Damage along the Bishop's Way footpath

The Bishop's Way is a circular route which follows tracks out of Ely across the Fens and to Little Downham. - Credit: Submitted by Juliette Stanning

She said: “It has been nearly two months since the work was carried out. In that time there's been virtually no rainfall. The sooner the remedial work is done the better.

“I would also like to understand if there is any plan to reinstate trees that have been removed.

“I think it is very important that this ancient path is treated as a green corridor and efforts made to sustain hedgerows and trees adjacent to the path.”