Shock as historic path is 'completely decimated' for ditch maintenance

Bishop's Way Footpath

Regular visitors to a stretch of The Bishop's Way footpath have been shocked at how the area has been left after a ditch was cleared. - Credit: Submitted by Juliette Stanning

A stretch of footpath understood to date back to medieval times and the vegetation surrounding it has been cleared and damaged by heavy works vehicles.

The Bishop’s Way 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.

But according to Juliette Stanning, who regularly walks the route with her family, a stretch of the footpath north of the B1382 at Queen Adelaide has been ‘completely decimated’.

Bishop's Way footpath

The Ely Group of Internal Drainage Boards has explained the work carried out along The Bishop's Way were 'vital’ as the ditch running alongside the footpath is an important watercourse for Ely. - Credit: Submitted by Juliette Stanning

The Ely Group of Internal Drainage Boards has explained the works were 'vital’ as the ditch running alongside the footpath is an important watercourse for Ely.

However the extent of the work doesn’t sit comfortably with Juliette, who reported the matter to Cambridgeshire County Council after she first came across it.

She said: “Walking helped our family during lockdown and we discovered lots of local footpaths in the area.

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“The Bishop’s Way paths are really beautiful and is one of our favourites. Before, you could hear the birds singing, trees lined the footpaths and there were also plenty of blackberry bushes.

“We couldn’t believe the devastation when we visited last weekend. I was completely stunned.

“The footpath has been churned up by huge tractor tyres and a lot of displaced mud, trees and other vegetation has needlessly been uprooted and hacked down.

“It’s now difficult to walk across the path in places. The walk has been completely decimated by tractors and machinery in a very aggressive and non-environmentally friendly way.”

Damage to footpath at Bishop's Way

Heavy vehicles have caused damage to the footpath - but the drainage board says this will be returned to its previous state. - Credit: Submitted by Juliette Stanning

The Ely Group of Internal Drainage Boards has confirmed it was responsible for the works, which were carried out some time between March 14 and 21.

Andrew Newton, engineer to the Ely Group of Internal Drainage Boards, said: “There was exceptional rainfall this year and the watercourse is needed to run water from the nearby Redrow Persimmon homes which have been developed over the years. Another home close by almost flooded over the winter.

"The works were vital for the watercourse, it hadn’t been looked after for years and a couple of years ago the board decided to take responsibility. Trees were removed as part of the first stage and we completed the rest before the end of March.”

He added: “We always take into consideration public flood risk management and conservation with any works we do. The footpath will be reinstated and returned to how it was at a later date.

“I think the changes may seem such a shock to those who use the footpath because no works had been done for a number of years. But the area will be maintained annually from now on.”

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

Juliette reported the matter to Cambridgeshire County Council last week.

She added: “It’s very upsetting to see the habitats of animals and wildlife completely destroyed.

"There were ash and oak trees pulled from the roots lying next to what used to be the path. Some were over 50 years old.”

She also contacted East Cambridgeshire councillor Alison Whelan, who has been in touch with Cambridgeshire County Council as well.

"I’ve not yet had a response from them but will be following up,” she said.

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

A spokesperson for the council has since said: “As we are not the landowners, we don’t have to be made aware of the works. They would have contacted the landowner for these works.

“They [the internal drainage board] should however, leave the surface of a public right of way in a suitable state for use, in a state that is safe for pedestrians, equestrians and cyclists.”

For Juliette, she says the amount of development planned for Ely and how this has been handled has made her consider whether she wants to continue living in the area.

She said: “I’ve lived here since 1988 and I’m not sure I really want to call Ely my home if this is how our landscape is going to be treated.

“What’s happened here is disrespectful. There was an article published last week saying the Ely area has become one of the most desirable places to live – but I’m really questioning this now.”

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