Give us our money back Nene boaters tell EA

February 2018 - Boaters on the River Nene – now to be operated by the Environment Agency for the foreseeable future - are writing to the government department demanding a refund of their licence fees as charges go up and facilities shrink. Boater Anne Husar has recently returned to the waterway and was shocked at the decline.

Arriving back from Europe with our narrowboat last March, we were put back in the water at Wisbech and prepared to re-visit the Nene using our 8 year old Imray guide.

This had last done service in 2012 when we had done the journey downstream to Wisbech on our way back to European waterways once again. It’s been an interesting exercise to look at some of the differences in navigating the Nene between then and now.​

Environmental Agency (EA) moorings had never been numerous although our Imray guide did write optimistically that more were planned so what did we find five years on?

Yes, there were now two short stay pontoons that were not mentioned in our guide but these were counteracted by the loss of three moorings at Titchmarsh, Wansford and Midsummer Meadow.

Facilities too had been removed, notably at Rushden and Diamonds and also at Titchmarsh and Midsummer Meadow.

The tap at Mills Road Bridge was impossible to turn on and the one at Wadenhoe so overgrown with paint-threatening spiky hawthorn that that too was realistically a no-go. We didn’t find that any new facilities had been provided so, yet more crossing out had to be done to up-date our guide.

There were two shoals mentioned in our guide, surely those had been dealt with by now or at least regularly dredged? Surprisingly, or perhaps not judging by what we were finding, they were both still there.

The shallows upstream of Perio lock are renowned for catching out many boats as the deepest water is now to be found in a very narrow, convoluted channel indeed. The buoys marking them are moved around occasionally and this apparently is regarded as sufficient.

Our River Nene guide points out that “the river often winds its course through wonderfully unspoilt areas” (pub. Imray, Laurie, Norie & Wilson Ltd. 2010) and it was indeed wonderful to find that this was still true.

We did, however, have no recollection from our previous visit how incredibly narrow some of the navigation had become. Trees that had either fallen or spread had been allowed to block much of the river in places so that it was now not much more than the width of our narrowboat.

Vegetation too was in abundance, adding to the navigational difficulties, especially if there happened to be a speedy cruiser coming the other way as neither boat could see each other or have room to pass with all this not so wonderful verdant abundance.

Planning to stop for a year or so on the Nene, we applied for a full year’s EA licence. The cost, we were surprised to find, was becoming comparable with a Canal and River Trust licence, even though this only covered us for just two of the EA’s waterways as opposed to a complete system on the canals.

Oh well, grit teeth and at least enjoy outings through the year on this lovely river. Wrong again, stoppages have closed any downstream navigation to us for five months, cutting off access to the other river we had paid for as well as half of the Nene.

Now I realise that, being a river, it will be closed to navigation whenever there is a need for flood relief and that this has affected the stoppages too, but to be paying so much for a licence that we could not use for so much of the year, along with the reduction in maintenance and facilities, was a nasty surprise.

This year we face an inflation busting 7.5% increase for the same licence but, as far as we know, no increase in spending on improving navigation for boaters on the Nene or even to bring it back to the ‘heady’ days of 2010.

There has however been a welcome increase in the provision of moorings, not from the boaters’ licence fees to the EA that could justifiably be expected, but from a group of volunteers, the Friends of the River Nene.

For the princely sum of £10 a year, boaters using the river can plan to enjoy overnight stays on their well spaced moorings. With more being added every year, the hope is that their efforts will not be in vain and that the EA will do more to support navigation on the Nene rather than, as it appears at the moment, continuing to neglect it. ​

Photos: (1st) The Nene at Fotheringay in Northamptonshire, (2nd) Narrowboats on the Nene, (3rd) The River Nene at March in Cambridgshire, (4th) Approaching a bouyed shoal. Picture by Ann Husar, (5th) Encroaching vegetation - picture by Anne Husar.

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