The Ouse Washes were created in the 17th century by the excavation of the River Delph and Hundred Foot Rivers. Proper management of them safeguards the agricultural land outside and protects the wildlife within.
Normally, water flows along the Hundred Foot River. But when flows are high, the sluice at Earith opens and some water is sent down the River Delph. When the banks are overtopped water flows onto the Ouse Washes.
The Washes area is 30km long and 700m wide. Storage of flood water there prevents inundation of adjacent farmland and property. Welmore Lake Sluice lets water into the Hundred Foot River once the peak flows and high tides have passed.
Scrub, brush and woodland would impede the flow from one end to the other, so the land is grazed. This suits the birds as well as the engineering needs of the Washes, to the extent that the area is internationally recognised as an important habitat.
'You can't really say that the purpose of the Washes is for one or the other now,' says resident engineer Mike Wakelin. 'It suits everybody's purpose to keep it this way.'