Enhancing the biodiversity of Cambridgeshire’s waterways

Discover how we are working with farmers and Internal Drainage Boards to improve the natural water environment in the Fens.

About the project


Why is this needed?

Criss-crossing the landscape of the Cambridgeshire Fens are 26,978 kilometres of rivers, drains and ditches, vital for flood defence, drainage, irrigation, and navigation. This “wet net” provides an important wildlife refuge and corridors to connect fragmented wetland Fen habitats. The ditches within the Fens hold some of the best freshwater habitats and species in England, rich biodiversity, which is determined by a combination of environmental factors, including water quality, adjacent land-use, soil type and management.

In 2020, Cambridgeshire ACRE, in partnership with the Ely Group of IDBs, secured funds from the Environment Agency’s Water Environment Grant (WEG) scheme to install coir rolls along 2km of drains on two farms in the IDB area. The coir rolls are pre-planted with a range of marginal water plants that establish and have a dense structure and root network which help to stabilise banks, trap soil run off (reducing phosphate entering the water), provide flowers for pollinators, seeds for birds, a refuge for aquatic beetles, and habitat for water voles.

This work will also address agricultural diffuse pollution and is a mitigation measure recommended within “A Guide to Management Strategies and Mitigation Measures for Achieving Good Ecological Measures Within Fenland Waterbodies” (see link below). It will contribute to supporting improvements within the water body Water Framework Directive (WFD) status, by trapping the sediment that runs from the land.

In March 2021, the Waterbeach and Old West IDB installed 1km of coir rolls Work on Engine Drain, running through Willow Grange Farm, Chittering. A further 1km is planned for Queenholme Drain in 2022. There will also be landowner event in September 2021 where farmers will be able to visit the drain and learn about the practicalities of installation, ongoing maintenance, and the environmental benefits of this work.

How can you get involved?

If you are a farmer, landowner or IDB member then keep an eye out for an invitation to the September event which will take place on Willow Grange Farm, Chittering.

What impact has our work had?

The project is not completed and the plants in the coir rolls have not had a time to establish to realise their full benefits. We will provide an update in due course.



“We welcome the opportunity to work with Cambridgeshire ACRE to deliver this important project for the area. By undertaking this work alongside our normal maintenance activities will mean we can maximize the budget available to install the coir rolls. The project will further enhance the biodiversity within the Board’s Main Drain network.”

Andrew Newton, Engineer of Ely Group of IDBs

Useful links

Who can I talk to about this work?