Catfield Fen – minded to be sensible

Swallowtail – a Catfield speciality. Photo: Tim Melling

This may be the end of a long story, provided the Environment Agency hold their nerve – you can help them, see below.

I have previously blogged about Catfield Fen on 30 May 2012, 22 August 2012, 10 September 2012, 30 September 2012, 6 August 2013 and 12 May 2014.

It’s all about abstraction licences and whether EA should renew them, or not renew them.  They shouldn’t renew them in this case, because the abstraction may well have affected the Special Area of Conservation which includes Catfield Fen next door.

The good news is that the EA are now ‘minded to’ (I hate that phrase) not renew the licences. Hooray!

The bad news is, in my humble opinion, that they should not have renewed them from 2012-2015 anyway. Boo!

Here are what I think are the relevant bits of garblespeak:


Updated conclusion under Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010

Based on the new information received from NE and the BA (summarised in Annex 1 of Environment Agency, 2014e), the potential for adverse effect on site integrity at The Broads SAC, Broadland SPA and Broadland Ramsar from the Plumsgate Road and Ludham Road abstractions both alone and in-combination with other abstractions has been re-assessed.

The evidence presented within the addendum to the Appropriate Assessment and supporting technical reports shows that the hydrological functioning of the Ant Broads and Marshes SSSI, as a component part of The Broads SAC, Broadland SPA and Broadland Ramsar is likely to be maintained when considering the alone impacts from both the Plumsgate Road abstraction and Ludham Road abstraction.

The hydrological functioning of the European conservation sites could however be compromised by the current fully licensed (in-combination) level of abstraction. This is specifically in relation to the predicted water level change at Snipe Marsh.

The Environment Agency cannot conclude beyond reasonable scientific doubt no adverse effect from abstraction licences AN/034/0009/008 Plumsgate Road and AN/034/0009/009 Ludham Road on the Ant Broads and Marshes SSSI – component of The Broads SAC, Broadland SPA and Broadland Ramsar.


And therefore:

The EA cannot conclude that the abstractions will have no adverse effect on the integrity of The Broads SAC, Broadland SPA and Ramsar, when considered in-combination with other permissions. The recommendation to refuse the applications is based on the Habitats Directive in-combination assessment test and the enshrined ‘precautionary principle’. The EA, as the competent authority assessing the impact of the permissions, cannot be certain there is no impact in-combination on the European designated sites.


This is good.  But in case the EA gets the jitters, we should tell them that it is good by emailing them on this address [email protected] and saying something like this:


Dear Environment Agency

Catfield Fen abstraction renewals – public consultation.


I have read carefully the information that you have supplied on the EA’s ‘minded to’ decision not to renew the two abstraction licences near Catfield Fen. I very much approve of this change of position from the EA and only regret that you did not make it earlier.

These licences should never have been issued, and certainly should not have been approved for a further period of time, because of the high probability that such extraction is affecting the adjacent nature conservation sites of European importance.  I don’t think that the EA has handled this matter with sufficient rigour or speed but am glad that you have now come to the only sensible conclusion. Please do not dither over this any more.


Yours sincerely


Photo: Tim Melling
Photo: Tim Melling

11 Replies to “Catfield Fen – minded to be sensible”

  1. Thanks Mark for drawing attention to this important conclusion by EA. Butterfly Conservation owns Catfield Fen and we were extremely concerned that future abstraction could harm the delicate water balance on the reserve, thereby threatening many rare plants and insects. Together with the RSPB, who help us manage Catfield in conjunction with their reserve at Sutton Fen, we have been making the case against continued abstraction. Let us hope that the EA uphold this decision. I would urge your readers to write as well.

  2. Yes, ‘minded to’ has a very weaselly quality to it (with due apologies to real weasels, which are very fine animals). It is formula that seems to leave the door open for doing the opposite of what you are minded to do.

  3. Wow! EA may be thinking about reaching the right conclusion, but what a torture it is to read it. World-class bureaucratese! What happened to plain English?

  4. I fully support eh EA’s present decision and sincerely hope that it will be sustained in order to protect the high biodiversity value of Catfield Fen and adjacent areas, measurably damaged by abstraction in the past

  5. Have been working as a volunteer at Catfield Fen again, as every September, with my colleagues in the Ca ambridge Conservation Volunteers. The threats to the site from acidification and diminishing water has not fully gone away, as the local farmer is appealing the decision not to grant the further abstraction licence.

    We keep on working to manage the site as best we can, most of the work done by Butterfly Conservation in conjunction with the RSPB at adjacent Sutton Fen, in the face that it way all be for nothing in decades time if this appeal is upheld.

    And the 40 cranes across the massive rising moon at Stubb Mill was the icing on the cake – the cherry being the eclipse from our tent at 3am.

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