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The Association's History

Local Wildfowling history

Founded in 1956, Ely and District Wildfowler’s Association is one of several clubs shooting over land falling between the Flood-banks of the Bedford Level’s or, Ouse Washes as they are more commonly known.
The club has a long history associated with this man-made semi wetland habitat. The club’s first President was former professional Wildfowler and Marsh Shepherd, Mr Josh Scott. Scott later went on to become the first Warden of the Wildfowl & Wetland’s Trust reserve at Welney at the request of a young Peter Scott (before his Knighthood) who often travelled to Welney from Cambridge to shoot Wildfowl over the Bedford Level’s.

In Josh Scott’s day, wildfowling was a profession and Wildfowler’s, men of exceptional skill and high standing within their respective villages. Two other individuals locally famous in the Welney Area, were Will Kent and Ernie James.

In the 1950’s wildfowling on the Bedford Level’s was basically a free for all. Most Gun’s lived locally and shooting could be obtained upon request. However, a few Gun’s who could afford the luxury of a motor vehicle followed their pursuits on the foreshore of the Wash at Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire. It was here that several founder members of Ely & District Wildfowlers (EDWA) also took their sport and were realising their sport was becoming attractive to visiting Gun’s with money. Visiting Gun’s who were more than willing to pay local men to take them out and put them under the best of the sport. And for that matter, rent tracts of land to prevent the locals having the best sporting opportunities. The use of the motor car and easier access roads was changing wildfowling and the countryside forever. The locals realised the only way forward was to form a club, thereby protecting their Shooting and that of future generations.

At a special meeting convened at the Lamb Hotel Ely on the 14th December 1956, Ely & District Wildfowler’s Association (EDWA) was formed and a set of rules drawn up. Founder members included Josh Scott and Ken Gandy and, other interested wildfowler’s voted for, seconded and carried a motion to form the first EDWA committee. The members voted onto the committee were: T Richardson, G Scott, J Slater, J Wilmore, J Stevens and Mr Watkinson of Newmarket. Once the committee had been formed a club warden was appointed and it was his job to approach local farmers for permission to shoot over their property or, to offer payment for club members to shoot their properties in this superb wetland environment. Ken Gandy, Founder member

First Purchase
In the early 1960’s a small piece of land came up for sale approximately 3 miles from the village of Mepal. EDWA did not have sufficient funds to purchase the property thus, several of the founder members including Ken Gandy (pictured right), Denny Harrison and Dr Becket along with other members, were prepared to loan EDWA the necessary funding to make the purchase possible. It is interesting to note that the price paid was a little over £200 for approximately 20 acres. Today (2007) the value of the land has increased to over £4000 per acre making purchases much more difficult for small clubs.

The Bedford Levels
Work on the Bedford Levels began in the 1600’s when Francis Russell the Earl of Bedford and his band of Adventurers decided to drain the Fens. Using the expertise of Dutch Drainage Engineer Cornelius Vermuyden. Two ruler straight rivers were dug stretching from Earith in Cambridgeshire to Denver, Norfolk, which channelled water onto the flood-plains between the flood banks. The washes carry the excess water a distance of 30 miles from Earith to Denver. During winter, rain water draining off the fens follows the course of the river Great Ouse in Northamptonshire. Its progress takes it slowly through the fens, via dykes, ditches and Lodes until it can be safely channelled to Denver and out into the wash. During excess rain-fall the water is directed onto the washes via three sluice Gates at Earith. Once on the flood plains it's held (walled up bank to bank) until the tide turns and the water is pumped by diesel pumps into the North Sea at Denver Sluice.

The drainage project was completed by 1650 and this man-made semi wetland habitat, one of the largest created man-made semi wetland habitats is recognised as a RAMSAR Site, SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and a Special protected area for birds, waders, invertebrate and plant life. Some 70% of the land is owned by Conservation Organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds ( RSPB), the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and other Conservation groups and Parish Councils. The remaining 30% is in private hands or belongs to Wildfowling Clubs such as EDWA.

Some of EDWA officers serve on the Ouse Washes Strategy Group along side various conservation groups including the RSPB, WWT, English Nature, Middle Level Commissioners and the National River’s Authority (NRA). All working together for the benefit of this internationally recognised wetland habitat and all the species it supports. This wetland must be managed if it is to continue to support the wide variety of species attracted throughout the year. Neglected washes soon become scrubland and scrub is of no use to birds or beast alike.

EDWA manage their properties traditionally. Although cattle on the washes are fewer since the foot and mouth outbreak, the club tries to graze its washes. Cropped grass attract wintering widgeon and the by-product from cattle, attract worms for waders and the associated insect life provides much needed protein for nesting birds and their chicks during the nesting season.

Club Properties
EDWA own two properties and a third is owned jointly between EDWA and WHT (Wildlife Habitat Trust). When Harrison’s wash came on the market EDWA Chairman Brigadier Bill Deller OBE called a special meeting do address the clubs ability to fund wash purchases. Sadly the club had never been in a position to purchase property. It simply didn’t have the necessary funding. Under the guidance of Brig Deller, a vote upon increasing the subscriptions and doubling the membership was proposed, seconded and carried. The increase provided a wash purchasing fund but, did not generate enough money to make the purchase possible. At this point Tony Laws of the BASC Wildlife Habit Trust stepped in and offered a compromise. With WHT assistance EDWA and WHT jointly purchased Harrison’s Wash. And in recognition to Tony Laws' hard work and dedication which ensured the purchase was successfully completed, EDWA made Tony Laws an honorary member of EDWA and, made the WHT (Duck Stamp) a mandatory part of club membership.

From that special meeting and the work of Brig Deller OBE, the club has not looked back and is always looking for additional purchases of land or to rent. A third property added to the list of club land is named Deller’s wash in recognition to the outstanding work performed by Bill Deller as club chairman. Bill now holds the position of EDWA Club President.

In total EDWA members shoot over 9 washes of which three are owned by EDWA. Eight fall in the Bedford Level’s area starting at Sutton. The club has two at Sutton, one of which always has hard standing regardless of the depth of the flood waters. The next in line is Josh Scott’s Wash at Mepal approximately three miles from the Village bridge. This wash stretches bank to bank. Another mile along we rent a small parcel of land named Oxlode. And beyond that at the Welney end of the washes, the club rents three more, the last in line and accessed off the road is Harrison’s Wash. Members soon learn to judge the extent of the rain-fall and how quickly the water traces its way from Sutton to Welney. Those with the expertise required enjoy superb shooting as the water traverses the length of the washes on its journey to Denver and eventually the North Sea.

Club Success through promotion
Promotion is the key to EDWA’s success. This is reflected in the full membership and, an increasingly long waiting list for prospective new members. EDWA does not advertise for Members. Instead, concentrates its efforts in promoting wildfowling and, attending events where promotion of its activities obtain maximum coverage over a diverse section of the media and general public. If wildfowling is to survive, it’s no use keep preaching to the converted at the annual Game Fair. Yes the club obtains healthy interest from prospective members at these events and, this is where most of our applications for prospective membership takes place. The club stand can be found at the Fenland Fair, Stow-Cum-Quy over the August Bank holiday weekend, The BASC Spalding Road show, Pymoore Show and Ashbeach Primary School’s May fair.

EDWA Secretary and Press and Public Relations Officer is keen to support a school which provides opportunity for its pupils and, does not dictate what they should or should not do. Ashbeach provides a platform, allowing pupils and parents to make up their own minds about wildfowling and other countryside activities.

Accessing a school is just one avenue of success. EDWA has also provided talks to the most unlikely areas to promote wildfowling. On one occasion the Press and PR Officer was asked to provide a talk about wildlife to a ladies club. Instead he talked about Wildfowling, its origins, it’s impact on the environment and its sustainability in today’s modern society. Admittedly he was a little apprehensive at the prospect, more so when advised the turn-out would be anything up to 100 ladies aged between 18 and 92. It transpired that from almost 80 ladies packed into the audience, 65% were against shooting from a show of hands. One hour later and much wiser, a similar show of hands showed a remarkable change of attitude. Only three people were against and, the only one to abstain, slept through the entire performance! Well…you cannot win them all!

Club Exchange
Monies raised from Public Speaking by the Press & PR Officer have been donated to the Wildlife Habitat Trust to further wildfowling opportunities for other clubs. EDWA is keen to work with other clubs. For six years it has run a Wildfowling Club Exchange with Great Yarmouth Wildfowlers' Association. Three Members from each club obtain an annual opportunity to sample the delights of the other’s sport and the differing landscapes where each wildfowler pursues his interests. Great Yarmouth Wildfowlers' shoot both from the foreshore and inland. Whereas EDWA only shoot inland. Our sport is taken mainly on the Ouse Washes and our property beside the river Cam. Great Yarmouth Wildfowler’s shoot over tidal saltings, grazing marshes and also river frontage. Thus, there is a diverse change of habitat and quarry species to sample by both the inland and, foreshore fowler.