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Open Country
Sat  6.10 - 6.35am
Thurs 1.30 - 2.00pm (rpt)
Local people making their corner of rural Britain unique
This week
Saturday 3 February 2007
Listen to this programme in full
In this week’s Open Country, Iola Williams witnesses a wildlife spectacle as thousands of swans, ducks and geese spend the winter on the Ouse Washes.
The village of Welney, in the Fens is home to the Welney Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, originally established by Sir Peter Scott. The Ouse Washes, which are 22 miles long and a mile wide provide food and shelter for thousands of over-wintering birds. Alongside the reserve manager, Leigh Marshall, Iola watches the whooper swans fly in from surrounding fields to roost in the safety of the washes and later dons a dry suit to feed them.

A very strong local tradition is wildfowling and Fen man and wildflower Mike Delanoy demonstrates the art of calling in widgeon, teal and mallard using various whistles and bellows.

But the village of Welney small as it is, with only about 200 houses, is a place rich in history and achievement. Adam Giles was born and bred in Welney and proudly speaks of the village’s sporting past. Back in the 1800s it was a major centre for one of the most popular sports of the day, ice speed skating, with over 20,000 attending the world championships there, and many of Britain’s fastest were Welney men, including world champions.

Local historian, Steven Calton takes Iola to Welmore Lake Sluice to show him how the water levels in the Ouse Washes have been controlled ever since the drainage of the fens in the seventeenth century.

During this drainage work, a lawyer from London called William Marshall came to Welney and fell ill. He was cared for by the local people and was so grateful for their kindness that he left extensive land in his will to provide an income for charitable work in the village which continues to this day. So far hundreds of thousands of pounds have been accrued and spent. Very little is known about this man and Welney people would be very interested in hearing from anyone who thinks they may be a relative. E-mail ‘Open Country’ and we will pass on your information.

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