Cat no. 203

Soper At Large: The Ouse Washes

Running time25:54 Colour Sound c.1976 Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire

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Wildlife on the Ouse Washes.


DocumentaryNatural HistoryTelevision

Presenter Tony Soper getting up at 6.20 am to see the wildfowl. At a location on the Ouse Washes (that may be Welches Dam), he crosses a bridge to a viewing chamber or superhide. There he watches Bewick and mute swans. There are excellent close-up shots of the birds and good sound effects. There are also harriers, spoonbills, white heron and dalmatian pelicans. These used to be native breeders of this region.

Soper gives a general description of the drainage of the Fens, begun in 1620 by Cornelius Vermuyden. The Ouse Washes are the areas between the new and old Bedford Rivers, covered at flood time. Summer scenes include cattle grazing and hay cutting as well as Lapwings, Snipe, and Sandpipers. After a flood a woman operates a sluice at Earith to fill the old river and flood the washes. Part of the flood scene shows moles pegged out by the mole catcher. Later in the year a snowstorm is shown and the difficulties for wildlife foraging are highlighted. The wildlife migrates to the coast and the Washes are empty, or appear empty. There are ponies grazing, Pheasants as well as snipes and golden plovers. After the thaw the birds return in numbers, including widgeon, heron, bramblings and various waders. The ducks that inhabit the wash in late winter are shown. These include pintails and shoveller ducks. Soper shows how the flood aids the food supply, washing various food sources off pasture and down to the wash.

In the next scene, Bayley Winters sets out in his punt with his punt gun after widgeon. We hear the gunshot and see the ducks rise. The punt gun can kill several birds with one shot. However, as it has to be muzzle loaded on the shore, you only get one chance. The season moves to spring showing some of the wash plants as well as the courtship ritual of the black-tailed godwit. A hen godwit sitting on her eggs. On a nearby bank a group of ruffs display their plumage and the intricacies of their relationships are explained. The film ends with general shots of the fens through mist.

Featured People:

Bayley Winters, fenman

Featured Organisations:

RSPB; Wildfowl Trust

BBC Bristol

Alex McGregor

John Sparkes; Antony Clay

Jim Saunders

Ron Martin

Cliff Voice; Robin Griffith

Tony Soper

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