Warmer winters could spell end of Fen skating
- Credit: Matthew Usher
A Fenland tradition could die out unless participants get somewhere to practice.
Skaters have taken to the ice each winter for generations, when the Welney washes have frozen.
A century ago the village of Welney, on the Norfolk/Cambridgeshire border, produced some of the world's fastest speed skaters.
Special trains were laid on from London to Littleport, as thousands flocked to spectate.
Now a succession of mild winters means the ice is rarely thick enough to skate on.
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A recently-formed GB long distance skating team has to travel to the Netherlands, because there is no long ice track in Britain.
Welney businessman Roger Giles, who organised skating galas in the 1960s and 70s, said: 'Without a single indoor training 400m track it is difficult for the national team meaning that this Fenland and UK sport is struggling. 'In other countries the impact of global warming on the formation of natural ice tracks has been combated by the development of long track indoor facilities.
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'The Netherlands has 17 artificial long track rinks and the Dutch are again dominating the sport internationally.'
During the 1980s and '90s, a string of cold winters meant there was enough ice to skate on.
But since then, natural ice has been in short supply. Recently skaters have been supported by local farmers and businesses to prepare a small area of land next to the railway line at Littleport that could be flooded.
'This highlights the need for an indoor 400m rink in the UK,' said Mr Giles. 'Ipswich, the Lea Valley and Littleport have been talked about as possible sites but as yet nothing has materialised.
'Many people know the small Fenland village of Welney because of Sir Peter Scott's WWT Wetland and Wildfoul Trust, which brings many visitors to the village.
'It is hard to imagine that when in the past the 20 miles or so of shallow water on Welney Wash froze over the village produced a team of speed skaters that dominated the world.'