The northern corner of the flooded pits
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Roswell Pits is an 8 hectare nature reserve on the eastern outskirts of Ely in Cambridgeshire. It is managed by the Environment Agency. It is part of the Ely Pits and Meadows Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)) and Geological Conservation Review site. The SSSI designation for both biological and geological interest.    The site was formerly managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. 
Ely is a cathedral city in Cambridgeshire, England, about 14 miles (23 km) north-northeast of Cambridge and about 80 miles (129 km) by road from London. Æthelthryth founded an abbey at Ely in 673; the abbey was destroyed in 870 by Danish invaders and was rebuilt by Æthelwold, Bishop of Winchester, in 970. Construction of the cathedral was started in 1083 by a Norman abbot, Simeon. Alan of Walsingham's octagon, built over Ely's nave crossing between 1322 and 1328, is the "greatest individual achievement of architectural genius at Ely Cathedral", according to architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner. Building continued until the dissolution of the abbey in 1539 during the Reformation. The cathedral was sympathetically restored between 1845 and 1870 by the architect George Gilbert Scott. As the seat of a diocese, Ely has long been considered a city; in 1974, city status was granted by royal charter.
Cambridgeshire is a county in the East of England, bordering Lincolnshire to the north, Norfolk to the north-east, Suffolk to the east, Essex and Hertfordshire to the south, and Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire to the west. The city of Cambridge is the county town. Modern Cambridgeshire was formed in 1974 as an amalgamation of the counties of Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely and Huntingdon and Peterborough, the former covering the historic county of Cambridgeshire and the latter covering the historic county of Huntingdonshire and the Soke of Peterborough, historically part of Northamptonshire. It contains most of the region known as Silicon Fen.
Ely Pits and Meadows is an 85.8 hectare Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on the eastern outskirts of Ely in Cambridgeshire. It is the only SSSI in the county which is designated both for its biological and geological interest. It is also a Geological Conservation Review site, and an area of 8 hectares is the Roswell Pits nature reserve, which is managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.
The pits were a source of gault, an impervious clay used to maintain river banks in the low-lying regions of the South Level of the Fens. Following the re-routing of the rivers in the region by Cornelius Vermuyden and his Adventurers in the 1650s, to more effectively drain the Fens, the peaty soils began to dry out and shrink.  As the land surface sunk below the levels of the rivers, it became important to maintain the banks with something impervious to water, to prevent seepage into the newly drained agricultural land, and to prevent collapse of the banks and flooding of the land in times of heavy rainfall. Roswell Pits were an ideal source of this material, as they were located adjacent to the River Great Ouse, and boats could take the bulky material directly to the banks being maintained.
The Kimmeridge Clay is a sedimentary deposit of fossiliferous marine clay which is of Late Jurassic to lowermost Cretaceous age and occurs in southern and eastern England and in the North Sea. This rock formation is the major source rock for North Sea oil. The fossil fauna of the Kimmeridge Clay includes turtles, crocodiles, sauropods, plesiosaurs, pliosaurs and ichthyosaurs, as well as a number of invertebrate species.
Sir Cornelius Vermuyden was a Dutch engineer who introduced Dutch land reclamation methods to England. Commissioned by the Crown to drain Hatfield Chase in the Isle of Axholme, Lincolnshire, Vermuyden was knighted in 1629 for his work and became an English citizen in 1633. In the 1650s, he directed major projects to drain The Fens of East Anglia, introducing the innovation of constructing washes, to allow periodic flooding of the area by excess waters.
The River Great Ouse is a river in the United Kingdom, the longest of several British rivers called "Ouse". From Syresham in central England, the Great Ouse flows into East Anglia before entering the Wash, a bay of the North Sea. With a course of 143 miles (230 km), mostly flowing north and east, it is the one of the longest rivers in the United Kingdom. The Great Ouse has been historically important for commercial navigation, and for draining the low-lying region through which it flows; its best-known tributary is the Cam, which runs through Cambridge. Its lower course passes through drained wetlands and fens and has been extensively modified, or channelised, to relieve flooding and provide a better route for barge traffic. Though the unmodified river probably changed course regularly after floods, it now enters the Wash after passing through the port of King's Lynn, south of its earliest-recorded route to the sea.
The men who carried the gault away were called "gaulters", and typically worked in gangs of three. The gang was managed by a Head Ganger, and a team of three men worked a train of five boats, each around 36 by 8.5 feet (11.0 by 2.6 m), and capable of holding 8 tons of gault (Kimmeridge) clay. Teams employed by the Burnt Fen Drainage District were provided with the boats, but had to supply a horse for towing the boats, and shovels and barrows for loading and unloading the gault. In 1810, Robert Fletcher and Co were paid £7/3/6 (£7.17) for 246 tons of gault delivered to the Burnt Fen District, a rate of 7 pence (3p) per ton. In 1886, the terms of the men were re-negotiated, because the Commissioners felt that the wages received were excessive. They calculated that each man would receive £1/12/6 (£1.62) per week if the team completed five round trips as expected. Gaulters ceased to be employed by the Burnt Fen District after 1920, when responsibility for the river banks passed to the newly formed Ouse Drainage Board. 
Burnt Fen is an area of low-lying land crossed by the A1101 road between Littleport in Cambridgeshire and Mildenhall in Suffolk, England. It is surrounded on three sides by rivers, and consists of prime agricultural land, with sparse settlement. It is dependent on pumped drainage to prevent it from flooding.
The pits continued to supply clay, with a new pit being started in 1947. Since extraction stopped, they have become a wetland wildlife habitat. They have also been used by Ely Sailing Club since 1946, when the club was founded. The main yachting area covers around 40 acres (16 ha), and is used for both cruising and racing. The club is recognised by the Royal Yachting Association as a training centre, and can therefore offer training to those interested in learning the skills of yachting. 
The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is the national governing body for dinghy, yacht and motor cruising, all forms of sail racing, RIBs and sportsboats, windsurfing and personal watercraft and a leading representative for inland waterways cruising.
The pits were the subject of controversy in 2006 when the larger lake was sold to a new owner. A local group, Ely Wildspace  accused the owner of having the intention of providing moorings for boats using the River Great Ouse. The lakes were by then home to a wide range of wildlife, and the two functions were seen as conflicting. The owner responded with their intention to create a wildlife reserve.  Parts of the area were declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest in June 2008, in recognition of their geology and wetland habitat,  and in the absence of a planning application by the owner, an enforcement notice was issued by East Cambridgeshire District Council, preventing further work being carried out. An appeal against the notice was rejected by the Planning Inspectorate on 14 November 2008, with the outcome that sections where work has been carried out will have to be returned to their previous state.  In April 2009, the SSSI was extended to cover an area of 210 acres (85 ha), including nearly all of the former pits. 
A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Great Britain or an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) in the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland is a conservation designation denoting a protected area in the United Kingdom and Isle of Man. SSSI/ASSIs are the basic building block of site-based nature conservation legislation and most other legal nature/geological conservation designations in the United Kingdom are based upon them, including national nature reserves, Ramsar sites, Special Protection Areas, and Special Areas of Conservation. The acronym "SSSI" is often pronounced "triple-S I".
These former clay pits have lakes and reedbeds. Birds include common terns, kingfishers and reed warblers, there are flowers such as bee orchids and emperor dragonflies. The site has yielded fossils of dinosaurs, crocodiles and turtles. 
Ophrys apifera, known in Europe as the bee orchid, is a perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the family Orchidaceae. It is remarkable as an example of sexually-deceptive pollination and floral mimicry as well as of a highly-selective and highly evolved plant-pollinator relationship.
The reserve is in two nearby areas, and access is from Kiln Lane, which passes between them. 
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Redgrave and Lopham Fens is a 127 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest between Thelnetham in Suffolk and Diss in Norfolk. It is a National Nature Reserve, a Ramsar internationally important wetland site, a Nature Conservation Review site, Grade I, and part of the Waveney and Little Ouse Valley Fens Special Area of Conservation. It is managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.
Ouse Washes is a linear 2,513.6 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest stretching from near St Ives in Cambridgeshire to Downham Market in Norfolk. It is also a Ramsar internationally important wetland site, a Special Protection Area under the European Union Birds Directive, a Special Area of Conservation, and a Nature Conservation Review site, Grade I. An area of 186 hectares between March and Ely is managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, and another area near Chatteris is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust manages another area near Welney.
The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire (WTBCN) is a registered charity which manages 126 nature reserves covering 3,945 hectares. It has over 35,000 members, and 95% of people in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire live within five miles of a reserve. In the year to 31 March 2016 it employed 105 people and had an income of £5.1 million. It aims to conserve wildlife, inspire people to take action for wildlife, offer advice and share knowledge. The WTBCN is one of 36 wildlife trusts covering England, and 47 covering the whole of the United Kingdom.
Lower Coombe and Ferne Brook Meadows is an 11.34 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in Wiltshire, which sits on the Upper Greensand and Gault Clay.The site is home to rare fen meadow and neutral grassland communities in an unimproved grassland. Species such as Triglochin palustris, Caltha palustris and Oenanthe pimpinelloides can be found at the location. Three streams, which form headwaters of the River Nadder flow through the site. It was notified in 2002.
Dogsthorpe Star Pit is a 36.4 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)) on the eastern outskirts of Peterborough in Cambridgeshire. It is also designated a Local Nature Reserve, and it is managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.
Fulbourn Fen is a 27.3 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest east of Fulbourn, Cambridgeshire. It is privately owned and managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.
Houghton Meadows is a 4.7 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) between Houghton and St Ives in Cambridgeshire. The SSSI covers three meadows south of Thicket Road; they are part of the 8 hectare Houghton Meadows nature reserve, which is owned and managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, and which also includes Browns Meadow to the south.
Soham Wet Horse Fen is a 33.8 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest east of Soham in Cambridgeshire. A 3.6 hectare field in the north-west corner is managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire as Soham Meadow.
Blo' Norton and Thelnetham Fens are a 21.3 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. Blo' Norton Fen is in the parish of Blo' Norton in Norfolk and Thelnetham Fen is in Thelnetham parish in Suffolk. It is a Nature Conservation Review site, Grade 2, and part of the Waveney and Little Ouse Valley Fens Special Area of Conservation, Thelnetham Fen is managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Blo' Norton Fen by the Little Ouse Headwaters Project (LOHP).
Ruxley Gravel Pits is an 18.7-hectare (46-acre) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in Ruxley, Orpington, in the London Borough of Bromley, and originally dug between 1929 and 1951. It is also a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation. It is owned by the Environment Agency and managed by Kent Wildlife Trust. Natural England has assessed its condition as "unfavourable recovering".
Upware South Pit is a 1.1 hectare geological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) north of Upware in Cambridgeshire. It is a Geological Conservation Review site.
Cam Washes is a 166.5 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest west of Wicken in Cambridgeshire.
River Ise and Meadows is a 13.5 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest along the River Ise in Northamptonshire between Geddington and the Kettering to Corby railway line east of Rushton.
Coordinates: 52°24′04″N0°17′10″E / 52.401°N 0.286°E