Conservators of the River Cam


AINA Representative: Dr Philippa Noon - River Manager

Baits Bite Lock House
Fen Road

Telephone: 012223 863785
Fax: 01223 863785


Constitutional status 

Statutory, based on the River Cam Act 1702, the River Cam Navigation Act 1985 and the River Cam Conservancy Act 1922. Not VAT Registered. Not a Charity.

Description of navigation

A mainly rural river lined with willow trees, with urban stretches towards the city centre. There are two locks managed by the Cam Conservators: Baits Bite and Jesus. The River Cam has a greater impact on its university town than the Thames does in Oxford. The river is always full of rowers and, along the Backs, punters. The banks attract joggers, cyclists, fishermen and artists. The riverside landscape offers world-famous, iconic views of this university City. Two major civic fairs take place next to the river each year, the Strawberry Fair and Midsummer Fair. National Cycle Route 11 runs in part alongside the river and The Halingway towpath has recently been upgraded by Cambridgeshire County Council into a popular cycleway linking Cambridge to Bottisham. cam.jpg

A brief history of the navigation

Although owners of motorised craft and rowers have disputes today, this is nothing new and the Conservators, who were established by an Act in 1702, have always had the task of balancing demands on the river. In earlier days, it was often a conflict between transport and mill owners; traders feared the over-abstraction of water leading to reduced depths for navigation. Today, the problems are similar. River traffic is managed such that the middle river is mostly used for punting and the lower reaches are shared by rowing clubs, private motorised vessels and houseboats.

The 13 Conservators are appointed by Cambridge City Council, the University of Cambridge, the Environment Agency and Cambridgeshire County Council. They are not paid for their duties. The Conservators are responsible for navigation on the river from the City Centre to Bottisham Lock where responsibility for the downstream reaches passes to the Environment Agency. The Conservators have some statutory responsibilities upstream of Bishop’s Mill in the City Centre also.

Further reading: Chisholm, M. (2003) 'Conservators of the river Cam 1702-2002'. Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society XCII, pp. 183-200.

Current situation and use

The approach to the river’s management has shifted from maintaining a trading waterway towards recreation as the principal use. The reaches between Bishop’s Mill and Jesus Lock are mostly used by punts, rowing boats and canoes; the lower reaches are used by rowing crews, moored houseboats, cruising craft and sailing clubs. For safety reasons, motorised craft are only permitted above Jesus Lock during the winter period from 1st October to 31st March inclusive. All events on the river, such as fishing matches and rowing races, must be approved by the Conservancy in advance, including the rowing ‘Mays’ and ‘ Town Bumps’.

The maximum speed limits are 8 km.p.h. between Bishop’s Mill in the City Centre and Baits Bite Lock, and 11 km.p.h. between Baits Bite and Bottisham Locks.

The Conservators have their own licensing regime.  A registration interchange in force between the  Conservators and Environment Agency allows Cam-based boats access to the Agency's Anglian Region waterways downstream of Bottisham without boaters having to pay additional fees.

Cambridge City Council administers the pump-out facility at Jesus Green and licenses moorings for residential boats along the banks of Jesus Green, Midsummer and Stourbridge Commons. There are visitor’s moorings at Clayhithe (Conservancy) and Jesus Green (Cambridge City Council).

The Conservancy is equipped with workboats and undertakes main river maintenance works (weed cutting, bank repairs) on behalf of the Environment Agency.  Trees along Halingway are maintained routinely by staff and contractors.  The Conservators own rental properties, two of which are Grade II* Listed buildings.

Plans for the future

As an independent authority, the Conservators face a significant challenge of ensuring their future financial security in order to perform their statutory functions.  Under-investment in capital works has created a backlog of projects which must be brought forward for health and safety reasons, including repairs to eroding sections of riverbank carrying the towpath and upgrading the operational Depot at Clayhithe.

The expansion of population in the Cambridge area is increasing the pressure on the river corridor, reflected in increasing numbers of craft being used on the river.  The Conservators have no powers to restrict the issue of vessel registrations.  Byelaw revisions may be required to improve the efficient management of the Cam navigation as it continues to evolve.

Two plans have been proposed which address the problem of inadequate space for rowers and moorers. The Conservators are supportive of the CamToo project (see and are also involved in the consultation for the proposed Cambridge Sports Lakes development near Waterbeach (see

Longer-term, there is an aspiration to develop, in collaboration with local stakeholders, a shared vision for the catchment through a 'waterspace strategy'.

How we consult with our users

The Conservators hold quarterly meetings at the Guildhall in Cambridge. By custom, members of the public can contribute to the discussion. The Conservators appoint Observers drawn from the general public as well. Dates and Minutes of these meetings are published on the Conservators’ web site. The Conservancy has a representative at meetings of the Regional Navigation Group and Anglian Region Paddlesports Group.

How we are structured

There are five operational staff managing the waterway: River Manager, Deputy River Manager, River Foreman, Deputy River Foreman and a River Bailiff.

Navigation statistics

Length/area of navigable waterway

12.23 km

Number of locks




30.5 m (100 ft)


4.3m (14 ft)


1.2m (4ft)


2.7m (9ft)

Boating statistics

12 month period – up to 31 March 08
Licences/Registrations - Long Term




Privately owned



Hire – day boats



Hire – overnight stay/timeshare



Hire – trip boat/ restaurant/passenger



Hire – hotel



Other business/charity boats



* based on the Cam but registered with the Environment Agency

Requirements for boating

Boat Safety Scheme


Third Party Insurance