Middle Level Commissioners


AINA Representative: Mr Iain Smith - Chief Executive & Clerk

Middle Level Offices
Whittlesey Road
PE15 0AH

Telephone: 01354 653232
Fax: 01354 659619

Email: admin@middlelevel.gov.uk
Website: www.middlelevel.gov.uk 

Constitutional status 

Internal Drainage Board/Statutory navigation authority.

Description of navigation

The navigation consists of mainly fenland river/drains and is rural in nature. Urban sections are through the settlements of March, Chatteris, Whittlesey, Upwell, Outwell and Ramsey which lie on the navigation.

A brief history of the navigation

The Middle Level is the central and largest section of the Great Level of the Fens , which was reclaimed by drainage during the mid 17th Century. The area is bounded on the north-west and east by the Nene and Ouse Washes, on the north by the previously drained Marshland silts and to the south and west by low clay hills.

The main water level management function within this area has been undertaken by the Middle Level Commissioners, under its present constitution since 1862, following the break up of the former Bedford Level Corporation.

The Middle Level river system consists of over 120 miles (190 km) of watercourses most of which are statutory navigations and has a catchment of just over 170,000 acres (70,000 hectares).

Virtually all of the fenland within the Middle Level catchment lies below mean sea level. The Commissioners, together with local internal drainage boards, therefore operate a highly complex flood protection and water level management system to balance the various water uses and requirements and to alleviate the risk for flooding of land and properties. The efficient operation of the system is vital to the safety and prosperity of over 100,000 people who live and work in the area. But for the operations of the Commissioners and the local boards much of the fenland would be under water for much of the year, accesses from higher ground would be cut off and many of the present land uses, which are seemingly taken for granted, would be impossible.

Current situation and use


Historically the Commissioners’ waterways were commercial in character but now carry purely pleasure craft.

The Middle Level, apart from its flood protection role, is also the fourth largest navigation authority in the United Kingdom and is responsible for 100 miles (160 km) of statutory navigation and the operation of six navigation locks. The Nene-Ouse Navigation Link forms part of the Middle Level navigation. The Link is at present the only connection between the great Ouse and the main canal network. During a normal summer, over 1,000 passages of the Link-Route are made by pleasure craft. The Commissioners issue navigation Notes, which provide navigation details for boat owners, who wish to use the system. The main Acts of Parliament under which the Commissioners operate are the Nene Navigation Acts 1753, Middle Level Acts 1810-1874, the Land Drainage Act 1991 and the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. The Middle Level System, the majority of which is owned by the Commissioners, is also a major fishery.

Plans for the future

The Commissioners are unable to levy charges on vessels due to the provisions of the ancient legislation governing their navigations, although they are able to insist that all vessels comply with the Boat Safety Scheme.  This also means that vessels are only able to use the Middle Level system if they comply with the current byelaws, made in 1874.  Vessels of a type which could not have existed in 1874 are not able to use the system.

How we consult with our users

The Middle Level Waterways Users Committee consists of representatives of the Commissioners and Users of the Middle Level system.

It advises the Commissioners of the different requirements for water use in the Middle Level area and assists them in meeting such requirements so far as the Commissioners are able to do so.

The Commissioners issue navigation notes to users which are available from the Commissioners’ offices, or from the website.

How we are structured

Click here to view organisation chart (pdf format)

Navigation statistics

Length/area of waterway

161 km (100 miles)

Number of locks

Link route 4 plus 2 others




17.6m (58ft )


3.5m (11’6")


0.7m (2’3”)


2.1m (6’10”)

Note: restricted width and sharp bend through Briggate, Whittlesey. Narrow boats up to 70 ft (21.3m) have negotiated to King's Dyke to Ashline Lock.

Boating statistics

Licences/Registrations are not issued.

Requirements for boating

Boat Safety Scheme


Third Party Insurance

No, compliance with the Middle Level Navigation Byelaws 1874