Pots with a difference at the Great Ouse Marathon

This year, the events committee at Isle of Ely RC made some major changes to help the Great Ouse Marathon’s sustainability and environmental footprint, including a quirkly twist to the ‘trophies’


The Great Ouse Marathon has always been “a little bit quirky, a little bit different,” says Chair Teresa Aslett. Organised by local community rowing club Isle of Ely RC with help from West Norfolk RC, the 22km Great Ouse Marathon has become a popular distance event in the calendar since launching (first as an invitational) in 2009.

Crews boat from the beautiful West Norfolk RC at Denver sluice and race 22km upstream through the fens to Queen Adelaide bridge. If the finish line is a welcome sight, the landing pontoons just beyond it at Isle of Ely RC are usually even more so. A small army of volunteers is on hand to help crews safely land (and quite often, stand), give congratulations, carry kit, and direct rowers towards very well-earned refreshments. Crews come back year after year and say that the welcome and community spirit – as well as beer and home-made cake – are important reasons why.

When it came to improving the race’s sustainability and environmental footprint, replacing plastic at the refreshments stand was the first big win. Club members donated and loaned boxloads of crockery and cutlery, and the organizing team set up a super-efficient washing up squad to make it work on the day. Rowers enjoying their first post-race tea from a ‘real mug’ seemed delighted!

Great Ouse Marathon 2023 prizegiving Teresa Aslett (Chair) and Derek Pickersgill (President) from Isle of Ely RC giving out the sustainable prizes

Coming up with ideas for alternative prizes was a bit more challenging, but inspiration came in the perhaps unexpected form of New Zealand’s citizenship ceremonies, where new citizens are presented with a native shrub. The organising committee described the proposal as ‘very left field’ but decided it was a great reflection of what they wanted rowers to take away from the Great Ouse Marathon: growth, not stuff to put on a shelf. Instead of a bulk order of tankards, they ordered a trailer-load of small trees. The plants were grown (not imported) by local Suffolk nursery Botanica, whose team also gave great advice on which species would be suitable.

One winning crew spotted the plant collection shortly before prizegiving and joked, “You should be giving those as prizes instead of pots!” There was definite surprise at our reply (“we are!”) but to everyone’s relief, feedback was wholeheartedly positive – one winner described it as a “great idea, very environmental”, and another enthusiastically said Ely had “set the new standard”. And practical too – “you don’t have to dust it!”

David Wynne from Yare BC's winning MasE quad David Wynne from Yare BC’s winning Open MasE quad.

Winners were presented with one tree per rower, accompanied by a certificate, with the suggestion to plant in their garden, rowing club, or local community space. The Isle of Ely events committee looks forward to welcoming competitors back to the Great Ouse for future races, and finding creative ways to make our events greener.