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SUMMARY. 1. Water beetles were recorded from 157 sites around the Wash, England, in 1986. Most sites were ditches in arable land. Eight main types of water beetle assemblage were identified by multivariate analysis. The habitats of these assemblages were characterized by measurement of a range of physical and chemical factors.

2. Of the 130 species recorded, four are listed in the British Red Data Book and a further thirty-five are rated as Nationally Notable. Records from 1904 to 1938 for the same area indicate that only three species have been lost in the subsequent period of intensification of water management and arable farming. A rich water beetle fauna can thus survive in drainage systems in arable fen.

3. Vegetation management was important in maintaining the ‘species quality score’, proposed as a measure of conservation value, of larger ditches but management reduced the species quality of one type of assemblage associated with smaller ditches. One type of assemblage was found only in ditches subject to management.