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Along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal West and Rochdale Canal there are two sections which were declared Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Natural England.
Community Roots is a three year project supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and players of People’s Postcode Lottery, which aims to work with the local community to improve the environmental condition of these two stretches, and since June 2015 I have been tasked with its delivery.
This declaration meant that the stretches got extra protection in terms of their nature conservation, and on the HNC the SSSI stretches from the start of the canal near Portland Basin in Ashton-under-Lyne right up to near Roaches Lock in Mossley. On the Rochdale Canal it runs from Failsworth up to Littleborough. The Rochdale stretch has added protection as it is also a Special Area of Conservation which is a European level designation.
One of the first jobs was to carry out a biodiversity survey along the length of the two SSSI’s. This required me to walk the length of the stretch a few times at the height of summer, noting down the flowers and plants that I observed.
I recorded a diverse range along the margins including wonderful stands of hemp agrimony, gypsywort, meadowsweet and water mint with common spotted orchids down the towpath. With kingfishers flashing by and brown hawker dragonflies darting overhead it was hard not to feel extremely lucky to have this as my job.
In September I worked with the Huddersfield Canal Society, the Wooden Canal Boat Society and local volunteers from the Stalybridge Clean team on a task day clearing the canal on its Stalybridge stretch. The WCBS brought “Forget Me Not” one of their wooden boats which enabled us to reach parts of the canal inaccessible from the towpath.
We had brought along grappling hooks and together worked our way down from the WCBS boatyard above lock 7W to lock 4W. On this short stretch we managed to pull out three vanloads of bikes, scooters and 24 trolleys.
One of the trolleys we lifted out had been colonised by a freshwater sponge which had grown over some of the trolleys grill. As a filter feeder the constant flow of water through the grill gave the sponge a constant source of food and obviously suited it very well. We rushed back to the depot for heavy bolt cutters and carefully cut round the sponges section, before returning it safely to the water.
On the Rochdale Canal stretch I worked with local volunteers to re-introduce the rare submerged plant floating water plantain back into the canal. Over a couple of events we managed to re-introduce approximately 4000 new plants.
In late October we returned to Stalybridge and had a second day of “grappling” with the HCS, WCBS and great local volunteers. This time we concentrated on the winding hole below lock 4W. Together we managed to pull out a motley collection including shopping trollies, kid’s scooters, road work signs, a fence panel, a wheelchair, a suitcase, two prams and a huge haul of bikes. It took three van journeys to cart most of it away for recycling. The rest was floated away on a passing Canal & River Trust work boat.
No sponges this time, but we did encounter fearsome crayfish one of which was a female with a mass of eggs in a sack under her tail.
We intend to make these days a regular event on the last Wednesday of every month and also run similar task days on the Rochdale, so if you are interested in getting involved please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org – everyone is very welcome.
I have also arranged Winter Wildlife Walk’s in Rochdale and in Stalybridge as well as training in dry stone walling, hedgelaying and even using a scythe to maintain grasslands.
So for more information and regular updates about the project visit: https://www.facebook.com/rhys.wynne.5
Community Roots (North) is an exciting three-year conservation project supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and players of People’s Postcode Lottery. It’s based along the SSSI areas on the Huddersfield Narrow and Rochdale Canals in Greater Manchester, and aims to engage the local communities with these special environments. An additional strand of the project is based in Birmingham.
Julianne Joyce, Community Roots Project Officer is going to keep us updated on the project's progress.