Boaters' Update 13 March 2020

This latest edition provides an update on the damage caused by recent storms, coronavirus, how to get in touch with us in an emergency and nesting birds. Of course, you'll also find the latest news, events and stoppages.

A spring day on the Kennet & Avon Canal A spring day on the Kennet & Avon Canal

Welcome to the latest edition. If you’ve switched on a TV or radio or been online in the last six weeks, it would have been hard to avoid coverage of two things. First, we had storms rolling in off the Atlantic, pretty much on a weekly basis, bringing widespread disruption. Now, and headlining almost all news outlets in the world, we have the coronavirus to contend with.

Seeing as though is is an update for boaters, this edition will update on the storm damage as well as discussing what the coronavirus means for boating. Of course, it’s never all doom and gloom out on the waterways so you’ll also find other articles about how we want to hear your views and nesting birds. As usual, there’s a round-up of other news, stoppages and events also included.

Happy boating,

Damian

In this edition:

News round-up and upcoming events

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 25 Feb – Three new appointments made to our Fisheries & Angling Advisory Group.
  • 28 Feb – Neil O’Brien MP recently experienced Foxton Locks from a totally different perspective as he stepped down into a drained lock for a chance to see how we look after the 200-year-old famous flight of locks
  • 11 Mar – We are calling on local boaters and people in Ashton-under-Lyne to join the fight to eradicate litter from the town’s canal.

Below I’ve picked out some events and activities that you might be interested in over the next month. There are plenty of other activities and volunteering opportunities if none of the below take your fancy. Just visit the events section of the website to find the perfect one for you.

  • 20 Mar – Visit the National Waterways Museum Ellesmere Port for a look at the history of canals in and around Braunston, Northamptonshire, in the wider context of the history of transport in talk by John Pomfret.
  • 28 Mar – Love boating but don’t have a boat? Look no further than hire boat company Anglo Welsh who is hosting open days at four of its narrowboat hire bases, offering people the chance to try canal boating for free.
  • Until 29 Mar – Visit the Puppet Theatre Barge on the Regent’s Canal to watch and listen to the tale of ‘Brer Rabbit Visits Africa’ which is performed using traditional hand carved marionettes.

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Storms leave trail of damage

Brendan, Ciara, Dennis and Jorge are names that some will never forget. For those who had homes flooded, or those helping with the still-continuing clean up operation, these storms, and their names, will last long in the memory.

February, perhaps not that surprisingly, turned out to be the wettest since records began over 150 years ago. And while water is a very necessary component for boating, too much can be as disruptive, and more damaging, than too little. Given their age, though, and the sheer volume of rain, the waterways stood up well.

Figure of ThreeWhile there’re far too many separate instances, some small, some big, of storm damage to list individually (you can see all navigations affected by closures below), here’s a flavour of what we’ve been dealing with:

The Rochdale Canal and the Calder & Hebble Navigation have been most affected in our Yorkshire & North East region. 250 years old this year, the Calder & Hebble Navigation is home to Figure of Three Locks, near Dewsbury. Water overtopping on the bend of the River Calder caused major damage to the lock and towpath.

While our initial estimates indicate Figure of Three Locks  will be closed for 12 months and repairs will cost in excess of £2 million, these figures will be refined in the coming weeks with the assistance of our engineers and contractors. At present it is the most damaged single structure on our entire 2,000 mile network following the recent storms. 

The high level of water, in some places unprecedented, also caused other problems. For example, some electrical and hydraulic bridge mechanisms became submerged as flood waters rose while in other areas landslips occurred as sodden banks gave way sending mud and trees into canals.

Flood water being run off through the lockWhile most canalside banks maintained their integrity, despite the huge amount of rain, some of the trees on them couldn’t withstand the storm force winds and ended up blocking at least part of some navigations. In general terms most of these have been cleared but some of the trickier to remove ones are still being dealt with.

More updates will follow in future Boaters’ Update as we reshape our plans for the coming months to deal with the damage caused by the succession of storms.

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Maintenance, repair and restoration work affecting cruising this weekend

As someone who’s out on, or by, the water more often than most, you’ll know that there are times when we need to fix things that unexpectedly break. So, below, you’ll find a list of anything that’s happening that may affect you if you’re planning on a cruise this weekend.

Below you’ll find, by canal or river, those that may affect your plans this weekend. It’s a long list due to the winter stoppage programme, where we carry out major projects when it’s quieter out on the cut:

When any restrictions to navigation happen, we get them up on to our website as soon as we can – always best to have a scan before you set off for a cruise. The tech savvy among you may already know that you can set up your smartphone to notify you if a notice is issued for a canal or river that you’re interested in. For those that didn’t know, check out this guide to setting it up.

If you have any questions about a specific closure then just get in touch.

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Boating and coronavirus

The Canal & River Trust is following government advice on coronavirus, working with employees, volunteers and partners to keep our A man enjoying steering a narrowboatwaterways open and available for use.  Contingency plans will ensure we can continue to provide our day-do-day service for as long as possible.

Other than for planned maintenance works, or recent flood damage, our canals, river navigations, towpaths and museums remain open for use, providing important green-blue routes and spaces in many towns and cities across England and Wales, connecting urban areas to the countryside. 

Indeed, whilst the advice from Government is for people to carry on their lives largely as normal, our waterways remain a great option for those looking for time in the fresh air, or a route to work that’s away from the hustle and bustle of more crowded environments, or as places to visit whilst foreign holidays are restricted.

Latest government information on coronavirus can be found on the Department for Health and Social Care’s website.

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Getting in touch in an emergency

As the two articles above demonstrate, life can be unpredictable. Most of the time, such as for a lightly damaged lock gate, a hole in the towpath, unlicensed or speeding boats, or facility breakdowns (water points, pump outs etc.) you can report it via our website. 

Sometimes, though rarely, emergency situations arise. If at any point there’s any risk to life, risk of serious injury or illness or fires or an explosion on a boat then you should immediately call 999. The same goes if properties are at risk or a crime has been committed.

When the situation is urgent, but not an emergency - please call our 24-hour emergency contact number 0800 47 999 47. Some examples of when you should use this number are:

  • If you come across a dangerously damaged bridge, lock or tunnel
  • A boat is trapped in a dangerous situation e.g. on a weir or a lock
  • A boat is causing a dangerous navigational hazard
  • There is serious flooding or a breach which risks lives or property
  • Serious pollution

If your situation isn’t covered by any of the above then you can always talk to our customer service team on 0303 040 4040 who are now available seven days a week; Monday to Friday(8am-9pm), Sat & Bank Holidays (8am-7pm) and Sunday (9am-7pm).

As mentioned in the coronavirus article, if your cruising pattern is likely to be affected then please get in touch with your local licence support officer at the earliest opportunity to discuss the circumstances and how we can support you.

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Nesting birds on boats

As a boater, you need to be aware of the love lives of your local birds, or else you could find your boating plans thwarted by a nest where you don’t want one. If you don't want to get stuck with a duck, read on!

Bird nest on boat in a car tyreAs we move into spring’s warmer months (hopefully!) birds will all be looking out for the best nesting sites to incubate their eggs. Whilst swans and geese rarely nest on boats, many ducks, coots and moorhens are more than happy to nest on a boat, especially in urban areas where safe nesting sites can be in short supply.

While it might seem like a wonderful thing to watch nature up close for a few weeks, awaiting the chirps of newly hatched babies, it can cause major havoc with your plans. By law you will not be able to move your boat until the baby birds have left the nest.

If you are liveaboard boater it could be even worse, leaving you seeking alternative accommodation for the duration once your water tank is empty, your toilet tank full, and depending on the location of the nest, being unable to run the engine to generate power.

Bird nests and the law

All wild birds are protected but some more than others. Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 states that it is an offence to intentionally take, damage, or destroy the nest of any wild bird while the nest is in use or being built. This means that it would be illegal to move boats which host occupied nests.

A bird by the waterWe have raised this issue with Natural England who advised that a licence to disturb nesting birds would not be granted for boating activities. In practical terms, too, the time taken for a licence to be processed can be longer than the time taken for the chicks to leave! It suggested that boat owners should wait until the young have left the nest and then employ scaring tactics to prevent further birds from nesting, thus allowing a window of opportunity to move.

When can you move?

Water fowl incubate their eggs for around 20-30 days depending on the type of bird and also tend to start nesting around March, earlier than, for example, birds that normally nest on land or in hedges.

The important thing is, if you find yourself stuck with a duck, or a coot or moorhen, pay attention to, and make a note of what they’re doing each day. Once the chicks are swimming in the water, and they’ve not returned to the nest for a week then its likely safe to move the nest.

Nest-proof fenders

One of the most favoured des-res nesting sites for smaller water fowl is an old car tyre used as a fender. These can create a perfect framework for the birds to line with twigs and grass, close to, but not too close to the waterline. One suggestion to make tyre fenders “nest-proof” is to cut them in half so that there is an upside-down arc and no cosy space at the bottom for a nest. An alternative is to totally block the centre of the tyre to prevent a nest being built.

Ideally, old car tyres should not be used as boat fenders, not least as they have a high tendency to fall off and when they fall off they cause trouble. Every year we have problems with lock gates fouled by tyres and other rubbish. Tyres are tricky to remove from the water due to their weight and are expensive to dispose of as waste. Tyres are also known to wrap themselves neatly around propellers, usually requiring an expensive dry docking to be removed. 

What to do if you find an active bird nest on your boat

Whatever you do, do not disturb it, the penalty could be an unlimited fine or up to six month’s imprisonment… or both!

If your boat is not on your home mooring or is continuously cruising you need to contact your local licence support officer at the earliest opportunity to discuss the circumstances and let them know before you overstay more than 14 days in one place.

If you suspect someone has disturbed or deliberately damaged a nest and you have evidence you should report it. Armed with an accurate and detailed description of what you have seen, contact the police on 101 or the RSPB. If you have contacted the Police in the first instance then you should also inform the RSPB Investigations Section at The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire (01767 680551). 

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Get involved

Many boaters go the extra mile in helping to keep canals and rivers in good condition by volunteering,  donating, or just picking up the odd piece of discarded litter. In whatever form your volunteering takes place we’d like to take the opportunity to say thank you. Your support helps make life better by water.

As you’re such an integral part of what makes waterways so wonderful, and life better by water, I thought you’d like to know about other ways you can get involved:

  • Every year we ask about a third of boaters what they think of us as a charity and how they think we’re doing in a range of ways such as looking after the waterways, customer service and so on. Seeing as though I’m mentioning it now, it’ll come as no surprise that about a third of you have been sent the survey! If you’re one of them please do take the time to give us your views as it really helps us decide on our priorities. Click here for more information.

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Bits & Bobs

  • In Wednesday’s Budget announcement, Chancellor Rishi Sunak shared plans to review the current use of red diesel. The Trust, along with other navigation authorities, is working with the Government around air quality/reduced emissions issues related to boats. We want to ensure that the impact of change on boating is minimised and Government support is provided as we move towards greener boating. We are studying the latest budget announcement and looking at how this new policy will be implemented. Together with other waterways organisations, we will seek to engage with the Government to address the implications of the change for inland boating.

 

Happy boating,

Damian

Last date edited: 13 March 2020

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The boaters' update

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