Boaters' Update 30 July 2021

Welcome to this bumper edition. In it you can get a flavour of the hard work we've been doing for boaters around the network, there's an update on water resources, Crick Boat Show, compost/separator toilet news and news of our exciting initiative to get more support for our wonderful canals and rivers.

A green canal boat in the locks in front of a brick-built house Jon and ‘Borderline’ at Buckby Locks in Daventry, Northamptonshire.

Welcome to the latest edition. Hopefully you managed to get out on the water in the wonderfully warm last couple of weeks. While there’s still plenty of summer left to shine, and boating to be done, this edition starts with a look at what you’ve been getting in touch about in recent weeks, your priorities, and how we’re fixing, and maintaining, the things important to you.

After that you can read an update on water resources, what to expect at the upcoming Crick Boat Show and, if you’re in London, how to get involved in a separator/composting loo year-long pilot that helps boaters correctly dispose of their, ahem, waste. Finally, and as a boater, you’ll know how much work it takes to keep our canals and rivers maintained and many of you already help us in a variety of ways – read on to find out about a new mass movement we’ve just launched to get more support from the general public.

As always, a round-up of news and stoppages can also be found below.

Stay safe, happy boating,

Damian

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

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You’ve been saying, we’ve been doing

Thanks to everyone who’s been getting in touch. When you do give us a call, or drop us a line, we log it. This helps us stay up to date with your priorities because, if it wasn’t important to you, you wouldn’t be getting in touch about it. Before looking deeper at what you’re getting in touch about, please make sure you have up to date contact details for us before you go on a cruise – you never know when you’ll need them!

Over the course of June we had an average of nearly 250 calls and emails every working day. Of these, nearly half were either about boating and navigation or structures associated with the cut.

When further analysed, the data reveals that because you’re out enjoying the network, booking passages and facilities is one of the main reasons you have been getting in touch. If you are looking to book a passage, you may want to read this article from a previous edition that explains how to easily make bookings online via our licensing portal 24 hours a day.

When it comes to waterway structures it’s perhaps not much of a surprise that locks, bridges and canal banks top the list of things you call us about. Now that we’re in the peak boating season we try, wherever possible, to fix things as quickly as possible so as to minimise disruption to your cruise.

One example of this was on the Grand Union Canal. The Watford flight had to be closed overnight due to the discovery of a large void under a lock quadrant. Liaison between operational and engineering teams that night, allowed the lock to reopen again the following morning operated Hanwell flightunder restrictions by our wonderful volunteer lock keepers. A temporary repair was then made and extensive investigations are now ongoing to discover the underlying causes.

Also on the Grand Union, we were able to complete a number of works on the Hanwell Flight, photo right. These included ground paddle post replacements at locks 94 and 95. The damaged paddles on the bottom gates at Lock 95 have been replaced and the loose paddle frame fixed on the ground paddle. 

Under restriction we also lined the bottom gates at locks 93 and 94 to reduce water loss. Whilst on site all accessible paddle rod connecting bolts have been changed for new; centre paddles and valve holes have been cleared of debris to allow them to function freely at locks 93, 94 Kings Road Lock, Aire & Calderand 95. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to do the same at locks 96 and 97 as nesting moorhens had set up residence in the short pounds!

160 miles further north at Kings Road Lock on the Aire & Calder Navigation, the anchor pin on the towpath side gate needed replacing, see right. As above, to allow boating to continue, the gate was temporarily secured using straps to an alternative anchor point whilst the anchor was removed and repaired. 

 

Southcote Lock damageIt’s worth noting that we’re working really hard to fix a lock gate down on the Kennet & Avon Canal. As you can see by the photo, Southcote Lock was inoperable after being damaged late on Wednesday afternoon. Engineers have assessed the damage, which is extensive, and now requires the gate to be lifted out in order to repair the gate anchor. We’ve now started mobilising equipment to site to get the gate fixed and operational as quickly as we can. 

A few days earlier, last Saturday, we received a call about Bunbury Bunbury Lock damageLock on the Shropshire Union Canal. As you can see by the photo, the gate was barely hanging in place – we don’t yet know how it got to be in this condition as we’re still investigating the cause. In any case, and not unlike Southcote Lock above, we quickly arranged an inspection, organised all the required equipment and got to site.  Damaged was noted to the gearing – the metal gate hit it and shattered the cast iron housing. Thankfully we’ve been able to source a replacement from our workshop team so this will be getting fixed at the same time as the gates.

Teams have been working tirelessly on site, installing scaffolding access and a spider crane to lift the gate back into place. While we’re there we’re also taking the opportunity to repair the steel plating on both gates. Hopefully, by the time you read this, the canal will be open again.

Kendals Lock quadrant GU CanalWhile a lot of lock maintenance involves getting wet in the bowels of the lock chamber, some attention needs to be given to secondary, but vital, aspects of lock operation. Take Lock 5 on the Kennet & Avon Canal. Here we carried out repairs to all four lock quadrants which were suffering from spalled bricks - spalling is when brick masonry begins to deteriorate and starts to crumble. 

It’s also worth mentioning that we’re always looking at ways to do more to improve your boating experience and always try to find ways to get more done. For instance, we have five volunteer rangers on the Rochdale Canal who help keep the canal clear, carry out importance lock greasing and other maintenance tasks and are early eyes and ears to help spot emerging repairs.   

When carrying out repairs or maintenance to bridges, especially ones that impede navigation such as swing and lift, we try to minimise any disruption. Powys County Council recently undertook essential deck replacement works on Talybont Lift Bridge on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal. This was achieved with a navigation restriction, not closure, in place with pre-advertised times that boats could get through the bridge. A big thank you to the lock keepers who attended to help with the movement of boats in the advertised time slot in the day.

Frustratingly though some of the work we do is purely in response to Ocker Hill flytipping Wlasall Canalsome in society who simply don’t respect and value Britain’s unique and aging waterways heritage. Just two months after spending £6,000 on clearing bridge holes on the Walsall Canal we were back at Ocker Hill Monway Bridge to clear up a badly fly tipped site. However, working closely with the local council, we have managed to find some evidence of the address this has come from and, along with the support of the council, will look to bring enforcement action against the offender. 

Sometimes nature can also give us a headache or two – the recent hot weather has led to rapid weed growth on the River Witham. We’ve had weed clearing teams battling the pervasive stuff for the last three weeks but hope that a complex agreement with the Environment Agency to try and flush some of the excess weed on the Witham Leak repair on the Coventry canalthrough the sluice and Lock gate at Boston today will turn the fight in our favour.

The third type of waterway structure you’ve been in touch about is the canal bank itself. We continue to carry out a huge range of jobs to them, for example on the Coventry Canal, home to some of this year’s City of Culture celebrations, the team have dug a six-metre trench behind the pilings and back filled with clay to stop a leak that was going into a local park at Bridge 68. They managed to stop the leak and get the towpath open in four days. 

On the South Oxford Canal, at Lock 9, we were busy replacing damaged copings and gate recess brickwork as well as carrying out work on the Claydon Flight to repoint and replace brickwork to prevent water loss. 

As you’ll appreciate with a 2,000 mile network of canals and rivers, the above is only scratching the surface of what we do on a daily basis come rain or shine. If there’s a particular type of project you’d like to see featured then do please drop me a line.

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Water resources update

The Great British Summer has already delivered plenty of sun and it has been great to see the waterways being enjoyed by so many boaters. We were ‘lucky’ enough to have had some extremely wet weeks leading into summer so our water resources are holding up well; however our ongoing reservoir works mean that we have a slightly reduced amount of water than usual to rely on.

The majority of our reservoirs are at, or near to, their long-term average levels for this time of year. See the national water resource position here.

As you’ll know from previous updates, the works at the reservoirs will make sure they continue to comply with the reservoir legislation so that they are safe and able to supply water for boating for years to come. In some instances, the maintenance requires water levels to be temporarily ‘held down’ meaning there will be less water than normal available for boating.

At present Bosley Reservoir, which feeds the Macclesfield Canal, is being drawn down to 10% of its maximum holding ahead of works in mid-August. While this is carried out the water will continue to be used to support navigation. After this, the available resources will for the canal will be limited to Sutton and Combs reservoirs, with Bosley effectively empty and Toddbrook offline while it undergoes major works.

This means that the restrictions published earlier this year may need to tighten on the Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals, with passage at Bosley and Marple Lock Flights available on alternate days. Please see the stoppage notice for current information.

Water-saving measures

The reservoir works are only part of the picture as hot, dry weather always has an impact: many of our reservoirs have, ever since they were built hundreds of years ago, relied on a mid-summer rain storm or two to help them refill. To make sure water resources last as long as possible, and after consultation with the hire boat trade and local stakeholders, we will be limiting the opening hours at a small number of lock flights so we can make the water that’s available last as long as possible.

This sensible precaution helps ensure there’s no wastage of water out of hours and, where they’re in place, it also allows backpumps more time to recycle water back up a lock flight.  

Limited opening times, to make water resources last longer, are being introduced on some locks of the South Oxford Canal. From Friday 13 August, the following will apply:

  • Claydon locks, opening at 8am with last entry at 4.30pm
  • Marsten Doles, opening at 8am with last entry at 5.30pm

What can I do, as a boater, to help?

Saving water is a team effort and boaters are by far the best partner we have in helping to save water. Share locks where you can, close the gates and lower the paddles, and let us know if you spot any leaks or blockages.

In case you missed it, our national hydrology manager, Adam Comerford, talks all things water and reservoirs in this recent video:  

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Crick Boat Show

It’s back! As with every other major gathering, the country’s biggest one-stop-shop for all things boating, took an enforced holiday in 2020. And then, like a stepping stone earlier this year, there was a virtual Crick Boat Show that’s tided us over until restrictions have permitted a more ‘normal’ show. And it’s just three weeks away!

If you’re a frequent visitor to Crick you can expect the usual show highlights. If you’ve never been then there are plenty of reasons to go:

  • The broadest range of boating equipment you’ll find in one place with everything from furnishings and fenders through to loos and LED lighting!
  • Thinking of a new boat or buying your first? You’ll get to explore a wide range of boats at the show as well as voting for your favourite.
  • Looking to learn? A range of seminars, including a morning devoted to environmentally-friendly boating, can be enjoyed.
  • Local Crick pub, The Wheatsheaf,will once again be offering a selection of local beers in the beer tent. While not the full-blown Beer Festival of previous years you can be sure that the range of beers, ciders and other drinks on offer will be wide, interesting and well stocked, and that there will be new ones to discover while you listen to live music from blues-acoustic musician/guitarist Derrick Meyer.
  • A fleet of historic boats journey to Crick Boat Show every year (except for global pandemics) and this August will be no different. From Sculptor, built as a firefighting facility based on the Grand Union Canal in the Second World War, through to Purton, built in September 1936 for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company Ltd.

Three gallon can by CanalArtsGiven that during the last 17 months there have been times when you’ve not been able to go boating and meet up with boating friends, Crick Boat Show could be the perfect to place to do it while basking in all things boating! Also, we’ll be there and would love to have a chinwag!

You’ll find a range of colleagues there ready, and eager, to talk to you about boat licensing, our maintenance work or just a quick natter about your recent boating experiences. If you needed any more reason to drop by then how about being in with a chance of winning a stunning three gallon can painted by Terence at CanalArts (right)? 

There’s now only a couple of weeks or so to buy your tickets to take advantage of the advance price and save 20% or more off on-the-gate prices!

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Maintenance, repair and restoration work 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 what may affect you if you’re planning to get out on your boat this weekend:

Division One National

The pinnacle of the match angling calendar, the Angling Trust Division One National is being hosted by Northampton Nene Angling Club on the Grand Union Canal on 14 August. While there aren’t any navigation closures in place there will be long lines of world class anglers battling for glory. To avoid disruption to your journey, or the competition, it’d be best to travel early in the day or after it finishes (it runs from 11am until 4pm). Full details of the location can be found on this notice.

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. You can set up your smartphone to automatically notify you if a notice is issued for a canal or river that you’re interested in. Check out this guide to setting it up.

If you have any questions about a specific closure, or spot an error in our system, please just get in touch.

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What to do with your number two (if you’re in London)

A start-up business providing a ‘doorstep’ collection service for boaters of composting toilet waste has started on the East London canal network. The Trust is providing funding to Circular Revolution to operate the service for a year-long pilot, to help boaters observe forthcoming restrictions – from the end of December 2021 we request that no bagged solid waste from separator/compost toilets is disposed of in Canal & River Trust waste bins.

Before learning more about the collection service in London, and if your boat does have a compost/separator toilet, please do not empty it down an Elsan point. This often leads to blockages and puts the facility out of commission until we can repair it. As you can imagine, this greatly inconveniences your fellow boater and, annually, can cost us thousands which we’d rather spend maintaining the network for all to enjoy.

Eve Mackinnon set up Circular Revolution in 2020, when she realised how many London boaters struggled with having the space, time or desire to compost on board, but also wanted to move away from chemical toilets and complications of relying on Elsan points. Eve also wanted to complete the loop, harnessing the vital nutrients for soil in a safe way.

Compost loo caddyCircular Revolution now provides regular scheduled collections, picking up bagged organic waste from collection caddies, every two weeks. The service also provides a 17 litre collection caddy, and compostable bags to use in the caddies. The service uses what3words to locate boats, meaning continuous cruisers are free to roam and do not have to travel to specific collection points. But sharing a location prior to collection is key! 

There is also an ad-hoc ‘pay as you poo’ service which can be ordered for larger volumes (up to 25 litres). The waste is safely transformed into soil conditioner for improving soil health, by an ISO registered facility.

It is easy to order either service through the website. The regular fortnightly collections are ordered as a block of three months, equalling six collections, and costs £50. The ad hoc one-off collection is £25 – and they can pick up 25 litre of waste (by volume).

All the material collected must be organic, no plastics, metals, or liquids will be accepted.

As a pilot service, there are operational issues to define, and growth is slow and organic (no pun intended!), but there are still regular collection spots available if you’d like to get involved. More details on the service and how to order are here.

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#ActNowForCanals

Act Now For Canals is a new mass movement which urges everyone who loves canals as much as we do to take their visit one step further and help look after them.

ActNowForCanals BUBoaters have always been the lifeblood of canals; working on them, living on them and helping to care for them and bring them to life for many years. Recently, the pandemic highlighted how much everyone else needs canals as a vital escape outdoors. One in eight households have no private outside space of their own, and over the past 18 months canals became a back garden for many.

The number of walkers, anglers, paddlers, joggers and cyclists joining boaters to use our canals rose significantly in some areas and we continue to see people making the most of their canals and rivers.

However, with more people using canals, increased strain to our waterways presented by climate changes and the litter we find on our towpaths and in the water, the risks to canals has dramatically increased too. As you’ll know, looking after these precious spaces is costly and takes many hands. So, we need more public support to make them blue, green and better for everyone – especially the people and the precious nature living there.

Throughout the new 18-month long #ActNowForCanals movement, we’ll be asking the public to get involved by taking small actions to help look after the blue space on their doorstep. The first action that we will be asking people to take is to visit their local waterway and complete our new Sense in Nature survey, co-designed by our senior ecologist Paul Wilkinson.

Please help us spread the word so even more people can realise how vital our waterways are and #ActNowForCanals. Please visit our new webpages to find out more about how to get involved.

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Bits & Bobs

  • While many of us are now jabbed, or at least booked in to get our first or second one, it’s worth knowing, especially if you’re a continuous cruiser, that you can get vaccinated at a walk-in vaccination site: you do not need to be registered with a GP. Please visit the NHS site for more information and to find a site.
  • As a boater you’ll know that the official Canal & River Trust key is a necessity for all boaters planning to navigate our canals and rivers. It gives you access to our sanitary stations as well as some of our locks and bridge operation panels. These keys, sometimes referred to as BWB Keys, can be purchased from our online shop for the same price as a couple of pints or cappuccinos. Please, please, do not buy copies from other websites. The couple of pounds it might save you could end up costing us hundreds. Extrapolated out to the whole network the repair bill, after substandard copies break in the lock when used, the cost runs in to the thousands. This is money we, and I bet you, would rather spend maintaining the network.
  • If you’re planning to cruise on to a river please bear in mind that, especially with the increasing effects of climate change, conditions can change (and sometimes quite quickly). Extra considerations need to be given to things such as mooring ropes, which need to account for rising and falling levels, as well as the effects of the weather. It’s always a good plan to check our Strong Stream Warnings before setting off.

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Happy boating,

Damian

Last date edited: 30 July 2021

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The boaters' update

Think of this blog as your one-stop shop for up-to-date boating news. It's packed full of useful information about boating on canals and rivers, as well as important safety announcements and upcoming events.

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