Boaters' Update 11 Mar 2022

Welcome to the latest edition in which you'll be able to read about the challenges we have with clearing wind-blown trees and unexpectedly deep mounds of silt, how we'll be mowing towpaths this year, recycling and Crick Boat Show. Of course, you'll also find a news roundup and useful info in the Bits & Bobs section!

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

Welcome to the latest edition of Boaters Update. This winter has been challenging to say the least. We understand that the combination of a stream of storms and the global pandemic will have had far reaching effects on all our boaters. The challenges also mean that the Trust and those who supply us with materials, services and labour have also had to manage and respond to major disruption. Consequently, this has impacted the long-planned schedule of a number of our winter works and projects. Some will, understandably, be completed later than planned. Of course, we all share the frustration, but we’re doing everything we can to ensure the network is boating-ready as soon as possible.

In this edition we’ll update you on how we’ve been preparing the waterways for the busiest months of the year following our response to those far-reaching impacts. There’s also updates on the introduction of our revised towpath mowing regime and provision of canalside recycling facilities.

We’ve also got a full round-up of all the key news across the Trust and a reminder of your opportunity to contribute to our consultation about Managing Boats on London's Busy Waterways. We’re sharing details on a conference for boaters in the East Midlands along with news of a new ‘Skipper’s Guide’ from the Commercial Boat Operators Association (CBOA).

Happy boating,

Damian

PS Thanks to all of you who got in touch in response to the last edition’s call for your opinion. Watch this space as we develop some of your fantastic ideas in to regular features!

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 24 Feb – We're putting the finishing touches to a major restoration project at the Grade I Listed Bingley Five Rise Locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire.
  • 2 Mar – More than 350 people took a look below the water line at the brand new lock gates and repair works at Seend Locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal.
  • 7 Mar – Canoeing, heritage walks, stonemasonry and discovering an historic lock are all offer at a family open day on the Rochdale Canal in Hebden Bridge on Saturday 12 March.

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Work continues to ready network for peak boating period

As we do every year, we’ve been working extremely hard over the winter to carry out our winter works and priority projects to protect and preserve the waterways so that you can make the most of it as the weather becomes kinder.

Given the significant challenges the pre-Christmas Omicron outbreak and the barrage of storms we’ve endured since the festive period, it’s been a tightrope walk of balancing the competing demands of a multi-million-pound planned programme of major projects with the sudden need to respond to emergency situations to keep navigations as open as possible for those who liveaboard and/or who continue to cruise through the winter.

A good example of the challenges we faced can be found on the Calder & Hebble Navigation. I doubt you need reminding but, just in case, Storm Eunice hit our shores a couple of weeks ago and left a trail of damage in her wake. Hundreds of trees, alongside our waterways, were brought down. Some have presented especially difficult challenges when we’ve come to remove them. 

Above Ganny Lock we’re dealing with a very large obstruction that limits our ability to deal it as we usually would. The location of the tree prohibits access for heavy machinery and equipment. And when the estimated weight of the tree, with root plate, is around 5 tonnes it’s not as straightforward as simply cutting the tree up on site.

In this case we’ve needed to organise additional lifting equipment and have been working throughout this week to clear this huge tree from the navigation. 

In a straightforward ‘tree fallen across navigation’ scenario we’re usually on site and will have cleared the blockage within a few days – sometimes less. Within less than a week of Eunice striking we’d already managed to clear over 250 of them but in many cases those needing a more complex solution can take longer.

Trees chopped Kennet and Avon CanalAnother example, of a challenging and complex tree problem, is on the Kennet & Avon Canal. Two very large trees were blown to obstruct the navigation just upstream of Thatcham Road Station Bridge.

Work was well underway within a few days of the storm but complicating factors mean we couldn’t progress as quickly as we would like. The first issue was the sheer size and the trees, as shown in the photos on the right. Secondly, when the trees were blown over they caught, and became entangled, in power lines. The final, and most regrettable, factor was that the trees also fell on to a boat that was moored nearby. All of this meant that the progress of our work was dependent on third parties. 

Fallen trees Kennet and Avon CanalThere are many similar examples where nature has thrown us a curve ball in the recent storms. With the effects of climate change becoming more tangible, they’re becoming more regular and unlikely to be the last we experience.

Some delays to our winter stoppage programme aren’t due to storms or the pandemic though. Since November 2021, the Trust’s contractors have been working between Ivy House Lift Bridge and Bucknall Road Bridge on the Caldon Canal to stop leakage from the canal through the embankment. 

As the project progressed we encountered unforeseen problems (detailed below) and, evidently, were unable to plan for. We are investigating how these could have been better predicted. As a result the works have, unfortunately, run significantly behind schedule. Regrettably, it is now expected that the work will continue until the summer, with the canal unable to reopen until 23 June 2022.

We are sorry about this late announcement and are very aware that this will impact on many boaters planned boat movements for this spring and early summer. We recognise it would have been helpful to share news of the delay earlier, however we wanted to establish all the facts to get clarity on the length of the extension before making an announcement. We are working with our Navigation Advisory Group to look at further improvements to communicate with boaters when works don’t go as planned. We are making every effort to reopen the canal as quickly as possible and will look for any opportunity to bring the completion forward. We have already implemented weekend working.

The works have overrun because, despite surveys being completed before the works started, by a contractor that we work with successfully on a regular basis, on this occasion the depth of silt we needed to remove to a suitably hard bed has been deeper than predicted. As a consequence, double the expected amount of silt has had to be removed from the canal bed before relining works could commence.  

We are reviewing what can be done to help plan other future works with similar challenges more accurately. Further challenges, as a result of the level of contamination of the additional material removed, have required specialist disposal. This has made the canal bed and offside repairs more difficult and taken much longer than we’d hoped.

We share boaters’ frustration when delays happen but we have completed most of the things we’d hoped to do over the winter. In the next edition we’ll look back at some of those we’ve completed.

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Mowing trial rolled out nationally

You may remember that last year we tried out a new system of mowing towpath verges. The aim of the successful trial was to ensure that the needs of boaters, towpath users, anglers and others accessing the waterways were met, while increasing and diversifying habitat for the wildlife that thrives along the towpaths and canal banks.

Additionally, it included other benefits such as cost savings that will allow more investment in other areas, such as managing overgrown vegetation on the ‘offside’, and a reduction in CO2 emissions.

Wildflowers growing alongside the Nottingham & Beeston CanalWe spend £2.1 million per year on towpath mowing and, prior to the trial, all towpaths were cut at the same frequency which meant climatic differences, soil nutrient, urban or rural setting, and frequency of use were not accounted for. The Trust has created a ‘mowing map’ so people can see the frequency of grass mowing in their area.

During, and after, last year’s trial we collected feedback from boaters and towpath users, advisory groups, colleagues and specialists, and have been undertaking periodic spot checks on the trial areas, which covered 375 miles (around a fifth of our network). The majority of the feedback was in favour of increasing the amount of habitat fringe, with certain amendments to our mowing specifications to ensure that the towpaths are suitable for all, especially boaters.

Wild flowers at Pontymoile on the Monmouthshire & Brecon CanalThe new national mowing programme, starting in April, will ensure sightlines on the inside of sharp bends are mown to the water’s edge, and vegetation at locks, moorings, winding holes and places of interest continues to be cut most frequently to meet boaters’ needs.

Where there are no formal moorings along a canal and the towpath fringe is allowed to grow, a cumulative 100m of informal moorings will be cut every kilometre. There will be minimum width for the towpath walking area so the fringe width will vary rather than the width of the towpath, with the fringe no more than 1m wide. We’ll seek alternative management to break up long stretches of tall vegetation, and a full width cut removing the season’s growth, including saplings, will remain. This will commence annually from August to replicate a ‘hay meadow’ style cut.

Peter Rodriguez, operational projects manager said: “A legacy from the Industrial Revolution, canals are unique ecological corridors that offer tremendous benefits to the nation’s flora and fauna by providing sanctuary to many much-loved and endangered species.  Due, in part, to changes in farming practises and urban sprawl, the canal network, with its linear hedgerows and verges, provides vital connecting routes between increasingly fragmented woodlands and other important wildlife habitat, especially in urban environments. 

A flower by the side of the road in Camden“Seeking to increase the amount of biodiversity across the network doesn’t mean letting everything grow; it’s about providing a mix of habitats or trying to improve a section of towpath through a specific management regime. For example, tall grasses suppress lower-growing plants. Keeping them shorter by regular mowing and collecting the clippings to reduce the amount of nutrients available for them encourages wildflowers, which prefer more nutrient-poor soils, to flourish.   

“It’s going to be fantastic to further grow the biodiversity across our canals and rivers, but we are aware that we need to review annually to see what is working well and what can be improved further. Ensuring the safety of boaters remains paramount, and the trial has formalised the navigation requirements for grass cutting at moorings, locks and sightlines on bends. It is important that we continue to receive boaters’ feedback, both positive and about where improvements could be made, so people are able to get the most enjoyment out of their time on the water.”

From April 2022 we’re committing to cutting towpath, locks and moorings four times per year between April and July, plus the full width cut between September and December, with the August towpath cut removed as grass growth is limited. Local teams will have the option of carrying out an additional cut if and where needed.

We’ll also seek to bring the full width cut forward in specific areas once the majority of wildflowers have seeded, to help balance the needs of boaters and local wildlife. The early full width cut will also allow for some partial regrowth which will provide habitat cover for water voles and other animals over the winter months.

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Go for green

According to the Waste and Recycling Action Programme (WRAP) Recycling Tracker Report 2021, 88% of UK households consider recycling an established norm. 9% admit to only recycling occasionally, and 3% say they do not recycle at all.

Our experience is that, for boaters, recycling has been an established norm for a higher percentage, and a longer period than the majority of their land-based counterparts. As part of this, a common theme of feedback we get from the boating community is the persistent need for our refuse sites to incorporate facilities for both rubbish and recycling.

In a recent Inland Waterway Association survey (January 2019) 5.4% of the participants referenced recycling as an issue, coupled with 15.6% talking around general rubbish disposal, equating to one-in-five respondents having a rubbish, erm, rubbish experience.

As highlighted in previous editions, we do sometimes suffer from inconsiderate, and occasionally illegal, use of our refuse sites. More exasperatingly this sometimes extends to our towpaths and embankments being used as dumping grounds. Wherever possible we do seek to prosecute those responsible.

When it comes to recycling, we’re often asked why are all of your bins red (especially the recycling bins which are unlike the green ones at land based homes)?

Well, this is due to our waste partner, Biffa, as its primary corporate colour is red and as a result all bins, historically, have been red with the only difference being the top of the bin. You can spot a general waste bin as one with a black lid and those with a red lid are used for recycling. Most recycling bins will include information of what waste can be put into the bin on the front.

Recycling binsTo better differentiate between the two types of bin we’d planned to replace the red recycling bins with green ones but, as with a lot of things, the pandemic hampered the rollout. We’re pleased to say that these are now starting to appear around the network which means that boaters will be able to segregate their recycling – in industry terms this means there’ll be more ‘recycling at source’ which is, clearly, a good thing.

The introduction of these green bins doesn’t mean to say that, up until now, most things went to landfill. A whopping 93% of our total waste is diverted from landfill annually. However, only 12% of this is recycled at source (i.e. within the compounds) as Biffa takes general waste and separates it at their own recycling centres.

In case you were wondering when you’ll come across one of our recycling facilities - 99.1% of them are reachable within no more than a 5hr cruising period (at 3mph) across the network.

If you have any feedback or questions on our waste disposal process through Biffa, or anything that isn’t covered above, please feel free to get in touch. There’s also a great webpage, worth a read, here on the Conserve Energy Future website for tips on how to reduce, reuse and recycle.

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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. Please note that we are well into our winter works programme where you’ll see us doing some of the bigger jobs to protect and preserve the network:

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 alert 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 get in touch.

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Where better than Crick Boat Show to spend a long weekend?

Imagine spending a long weekend indulged in your passion, in a perfect setting and surrounded by thousands of people who appreciate it just as much. Sounds a bit of a stretch given the last couple of years doesn’t it? Well, it’s not!

Canal boats moored at Crick MarinaBy the time the first visitor walks through the gates on Crick Boat Show’s Trade & Preview Day (2 June) it’ll be over three years since the boating community has had the chance to come together, without constraints, to celebrate boating.

Britain’s largest inland waterway festival offers a huge range of boating things to do, see, learn and buy. The last edition gives more detail on that but what it couldn’t share was who, after all that doing, seeing, learning and buying, you’d be able to sing along to as evening falls and the headline acts take to the stage.

On Friday 3 June, Absolute Bowie will take you on a musical journey through the greatest hits of David Bowie with their stage show. Featuring the incredible vocals of John O’Neill as David Bowie, the five-piece band perform with incredible musicianship and attention to detail.

Prepare to be taken from A to Z (Absolute Beginners to Ziggy!) with Stations to Station in between. So don't miss out - don your glittery dancing boots, paint a flash on your face and buy your tickets because the planet Earth is blue and there's nothing else left to do...

Crick Boat ShowOn Saturday 4 June an 8-piece tribute act with full brass section, Amy - A Tribute, take to the stage to celebrate the songs of Amy Winehouse. Whether it be from her BBC concerts or staying true to the original recordings, the band's goal is to recreate the sound of Amy Winehouse and bring you the Winehouse/Ronson style, with a full horn section, including baritone sax and flute.

Supporting acts will be announced shortly and entry to the evening entertainment is included in the price of your ticket. Talking of tickets, they’re now on sale and if you buy in advance you’ll get a 15% discount off on the gate prices!

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Bits & bobs

  • Don’t forget that there’s still time (until 4 April) to take part in a consultation on ways to improve the management of mooring space on central London’s busy canals to balance the needs of local and visiting boats. Follow this link to have your say.
  • Do you do most of your boating in the East Midlands? If so then you might be interested to hear that the East Midlands Boaters Conference will be going ahead at Northampton University on the afternoon of Tuesday 5 April. We’d love to see you there and there's lots that'll be talking about - find out what'll be covered and then book your place, via Eventbrite here!
  • Working in partnership with us, and other waterway organisations, the CBOA has published a revised pleasure craft ‘Skipper’s Guide’ to the Commercial Waterways of the north east. Chairman David Lowe said: “Leisure and commercial traffic can and does co-exist happily on the inland waterways, indeed some barge skippers have pleasure boats, but it was felt useful to update and combine the previous guides, issued in 2009, into one document. This explains how best to meet and pass freight barges, how best to moor, identifies tricky locations, and offers general safety advice.” CBOA hopes that skippers of pleasure craft will find the guide useful.”

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Stay safe, happy boating,

Damian

Last date edited: 11 March 2022

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The boaters' update

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