Boaters' Update 8 Oct 2021

Welcome to the latest edition where you can read about what we've been doing for boaters in Wales & the South West, how one area operations manager has had to dodge helicopters in the line of duty and how our Boating Buddies are helping us understand what's important to you (alongside the latest news and stoppages of course)!

River Severn approaching Worcester River Severn approaching Worcester

Welcome to the latest edition. In it you’ll find out what we’ve been doing for you in our Wales and South West region, how one area operations manager has had to dodge helicopters in the line of duty and what our Boating Buddy scheme is and why we think it is so important.

There’s also an assortment of information in the ‘bits & bobs’ section; a call for TV stars, Thames Lock news, a disabled boaters’ forum and a lucky prize winner!

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

Happy boating,

Damian

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 24 Sep – An update was given on the war we're waging to control invasive weeds on the Lancaster Canal.
  • 28 Sep – The first anniversary of the completion of a £2.2 million restoration of Stainton Aqueduct in South Cumbria is being marked with a special festival of events in October, including a heritage day, paddle sports, and temporary exhibition.
  • 4 Oct – We've begun work to improve a section of towpath along the Llangollen Canal for the thousands of people and boaters who use and visit this UNESCO World Heritage site every year.

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Wales and South West update – what we’ve been doing for you

This past summer won’t be remembered for its scorching temperatures but more for it being the time we took our first tentative steps back towards a more normal post-pandemic life with lots of people returning, or discovering for the first time, the joys of the canal network.  So whilst the extra boating demanded more of our aging canals than in a ‘normal’ year, the canals and rivers in Wales and the South West, serviced by a tireless team of experts and volunteers, coped well.

Below we’ll take you on a whistle-stop tour of the region’s waterways and share just a small selection of some of the things we’ve been dealing with to keep, where possible, navigations open for boaters to enjoy. The work described below also broadly reflects what you’ve been getting in touch about – a third of boating related enquiries have been about locks, another third about bridges and banks and the remainder has been a real assortment of vegetation, towpath and navigational questions.

Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and River Severn

Before looking at some of the work we’ve done, please note that with the shortening daylight there’s an upcoming change to the opening times of structures on the G&S and Severn. Currently open seven days a week between 0800 & 1800hrs, from 18 October that changes to 0800 to 1600hrs daily.

Pontoon Gloucester DocksIf you are visiting Gloucester Docks you may find time to enjoy the National Waterways Museum. If you do, you may notice a new addition in the Barge Arm. We now have a new pontoon for unpowered craft to encourage more paddleboards, canoes etc. onto the water.

Talking of the Docks, at its northern end it connects to the mighty River Severn which has a big enough flow rate to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool in just over 23 seconds. With such a great volume of Remote controlled sonarwater comes all kinds of considerations, including silt. Years of history and regular dredging of the docks has, in the past, informed our dredging programme. However, one of our operations managers, Rob Coles, has now, rather inventively, engineered a remote-controlled sonar boat out of an old fisherman’s bait box and a volunteer is now regularly monitoring depth levels so we can better understand the effects of pumping in water from the Severn and tailor our dredging programme accordingly. 

Tree trunk pulled from SevernIf you were on the Severn during July and August you will have seen the extensively marked area at the Partings (just north of Gloucester Lock) where there were ongoing issues with submerged trees obstructing navigation.  It took a specialist dredging boat to remove two very large trees that had been washed down stream, returning again to remove a third, massive, submerged tree trunk. 

The Bridgwater & Taunton Canal

Although you may not have taken your boat there as it’s not connected to the rest of the network, the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal still needs the same TLC as any other. Just this week the team in Somerset have been working on paddle rods at Standards and Higher locks. Of course, when strong winds and storms roll in from the Celtic Sea, the B&T is the first canal to get hit so we’re often clearing fallen trees but, over the last few, calmer, months we’ve been able to continue with bank protection works as well as culvert headwall repairs, installing canoe platforms and working to keep the canal watertight.

Weevils on the Bridgwater & TauntonA particular bane this year has been the growth of Azolla, a non-native invasive water fern, that appeared at the end of last year and seemingly enjoyed perfect growing conditions this spring. The dense mat of ferns can make boating tricky and, although rarer, can sometimes look like a solid surface which can result in concerns about dogs or wildlife accidently straying on to the water. So, earlier in the summer, we released an army of 5,000 weevils to munch through the thick mat of ferns and boy were they hungry! In a matter of weeks they’d completely cleared miles of the weed which prevented it from spreading from the canal into the River Parrett at Hamp weir. 

Kennet & Avon Canal

Garston Lock on the Kennet & Avon CanalNearly ten times longer than the B&T, and an ever-popular destination for boaters, the K&A has been busy for both boaters and those looking after it! And with imminent dredging planned from Dreweatt’s to Copse locks, as well as the pound below Garston Lock, the trend continues. Fun fact, did you know that Garston Lock is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is one of two remaining turf sided locks built by engineer, John Hore (the other being Monkey Marsh at Thatcham)? 

Southcote Lock Kennet & Avon CanalMore widely on the eastern end we have been completing ongoing embankment repairs and installation of fishing platforms between Northcroft and Guyers locks. However, just to the west of Reading, a boating accident in the height of summer resulted in the top gate at Lock 104, Southcote Lock, being levered off. Urgent, and complex, repairs enabled the navigation to be reopened in just under three weeks. 

Safety fence at Swineford weirOn the western end of the K&A volunteers continue to do a great job maintaining many of our structures as well as installing occasional new ones, such as this safety fence near Swineford Weir! Some of their work on the water has included our first refuse collection boats (photo below right) which set off from Bradford on Avon and Bath in August with the aim is to help boaters on the western K&A dispose of their larger rubbish as, for those without road transport (and especially in rural areas), it can be hard to access the appropriate disposal facility. 

Refuse boat on Kennet & AvonBut, as with Southcote Lock, we encountered an issue following boat damage at Lock 24, not far from the bottom of Caen Hill. We had to close the navigation to carry out extensive repairs to the gate anchor but were able to reopen the canal in time for the particularly busy school summer holidays.

Abseiling at DundasIf you can ever describe any one job maintaining a canal as glamourous then it has to be abseiling off of a Scheduled Ancient Monument! That’s exactly what happened when we performed high-level masonry repairs at Dundas Aqueduct in July. Cracks had appeared in several areas of the high-level cornice that needed specialist masonry conservation repairs to pin and secure the cracks in some of the projecting decorative architectural detailing.  

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Working for boaters in the North West

A couple of editions ago Aaron Atwal, an area operations manager in the West Midlands, shared his perspective on his job and gave an insight into how we look after canals and some of the associated challenges. One of Aaron’s counterparts in the North West, Tracey Jackson, gives her views of her role and, as you’ll read, has even had to dodge helicopters!

How long have you been with the Trust?

Tracey Jackson10 years. I came to the Trust after being made redundant from the NHS but my husband has worked on the waterways for the last 36 years (since 1985)! So in another couple of years, between us, we’ll have reached half a century of working on our wonderful network!

What is it you do at the Trust?

I am the area operations manager for the Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals in the North West Region – although for a short time I’m currently seconded to support some compliance projects – which will ensure that the maintenance work we’re doing in the region this winter fully complies with legislation for listed structures.

What does that mean you spend your time doing?

A lot of planning! There’s planned preventative maintenance (PPM) which includes greasing locks and managing offside vegetation, and the reactive side, which can be anything from repairing dry-stone walling (there’s a lot round here!) to filling in towpath potholes. On top of that we help with reservoir inspections and monitoring of their levels to help ensure there’s enough to keep the canals topped up. The planning side ensures all the plates stay spinning, coordinating colleagues and volunteers, so that we’ve got everything covered.

What kind of volunteers do you have?

Whaley Peak Forest canal work party Nov 2020We’re lucky to have a real mix. Lots are boaters but we also have corporate groups and volunteers who have mental health conditions and/or learning disabilities who come to us via East Cheshire Council. 

We also have a work party at one of our reservoirs which is promoted and partly funded by a local Councillor and attended by the local community. Of course, we’re fortunate to have a highly motivated canal society on the Macclesfield who help us with maintenance and PPM tasks.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I’m lucky to be in a role where I can directly see that I’m making a difference. It’s very rewarding.

What do you enjoy the least about your job?

There is so much that I would love to do to improve the network and the boater and visitor experience, but we are so limited with the resources that we have.

Is there anything boaters can do to make your job easier and their time on the cut better? 

Close paddles. There are water resource issues on both the Macclesfield and Peak Forest canals and it takes a lot of management to keep the navigation open which, ultimately, is what most of our work is aiming to do. The other thing, talked about in the last edition, is slowing down as we get complaints, especially through our very rural areas, of speeding boats. 

What’s the oddest job you’ve had to do on the waterways?

Chinook over ToddbrookAs most readers will remember, back in 2019 concrete panels on the spillway of Toddbrook Reservoir were dislodged after prolonged torrential rain. To shore up the spillway an RAF Chinook helicopter dropped over 600 one-tonne bags of aggregate onto the damaged section to reinforce it. In between the drops I was trying to take manual reservoir level readings!

What do you see as the benefits of the waterway network?

It’s the escape from the hustle and bustle of the world! It transports you away from all the noise, pollution and crowds. You also get all the history and heritage, nature, and the feeling of serenity that comes with being near water. And you can find all of these together, in one place!

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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:

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 just get in touch.

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Boating Buddies

As you’ve read above, boaters regularly give us feedback and ask questions via phone, email and through our website. In addition, a wide range of Trust colleagues have also been getting out on the water with a Boating Buddy to better understand what’s important to you.

Richard ParryOur Chief Executive is one advocate for the scheme: “Getting out on the water, spending time with a boating customer, gives such valuable insight and a greater understanding of how the network looks from the tiller. It brings those working at the Trust closer to those who we are here to serve. I’m very grateful to all participants in the Boating Buddy scheme who’ve graciously offered to invite Trust colleagues aboard and given their time to take us out on the water.

“I was able to join Roger and Patricia Stocker for two short trips this summer after missing out in 2020 and it was great to be aboard. The conversations we have with boaters are often as useful as the experience we share, hearing about what we’re getting right and where we need to pick things up.  In turn, we can share what we’re doing to try to improve the boating experience or give some more information on the wider challenges that the Trust faces.

“Whilst some colleagues at the Trust live on boats or have the chance to go out with family and friends who have boats, others may have few chances to get boating experience, so the Boating Buddies programme plays an important role in providing that opportunity to see first-hand the joys of boating and learn more about what’s important to boaters.”

Staff on sunny Boating Buddy dayOffice based Alison Cheneler was one such colleague who found her Boating Buddy day useful and rewarding: “The Trip along Lapworth was spectacular - such beautiful scenery and going through the Shrewley Tunnel was a highlight too: with all the mineral deposits it was exciting - it reminded me of going to the Black Country Museum on a boat trip ‘legging it’ as a child.

“My Boating Buddies were great hosts, very welcoming and knowledgeable and, although I was nervous, allowed me to steer the boat past a moving one as well as moored boats too, it was a great experience and helped me understand the challenges boaters’ face. That said, I think I would need at least a week’s training before I could even attempt to steer a boat into a lock – I’m in awe of people just doing this!” 

Sara Ponting on Boating Buddy tripEngagement coordinator Sara Ponting was another who gained a lot: “I really enjoyed the day, and learnt so much, with lovely and welcoming hosts, we did the trip into Liverpool via the Stanley flight. While you’re not that far from the towpath my Buddy day really underlined just how different, and better, the world looks when you’re cruising along. I was especially pleased to get some tiller time!” 

Sometimes it can be a mix of Trust colleagues, see photo below right,  as demonstrated by a recent Buddy day on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal – there was a regional construction manager, an engineer, an enterprise manager and a senior project manager all out with a boater and learning what makes for a good boating experience.

Boating Buddy trip Gloucester & SharpnessWhile quite a few Boating Buddy trips have taken place since the last lockdown was eased we always welcome new Buddies so if you’d like to become one then please fill in this quick form. We’re especially keen to hear from boaters in the Lincoln, Nottingham and Boston areas!

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Bits & Bobs

  • All Around Britain is an upbeat Sunday morning show on ITV, celebrating amazing people and places across the UK. They are looking for a boat owner who is a real character (sound like you?) to take them along the waterways in Birmingham, primarily between the Mailbox through Brindleyplace and up to the Arena area and back again. They'd be asking about what it's like living on a narrowboat (even if it's not always your permanent residence but just telling us about the joys of being on the waterways) and then giving a bit of a visual tour along the route. They'd also like the presenters to have a go at steering the boat too. Please note that they’d be looking to have a crew of around ten to hop on board. The filming would need to take place on Tuesday 19 October, with the episode being broadcast nationally on ITV on Sunday 25 October. The filming would be primarily on board the boat but there will also be some filming required along the towpath. If you’re interested please get in touch with Charlotte Horner at ITV.
  • Please note that due to testing of the Thames Barrier, Thames Lock will be closed on 25 Oct, 9 Nov and 8 Dec.
  • The next Disabled Boater Forum has now been scheduled in for 1600 to 1800hrs on 20 Oct and you can book your place online.
  • Finally, the winner of River Canal Rescue’s £100 cash prize draw is narrowboat owner Angie from Castle Donington. Her name was selected from hundreds of entrants who entered the RCR-hosted competition to raise awareness of the Staffordshire Riverway Link and its work to re-connect a waterway link between the river Sow and the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. Angie and her husband Peter were ‘delighted’ at the news of their win and plan to spend the money while cruising the four counties ring!

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Happy boating,

Damian

Last date edited: 8 October 2021

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The boaters' update

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