Welcome to the first online edition of the East Midlands newsletter, a monthly roundup of what’s happening on the waterways in the region.
Green Flag success
We were thrilled to learn that two of our canals in the East Midlands have been awarded Green Flag status.
For the first time ever the whole five mile length of the Nottingham & Beeston Canal has been recognised with a Green Flag. It's quite an achievement for an urban waterway and means that the canal is now, rightly, recognised amongst some of the best open spaces the country has to offer.
At the same time the Erewash Canal, which runs for eleven miles between Trent Lock and Langley Mill, has retained the Green Flag it was awarded in 2019.
It's particularly special to win these awards in a year when green, open spaces have been so valuable to people. An incredible 75,000 people in Nottingham live within just one kilometre of a waterway so the canal, along with the River Trent to the south of the city, provides local communities with a free-to-access green space right on the doorstep.
Equally the Erewash Canal has seen a huge rise in towpath use over the past 6 months, at times seeing a 400% increase, as people make use of the ‘outdoor gym' on their doorstep.
Both awards are the culmination of a lot of hard work to improve each canal and ensure that more people can benefit from spending time by them. On each canal we have amazing teams of volunteers, partner organisations and adoption groups that work alongside our teams to help us keep their local canal looking special. A huge thanks to everyone that's contributed to these awards and here's hoping for more in 2021.
Nottingham Canal Improvement Partnership launched
Staying in Nottingham, we've recently launched the Nottingham Canal Improvement Partnership, bringing together local businesses, community groups, voluntary organisations and public bodies to make the Nottingham & Beeston Canal even better for people and wildlife.
It may have just been awarded a Green Flag but we're determined to make the canal even better and enable even more people to experience all of the social and economic benefits that a thriving canal can bring to a town or city.
We recently held a virtual launch of the partnership in which we outlined our vision for transforming the city's waterways. This includes improving the area around Castle Wharf and making it more of a destination within the city, hosting pop-up events and farmers markets. We have plans, working with Nottingham City Council and other partners, to improve lighting and signage along the canal so that people feel welcome and safe.
We also want to improve planting along the whole length of the canal to give it a more natural feel, and this has already begun with linear wildflower verges being planted in some locations and floating reedbeds installed in the city centre. These are a great way to attract wildlife into the heart of the city and support Nottingham's aspiration to be the first carbon neutral city in the UK by 2028.
There's already been a fantastic response and around 100 organisations within the city have expressed an interest in the partnership. By working together we'll be able to pool knowledge, ideas and resources to really maximise the full potential of the canal.
If you haven't seen it already you can watch the Partnership launch below.
Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum set for transformation
Plans for the transformation of the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne have taken a step forward with planning consent recently being given for phase one of our planned improvements.
Over the winter we'll be investing more than £200,000 to improve the visitor experience at the site. The café space in particular will be completely revamped with a brand new kitchen being fitted to improve the food offer, a new side window installed to give views out along the canal and onto Museum Green and the café expanded onto the whole of the ground floor.
The museum space is also being reinterpreted with a greater focus on local canal heritage. The first floor is being reimagined with exhibits and cabinets being removed from the main floor area and cabinets around the edge of the room reinterpreted. The central floor space will provide additional café seating and a ‘community display case' will be created for local exhibitions, stories and artefacts that can be offered to local groups across the year
There will also be a new retail offer with high quality, bespoke items, the accessible toilets will be improved and a new family ‘changing space' created.
A seasonal programme of museum pop-up activities will be delivered on the towpath, building on the success of similar events held over this summer. These events, run by local volunteers, were incredibly popular and saw artefacts brought out of the museum and shown to people who may have been previously unaware of the story of the canal.
It's an incredibly exciting few months ahead for the museum and we look forward to reopening in spring 2021.
Winter works about to begin
It's November, which means it's time for our annual winter maintenance programme which sees major investment in replacing lock gates and repairing locks, tunnels and bridges. With fewer boats on the water winter is the ideal time to carry out some of the big jobs that need doing to keep our 200 year-old waterways working.
This year we're working on a variety of projects across the East Midlands. We'll be installing new lock gates at Blue Bank Lock in Leicester, as well as Stanton Lock on the Erewash Canal and Lock 15 on the Northampton Arm. The Blue Bank Lock works have received funding via the Heritage Stimulus Fund, part of the Government's £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund.
Other works include replacing the control system at Stamp End Lock in Lincoln - the only guillotine lock in the East Midlands, installing a new bridge over the balance beams at Derwent Mouth Lock and works to repair damaged brickwork and masonry at a number of other locks.
In previous years we've held open days, which have proved incredibly popular, enabling visitors to see behind the scenes of the works and in many cases venture down into a drained lock. This year, due to coronavirus restrictions, we're holding a programme of virtual open days with the Blue Bank Lock works set to be on the list. These virtual events will enable people to watch from the comfort of their homes as giant lock gates are lifted into position and the Trust's expert teams explain what goes in to keeping our waterways running.
Volunteers back with a bang
We've been delighted to welcome back so many of our volunteers over recent weeks and they've been making a real difference on our waterways.
One example has been taking place at Watford Locks, on the Grand Union Canal, where volunteers have been working to remove unsightly vandalism from some of the historic structures.
To ensure that the historic fabric was not damaged the volunteers undertook a number of trials using hand tools and mild detergent but as the graffiti was so stubborn they opted for the Thermatech system – a sort of super-heated jet wash. This system allows the user to fine-tune the water pressure and temperature to safeguard fragile surfaces, so is ideal for use on our heritage assets. All the works gained local authority approval and the Conservation Officer at Daventry District Council has complemented the fantastic work of the volunteers, who are looking to tackle the Northampton Arm next.
All our volunteer tasks are risk assessed and Covid Secure, with volunteers adapting well to the Trust's coronavirus safety measures - remembering to limit group sizes, staying distanced, washing and sanitising hands regularly and using face coverings when they should.
With new lockdown restrictions coming into effect volunteering is continuing where it directly contributes to the upkeep and operation of the waterways.
Improving our towpaths
A number of towpath improvement projects are set to get under way in the East Midlands making it even easier and more appealing for people to feel the health and wellbeing benefits of spending time by water.
In Leicester, we're about to start two projects which will improve sections of towpath and, importantly, make it easier to get access on to the towpath. The first project will take place between Packhorse Bridge and Aylestone Mill. The access point at Packhorse Bridge, which is currently very poor, is also set to be improved.
The second project in Leicester will see improvements around Blue Bank Bridge, in particular the creation of better access points. The works will coincide with our lock gate replacement works at Blue Bank Lock meaning that particular section of canal will be seeing significant investment over the coming weeks.
Both of the Leicester projects are being carried out in partnership with Leicester City Council and Leicester & Leicestershire Local Enterprise Partnership and will see just under £1m Local Growth Fund invested.
Elsewhere, towpath improvements are also set to begin on the Trent & Mersey Canal as part of the Transforming the Trent Valley project, which is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This project will see 700m of towpath resurfaced at Willington and 500m at Shardlow. Towpath closures will be necessary for the duration of the works, which are currently planned between Monday 9th November and Friday 18th December.
Together these towpath projects will make our waterways more attractive and will hopefully encourage more people down on to the towpath for a walk, cycle, or just to enjoy some quiet time.
Reed removal taking place on the Grantham Canal
We're starting works to tackle the problem of reed on the Grantham Canal to improve water supply on the canal. Water levels have been a particular problem on the Grantham this year - due in part to the dry spring and summer and the local ground conditions - and reed growth is making the problem worse, limiting the flow of water along the canal. Over the coming weeks we'll be clearing the reed growth at Hickling, Hose, Kinoulton, and Gamston to ease the situation at each site.
Have you pledged to support our Plastics Challenge? In the last six months we've seen a 68% increase in reports from the public about unsightly litter on the towpath and in its canals and rivers. Figures show that reports had more than doubled during the month of June this year, compared with the same time last year.
We're determined to do something about it and are calling on people to help stop half a million pieces of plastic reaching the ocean by pledging their support.
Whether you want to hold your own mini clean-up or share the campaign through your social media channels to spread the word and encourage participation, it all helps to stop the spread.
Follow us on Instagram
You can now keep up to date with what's happening in the region by following the East Midlands team on Instagram. Over the past few months we've been hosting a series of Instagram live chats giving an insight into everything from our use of weevils to control invasive weeds on the Erewash Canal to our involvement in the Leicester street art project. The chats will be continuing over the coming months so make sure you tune in.
We'd love to tell you more
Our newsletter is packed full of exciting updates and stories of how our charity keeps canals alive.