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Regional Round up South - November 2023

Back by popular demand, our latest Regional Round Up brings you all the latest news, views and events from a canal or river near you.

This time, we’re celebrating Black History Month in Nottingham, checking out a unique water-based art installation in Gloucester, and taking a peek at some restoration works in Oxford. Enjoy!

Weeding out the problem in the West Midlands

In recent months, the Dudley No.1 Canal in the West Midlands has been hit by a dangerous water fern outbreak, turning the surface of the water into a green carpet and putting local plants and wildlife at risk. To tackle the problem, our ecologists employed a slightly unorthodox method, releasing an army of 10,000 bugs into the canal to feast on the encroaching weeds.

Non-native plant species are putting canals at risk

Invasive plants pose a huge threat to our network, choking our canals and driving out native species. The Dudley Canal is thought to be one of the worst hit areas in England right now, with some observers claiming the infestation has left the canal: “looking like a football pitch.” The culprit, a floating water fern, known as Azolla filiculoides, is native to the Americas and was brought over to the UK in the 1840s as an ornamental pond plant.

To rid the canal of this alien interloper, our ecologists released thousands of North American weevils into the water. The voracious bug hails from the same climes as Azolla filiculoides and should make short work of the invading fern. The early signs are good, as some sections of the plant already appear to be deteriorating. With any luck, within just 8 to 12 weeks, this unwelcome water weed will disappear from Dudley’s canals and hopefully the weevils will spread to tackle similar problems on the connecting Birmingham Canal Main Line.

Art installation wows visitors at the National Waterways Museum

Artist, Luke Jerram, and attractions manager, Anna Finn, enjoy Crossings

This summer, we were delighted to host renowned local artist, Luke Jerram’s brand new art installation, Crossings, at our National Waterways Museum in Gloucester. In situ across August and September, the interactive art piece comprised nine decorated rowing boats, each with its own set of speakers that played a series of inspiring true stories as you the boats were being rowed around Gloucester Docks.

There were ten extraordinary tales for visitors to choose from, each recalling a memorable water crossing, from the personal experience of 13-year-old Kurdish refugee, Mana Azarish, to Jo Royle’s account of life onboard Plastiki - a vessel she sailed across the Pacific to raise awareness of plastic in our oceans. The telling of the stories blended beautifully with the movement of the oars and the noise of the water, taking rowers on a unique audio journey.

“The Docks have many tales to tell so I could think of no better place to share the stories on our rowing boats,” said Luke, when asked why he chose to showcase his art installation at the museum. “Boats can be a form of transport, a vehicle to enable work, a method of escape, a tool of employment. They are a way of connecting people and places.” Gloucester was just the beginning of a UK-wide tour, so with any luck, Crossings could be coming to a canal or river near you soon.

Restoring historic bridges on the Oxford Canal

This autumn, we’re beginning an exciting £650,000 upgrade programme on four of the Oxford Canal’s iconic lift bridges. The wooden bridges, on the Oxford to Banbury section, have been a familiar part of the Oxfordshire landscape for nearly 250 years. Now, to ensure the canal remains open and accessible, new hydraulic lifting systems are to be installed at each of the four sites.

A lift bridge at 45 degree angle over the canal, surrounded by fields and blue sky.

Opened in 1790, the Oxford Canal was once the main trade link between London and the West Midlands, and in its heyday, it would have been bustling with narrowboats laden with coal bound for our country’s capital. The canal was the brainchild of pioneering engineer, James Brindley, and the Grade II-listed wooden bridges that line the route were conceived as part of a cost-cutting exercise, preferred to the more expensive fixed brick structures.

Unfortunately, over time, bad weather, wear and tear, and misuse have taken their toll. To make them more durable and safer to operate, the existing counterbalance systems on the four bridges at Chisnell, Shipton, Wolvercote and Perry’s will be upgraded. The refurbishments, one of which comes thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery, will bring these historic working structures into the 21st century, retaining their heritage value and making them easier to operate for years to come.

Last Edited: 23 October 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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