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The rescue bears helping restore canals

Huddlesford Junction on the Coventry Canal is the gateway to the Lichfield Canal, a major restoration project, supported by our charity, that could eventually open-up canal links between Staffordshire and the West Midlands. Although completion could be decades away, efforts to restore the Huddlesford end of the canal have recently been given a huge boost. New funding from the EU, HS2 and the support of a cuddly mascot is helping the local restoration society to make great progress.

Rescue bear next to canal

Originally, the Lichfield Canal was part of the famed early Wyrley & Essington Canal. This contour canal followed the lie of the land earning it the local nickname of the ‘curly wyrley'. It connected the coal fields of Wyrley and Essington with Wolverhampton and Walsall to the West and the city of Lichfield to the East. The seven-mile-long Lichfield section was completed in 1797 and is reputed to have helped coal prices in the town to drop through the floor.

In 1803 the canal also played a vital part in adding to the glory of the city's Cathedral and its famed stained glass windows. Eight years earlier, Napoleon had annexed the Herkenrode region in modern-day Belgium to France and launched an anti-catholic purge. To prevent the local catholic abbey's 16th century glass treasures falling into his hands they were spirited away to England before eventually arriving at Lichfield by canal boat; the safest way to transport this precious cargo.

Stained glass windows in a cathedral

The Lichfield Canal was one of many branches of the Wyrley & Essington to be abandoned in 1955, but just 20 years later, restoration efforts began and have continued up until the present day. Some of the biggest barriers to restoration, however, are the many major road and rail crossings over the original canal route, including the M6 Toll and now HS2.

The good news around HS2 though is that a deal has been negotiated to help with the canal restoration. HS2 will help to reroute part of the canal, extend a mooring basin, build new bridges, restore a lift bridge, explore a lock restoration and supply funding for a new wildlife site at nearby Darnford Moors.

At Darnford, HS2's Community and Environment Fund is match funding a grant from European Regional Development fund, with over £116,000 being spent to create a local ecology park. This will help to make habitat improvements to the Darnford Brook wetlands and improve existing woodlands and hedgerows, as well as putting more of the canal channel into water and create more aquatic habitats, by the end of this month.

This fundraising video hosted by actor David Suchet, longstanding President of the Lichfield and Hatherton Restoration Trust (LHCRT), explains more about the project and its huge potential to help local wildlife.

But it's not just famous actors who have been helping this progressive restoration trust to raise funds. Rescue bears are also helping to restore the canal.

Boater and teddy bear blogger Sarah Honeysett takes up the story. “For a long time now I've written bearonaboat, a popular canal blog that shares the adventures of our family of teddy bears on canals.

All our bears are named after a place by a canal or river. We have the famous Sonning, who we found on the River Thames and now of course, Huddlesford who we found at the Junction with the Lichfield canal. There's a whole blog on how we rescued Huddlesford here.

Then some friends happen to mention that the LHCRT had a fundraiser where your teddy bear could join up as a member, so it seemed the perfect fit. After talking to their social media team, Huddlesford spent some time on secondment with them, helping to raise the profile of their work on twitter.

He's been having a fantastic time seeing all the work the LHCRT are doing, and we're especially proud that being a safety conscious bear, he's been proudly wearing that high visibility jacket I made for him.”

So, if you have a passion for canal history, canal wildlife or simply for bears who've been lost and found along our waterways, why not find out more about the restoration of the Lichfield canal or others closer to you?

Last Edited: 23 January 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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