This week, work begins on a landmark dredging project to help transform East Yorkshire’s Pocklington Canal. This is the first time in over a century that two sections (totalling just under a mile) of the 9-mile canal are being dredged.
This £152,000 project aims to finish just before Christmas and is being run by us, the charity that cares for the Pocklington Canal as part of our 2,000-mile network of historic waterways.
A special amphibious digger will remove approximately 8,000 tonnes of nutrient-rich silt (equivalent to the weight of 2,285 elephants) that will be re-distributed to a nearby arable farm. Reusing the silt locally is beneficial to the environment as it avoids lorries taking the silt away to landfill.
By clearing silt and reeds from the centre of the canal to create an open channel, we will ensure that rare aquatic plants and wildlife living on and along the canal continue to thrive. Unlike many of our other dredging projects, which primarily help to keep the network of canals open to boats, the work on the Pocklington Canal is taking place in the non-navigable upper reaches of the canal. The main focus is to help wildlife, while also contributing to the overall vision to make more of the canal navigable to canoeists and boaters.
The Pocklington Canal, which celebrates its bicentenary next year, is one of the UK’s best canals for wildlife, with the majority of its length protected through three Site(s) of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), due to the variety of important aquatic plants that live below and above the water surface – soft hornwort, flat-stalked pondweed, narrow-leaved water-plantain, flowering-rush, fan-leaved water-crowfoot, flowering rush and arrowhead.
However, this diversity of aquatic plants has been in decline over the years, partly due to dominance of common reed and over shading by trees. Dredging will create areas of open water, helping to reverse this decline and in turn see an increase in other wildlife such as dragonflies.
A staggering 15 species of dragonflies and damselflies live on the canal, which is one of the most northern sites on our canal network to show such diversity of species. In addition to protecting the wildlife in the canal, we have also implemented an annual hay raking regime in order to increase flower diversity, and to attract bees and other pollinators.
The Pocklington Canal dredging works is funded through our Gem in the Landscape project - a three-year programme of activity supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Lizzie Dealey, our Gem in the Landscape project officer said: "Largely unchanged since it opened in 1818, Pocklington Canal is a real hidden gem. This dredging project is a pivotal moment in our three-year vision to help transform this historically and environmentally important waterway through wildlife habitat improvements, heritage restoration activities and family-friendly events leading up to and during the waterway’s bicentenary next year. Just 9 miles from York it’s a great place to relax, and unwind. Being by the water really helps to contribute to our sense of wellbeing, helping to create healthier and happier communities – and once this project is finished, we’ll hopefully have even happier wildlife!"
Our ecologist Phillippa Baron said: "Sometimes it’s necessary to step in and give nature a helping hand and restore the equilibrium on our waterways. Dredging is a carefully planned and monitored process, involving our teams of engineers, environmental scientists and heritage advisors to ensure we protect the heritage of the site and create an environment where rare aquatic plants, insects and birds can flourish. We purposefully carry out dredging in the cold months to avoid disrupting the breeding seasons and nesting areas in spring and summer."
She added: "The canal will be in much better shape once the dredging has been completed. Reeds have choked up this section of the waterway, out-competing the aquatic plants that make the canal so special. With fewer reeds in the middle of the canal more sunlight will also be able reach the water allowing more fragile pond weeds and plants to thrive. A fringe of reeds will be left alongside the canal bank to provide habitats for reed and sedge warblers and other wildlife."
Back in September 2016, our staff and Natural England met to decide upon the areas that would benefit the most from dredging. Initial work was carried out earlier this year, with the final section being completed in November and December.
Simon Christian from Natural England commented: "This very exciting project will result in considerable improvements for the wildlife that live on the canal. The open water habitats created from the dredging will be of particular benefit to aquatic plants and dragonflies and create open views of the canal, not seen for many years, to enable an even better visitor experience."