“FROSTBITE! – thankfully not,” said Tom Fulda, Shropshire Union Canal Society restoration project manager at Crickheath South on the Montgomery Canal.
“But winter certainly arrived for the December work party with heavy frost and cloudless skies on the Friday and Saturday followed by snow and mist on Sunday. Nevertheless, there is much to report,” he continued. “The last work party of this year featured traditional winter activities and much to set us up for a flying start next year.”
Hedge laying and bonfires are perennially popular activities over the winter months. This season, a length of hedge along the towpath will be laid. This was last worked on by volunteers eight years ago and was ready for re-laying and rejuvenating – 23 metres were completed, producing a very tidy result with some planting of new whips as gap fillers.
One group of volunteers spent a couple of days at Redwith, by Bridge 83, refurbishing the newt habitat originally developed in 2012 by relining one of the ponds that had leaked. The solar-powered pump providing a water supply to the ponds was relocated to a more convenient location.
Back at Crickheath, more than 75m of new mixed hedging was planted which concluded the last task funded by a grant from National Grid Electricity Distribution Community Matters Fund. The opportunity was taken to also fill a few gaps in previous years’ plantings.
In readiness for channel profiling and lining works to start in the new year, a temporary haul road was constructed on the offside bank. This will aid delivery of materials along the site. Thanks are due here to Tudor Griffiths who provided the material at cost.
On Saturday, there was a surprise visit from the High Sheriff of Shropshire, Mandy Thorn, who was given a guided tour of the current works. She commented on the high number of volunteers restoring the canal: “What an incredible bunch of people doing absolutely wonderful things.”
The year 2023 started with a Memorandum of Understanding with the Canal & River Trust for a pilot scheme to inform and finalise the design for this project: Crickheath Bridge to Schoolhouse Bridge. The exploratory activities have been worked upon all year culminating with the water tests in October.
Having now been assessed and evaluated by CRT, the specification is nearly concluded: the areas requiring waterproofing have been confirmed, where towpath is on embankment, the waterproofing method agreed – lining and blocking – and a solution devised for soft banks to increase the net biodiversity gain beyond that already achieved by restoration.
Tom concluded by saying 2023 finished on a high note: “We are all set up to start restoring the northern half of the channel (360m) in the new year.”
SUCS is always looking for new volunteers and members. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer should see shropshireunion.org.uk/work-party-schedule for details of dates and contacts.