THE Canal & River Trust has taken a major leap forward this spring in the mammoth task to restore the beautiful Montgomery Canal on the Shropshire Welsh border.
Thanks to a four-year, £4 million project, boats should soon be returning to a section of the canal near Oswestry for the first time since the canal was closed due to a breach in 1936.
The Trust, which cares for the Montgomery and 2,000 miles of canals, has been working with volunteers from the Shropshire Union Canal Society and contractors to upgrade nearly five miles (8km) of towpath, restore 1¼ miles (2km) of the canal to navigation from Maesbury to Crickheath and create a dedicated turning point for narrowboats, known as a ‘winding hole’. Construction of the winding hole has just been completed and the basin is currently being filled with water, which will take about three weeks.
For the first time in a canal restoration, two nature reserve lakes have been constructed parallel to the canal channel at Aston Locks, near Queens Head, to provide a protective home for rare aquatic flora and fauna removed from the canal. Wildlife such as damselflies, dragonflies, otters, water voles, and rare aquatic plants like Floating Water Plantain Luronium natans are now successfully colonising their new home.
Known for its outstanding natural beauty, wildlife and heritage, the Montgomery Canal runs for 35 miles between England and Wales, but only around half of the canal is currently navigable. The Montgomery is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest on both sides of the border. The entire length in Wales is also recognised as a Special Area of Conservation, showing that it is one of the most important sites for wildlife in Europe.
This latest major phase is being funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), supported by the Montgomery Canal Partnership, delivered by the Canal & River Trust and should be completed by 2020.
Canal & River Trust project manager David Hennessey explained: “The Montgomery is a very special canal and its restoration has required a unique solution. The absence of boat movements over the last 80 years has allowed the man-made channel to become colonised by a wide range of rare flora and fauna. By creating a new three hectare wildlife habitat, we will be able to protect and conserve these species for generations to come, while enabling boats to return by excavating the main channel into a navigation again.
“Completion of the winding hole is a particular milestone as this will eventually allow boats to travel another 1¼ miles along the beautiful canal. Slowly but surely, we are achieving the major goal of connecting the mainline Montgomery down to Welshpool.”
Canal & River Trust ecologist Sara Hill added: “The reserves are a fundamental part of the restoration. Since construction finished in 2018, wildlife has moved in. We have seen an array of fish, dragonflies and rare water plants making this their home. It’s important we continue to monitor the ecology of the reserves. With help from go pro and underwater drone technology, we are starting to build a picture of how well some of the key plants are establishing.”
The Canal & River Trust works with 15 partner organisations which make up the Montgomery Canal Partnership. The Partnership aims to restore the canal fully within the next decade as a haven for people and nature.
Montgomery Canal Partnership chair John Dodwell said: “This is a great step forward and will mean 60% of this historic, lovely canal has been restored. We look forward to more support from the public – both by volunteers and by donations – to enable us to make further progress. Details can be found by visiting www.restorethemontgomerycanal.uk.”
For more information about visiting your local canal, the Montgomery Canal restoration or becoming a Friend of the Canal & River Trust, please go to www.canalrivertrust.org.uk.