IWA’s Lichfield Branch volunteers have been busy cutting back the protruding offside vegetation on the Trent & Mersey Canal.
Having begun at Fradley Junction in October, they are currently working their way north to Great Haywood, and will then head down the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal.
Since its inception in 2017 as a joint venture with the Canal & River Trust, IWA’s intrepid team have worked each winter addressing what is often one of the major sources of complaints from boaters.
Volunteer co-ordinator and branch vice-chairman Neil Barnett said: “It’s hard going at times, particularly in adverse weather, and progress can be painfully slow. We have to cease the operation as soon as the wildlife nesting season begins – usually in early March – meaning that in the past we’ve run out of time and had to finish the operation before reaching some of the more problematic parts of the canal further ahead.”
Added to that is the fact that the vegetation cutting of the various stretches of canal have fallen so far behind. Neil continued: “Ideally each stretch should be addressed every three years, but in reality it’s five or six years between each cut, which obviously adds to the time it takes us to deal with it.
“So this winter, in order to cover a greater distance and therefore deal with many more of the particularly problematic locations, we are having to just concentrate on the places which predominantly cause issues with navigation.”
These are places such as approaches to bridges and locks and narrow sections of canal increasing the width on bends and the sightlines on the approaches to them, opposite popular moorings, low hanging branches etc. Sometimes the occasional protruding branches may be left if there is room for one boat to hold back and give way to an oncoming boat.
“It’s not ideal of course,” explained Neil. “But needs must in order to get the job done. We also take into account what the actual vegetation is. For example just a 10m section of hawthorn, blackthorn or brambles can take as long as two hours to address, so we will only deal with these if they particularly impede navigation.”
Heading the day-to-day operation is lead volunteer Jeff Steele, whose main responsibility is to ensure that all the safety criteria is strictly adhered to, as well co-ordinating the volunteers to ensure that there is enough cover for each day with the necessary skills and qualifications to operate the tools and machinery.
Neil is always looking for more volunteers, so please get in touch with him if you are interested in joining the team, at [email protected]
He added: “There’s no need for any initial commitment, just come along and watch us in action and see if it might be something for you. It’s great exercise, plenty of fresh air, lots of banter and camaraderie and a chance to mess about in a boat, so what’s not to like?
“We work hard but we keep within our physical limitations. Most of us are in our ‘advancing years’ so are always mindful of not overdoing it, and most of us do just one day a week.”