Chelmer Canal Trust, formerly the Friends of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation

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SOME CHELMER CANAL TRUST ORGANISED WORK PARTY 

REPORTS / PHOTOS TAKEN DURING 2005. 

WORK PARTY REPORT 10th DECEMBER 2005

Long Pond -between Chapman's Bridge and Tesco

The winter's golden sunlight warmed our hearts- we were lucky again! But for the first time we needed ice breakers! The Long Pond, being so shallow and still, is always the first part of the canal to freeze when cold weather strikes. Gary and John got into their canoe and tested the thickness of the ice for us. By their judgement a little ice would not be a problem. However, the prospect of pulling out iced pennywort was rather off- putting! In some places it was so completely encased in ice it proved a slippery customer. Some of the margins were less frozen, especially the north bank, which received the most sunshine.


It was good to welcome back George and Cathy, Chelmsford canoeists, who had helped us in the early days at Sandford. When they came in February 2003 we couldn't find any pennywort because the river was so high- that's not a problem that you are likely to meet on the Long Pond.

We soon set to work and patrolled both banks from Tesco upstream.


Our team of two boats, each with a bank support crew, worked well, enabling us to reach and remove every visible bit of pennywort. It was interesting to see, that, even in these harsh conditions, the pennywort was still growing. We knew this only too well as we had cleaned this stretch thoroughly two months before. At this time of the year removing the pennywort is easier as the plant is not entwined in the marginal vegetation. Quite a lot pennywort leaves had been separated from the plants' roots by the ice. It was comforting to realise that leaves and storks without roots will not reproduce, but not so comforting to ponder where the roots had gone.


Coffee break was taken at a specially selected site to gain maximum benefit from the warm sun. It was “mince pie day” courtesy of Tesco and Christmas.

The final pennywort count was that both banks were cleared between Tesco and Chapman's bridge with just a few patches left on the north bank.

The session was very successful and demonstrated yet again how effective a dedicate band on volunteers can be.

Many, many thanks everyone for coming, and for not being fazed by the ice!

WORK PARTY REPORT 5th NOVEMBER 2005

Ricketts Lock to the weir and upstream

Four boaters turned up on the Friday afternoon to help get things ready for the following day. After overnight rain the levels were high so it was not possible to increase the rate of flow in the lock cut by opening the paddles. We were further hampered because one of the downstream lock paddles was out of action, so we had to rely on what current there was running over the top of the lock. Luckily there was a favourable wind!


The boom that we had placed across weir had proved most effective in trapping the rafts of weed that had escaped us last time. We managed to detach these from the boom and to encourage then to enter the cut where the fresh breeze blew them towards the lock. Then we moved upstream to detach a few more rafts from the bank using the boats as a lever between the bank and the weed. Much to our relief these rafts drifted into the lock cut. When the light finally faded about 5pm we had amassed a ton of weed ready for the next day's team to remove. It's amazing what four experienced “weeders” can do in a very short space of time.

On Saturday the water level was still high and the top lock gates wouldn't open. Notwithstanding we opened all the paddles to try to improve the flow, which seemed to work after a while as the level dropped and the current increased. There was no need of a briefing on the day's plans because the task was staring us in the face - the mass of weed was so great it wasn't even possible to launch the canoes. Everybody was needed on the crome gangs. Working in pairs and threes is was possible to roll the matted weed over the shallow lock sill, and start piling it up. It was hard going nevertheless and the odd breather was essential. In just over half an hour we had the whole mass of weed on the bank and were ready to tackle stage two.


Stage two: the boats went upstream, past the weir, and began to detach more rafts with the idea of floating them down, either to the boom at the weir, or down the cut to the lock. The bank side team went up to the weir to deal with the weed which had been caught there. Refreshments were taken at this point and everyone enjoyed a well earned break. While resting “the show went on”: two passing canoeists from Tendring Canoe Club kindly steered one of our large floating pennywort raft towards us!


After detaching and removing a few more rafts from upstream it was decided to finish off by returning to the lock to remove those that floated down to there.

What was achieved by twelve experienced weeders in a couple of hour was indeed remarkable. You only have to compare the cleaned area, about a kilometre upstream of the lock, with the densely infested area above that, to find it hardly credible. Another magnificent achievement!


We have now cleared nearly three quarters of the way from Hoe Mill to Ricketts and will be returning next month to finish the job.

Many thanks to everyone for coming and working so hard.

Dudley

SATURDAY WEEDBUSTER REPORT 8th OCTOBER 2005

Long Pond- Tesco to Maldon Golf Course

Following on our session, “ between the bridges”, last month, where the weed was causing a blockage, we moved up to Tesco this time; mainly because we had been invited to breakfast by Tesco at 8- 30 pm and it made sense to be on the spot “ready to go” straight afterwards! It was a wise move as the breakfast, although not prolonged, had to be done justice to, and we were a little late in starting. This caused a little confusion as the early birds (the non breakfasters) had grown restless and had decided to make a start downstream, whereas the breakfast party, when they arrived, wanted to work upstream!

It was another very good turn out of 12 volunteers on the bank, assisted by three canoes: John and Steve in a double, and Clive and Leslie in kayaks: with Russ, Vicky, Ryan and Andy in the Raider dory: not to forget Mick in his waders.


Very encouraging progress was made. By a combination of various methods, and working closely as a team, it was possible to move steadily upstream and deposit neat piles of pennywort on both banks.


We were blessed with a very fine autumnal day and it was a pleasure to be in the fresh air. Coffee was taken on Chapman's Bridge where our supply of Tesco biscuits, rolls and cakes was seriously depleted. You certainly need to keep your strength up when you are heaving out pennywort!

After the break another special tool was unveiled - I'm losing count of the innovations- this time by Philip Butt and young son, David. A heavy weight from a sash window and lots of cord was thrown across the rafts of pennywort on the far bank, from where they could be gradually pulled across. It looked a bit like throwing the hammer. Perhaps it will lead to a career in athletics for David? It will definitely have to be part of our risk assessment for next time!


Incidentally, it worked quite well as you finish up with one lump of weed and no little bits, something that we all strive for.

At the end of the session we had reached the island opposite the golf club. That's where we will be starting next time on November 13th. Meet at Tesco- there might be another breakfast!

A big thank you to all those who came. Hope to see you on the Victoria trip

Dudley Courtman

WORK PARTY REPORT 1st OCTOBER 2005 HOE MILL

Hoe Mill to Ricketts Lock - Dramatic Rescue from the Weed

The Saturday session was preceded by a Friday afternoon one when a small party took out the new weed boat to free up a few clumps below the Iron Pipe at Sugar Bakers. What a sight met them - a two to three metre wide band of pennywort down both banks as far as the eye could see! The job looked impossible. But leverage could be obtained by inserting the boat, and two canoes, between the weed and the bank, and slowly but surely the clumps could be levered out into mid stream. After overnight rain there was a good current and the rafts of pennywort sailed slowly off. They were so large that they effectively blocked the river and trapped a touring party of canoeists .The group was led by Clive Pretty, one of our members. Thus ensnared it was easy to sign him up for the Saturday!

This incident should have been a warning to us of what to expect - that the rafts were too big to float off freely all the way to Ricketts Lock for removal. This was our intention and with this in mind we constructed a boom across Ricketts weir to prevent any weed escaping.

The next day we had every reason to be hopeful because an early morning inspection revealed several clumps of weed trapped by the boom. (See photograph). These were easily manoeuvred into the lock cut where the current, created by opening a lock paddle, carried them towards the lock for removal.

At the 9-30am briefing at Hoe Mill it was decided that the canoeists would clean the banks downstream as far as Sugar Bakers; a bank party would drive down to Ricketts to begin work at the lock; the new Dory weed boat, plus one canoeist, would go down to Ricketts by water to join them; and the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation weed lifter would follow (Del and Eve, the usual operators, had kindly volunteered to use it on our behalf. Many thanks to them).The plan sounded simple but things began to unravel pretty fast.

The handpicking group of canoeists got off to a good start and were soon leapfrogging one another down both banks removing every tiny bit of pennywort, and some largish patches as well. However, the Dory got stuck halfway on its journey and the bank party who had driven to Ricketts arrived to find no weed waiting for them as promised. Disaster! All caused by the weed we had released on the previous afternoon: it had effectively blocked the river and upset our simple plan.

The crew of the Dory, helped by the canoeist, struggled manfully to release the weed. It wouldn't budge, and they were forced to send out a Mayday call for assistance. Luckily “an AA water born breakdown/recovery vehicle” was not far away in the form of Del and Evie in the weed lifter. They were soon able to clear a path, much to the delight of the Ricketts bank party who had been patiently waiting for their morning's work to arrive. Having had time to rest up and flex their muscles they fell on the weed with a vengeance and soon had the recalcitrant clumps (and many others as well) under control on the lock side. In the end it all turned out well. Masses of pennywort were removed and both banks were cleaned by the canoeing group from the weir pool at Hoe Mill down to Sugar Bakers Iron Pipe.

So much was achieved. Many thanks for everyone's dedication (and patience!)

Dudley Courtman

CANOEISTS PENNYWORT REPORT HOE MILL Friday 20th2005

The canoeing group followed up the cleaning work that we had already done on this stretch from Rushes Lock to Hoe Mill. This was the third working party to on this section this year which shows the level of infestation there.Working from the water is now the only option left to us now that the summer weather has arrived. The banks are now mostly over grown with stinging nettles and reeds which hide the water's edge as well as the pennywort!

It was painstaking work looking for weed and extricating it from the bankside vegetation. An added snag was that it was difficult to separate the pennywort from the blanket weed, but not impossible. All pennywort was thrown up on to the bank where it will dry out and die. The net result of the evening's work was to complete a thorough cleaning from the Hoe Mill lock nearly to the church- it's looking better than it has done for years! We have to keep a careful eye on it during the summer and a rota is being drawn up showing individual canoeists/boaters who have adopted their own stretch of the canal. This, when complete, will be posted on our website.

The next clearing working party will be on June 14th when BTCV will be working below Ricketts lock as far as Beeleigh. Some work has already been done on this stretch and with luck we should be able to finish it off thereby getting rid of the final bit of red on our “Weedometer”.

Work Party April 9th Long Pond

As most of the pennywort in the Long Pond had been removed as far as Beeleigh flood gate it was decided to continue to tackle the large colonies from the overhead water pipe at Langford down to Beeleigh weir and lock.

Progress was rather slow because of the preponderance of overhanging bushes and trees, which trapped the weed. The bank party was able to clear the towpath side with rakes and cromes while those afloat attempted to cut through some of the vegetation on the other bank. The gardening operation proved to be more difficult than we had anticipated, the bulky cuttings had to be removed and taken ashore which was quite a tricky operation; needless to say our Special Boat Squadron coped very well in the circumstances.

The towpath bank was cleared as far as the lock - another kilometre - a very good result. Recent observations along those stretches already cleared seem to suggest that removing the pennywort together with any other loose vegetation is an effective method of preventing regrowth.

Hoe Mill to Ricketts Lock
Saturday April 2nd2005

What a great turn out! Nearly thirty volunteers in all which put some pressure on the available tools and refreshments.

It was good to see the new faces of Carla Davis and Daniel Segui from Heybridge who joined our very loyal band of regulars.

There was some preparatory bank work beforehand: BTCV cleared the bulk from the lock cut on Tuesday - they loved our method of pushing the weed into the middle and opening the lock paddle to create a current. Also about a kilometre downstream from Hoe Mill was cleared in similar fashion, although there were one or two patches left clinging to over hanging bushes which could not be reached. On Saturday our three canoes were able to paddle down to release these and any others they could find on the way to Ricketts. Meanwhile the main party was able to drive down to the lock via a cross country track from Ulting Lane

The boom previously placed across Ricketts weir had done its job and had produced a large catch. This was encouraged to enter the lock cut. Bankside weed in the cut was very difficult to remove despite the low natural vegetation. A concerted effort was made to get every last bit out and to float it into the lock.
Similarly upstream it was possible to remove considerable amounts from the towpath side

The canoeists were especially useful as they not only cleared the weed but collected a lot of rubbish at the same time


Front Line Report
Saturday March 19that Hoe Mill

The team carried on from where the "Nounsley Four" had let off. Whereas it had been winter then we were now in summer, all in the space of a fortnight.

Some time was spent on Friday "preparing the ground". The remaining patches above Rushes weir were released so that they could float off downstream to our waiting boom at Hoe Mill. It was not without problems however.

The blackberry bushes above Rushes were a pain in every sense, as they held the weed and shielded it from eager pulling hands. An accumulation of no bank side maintenance by the Company over the years means that some banks are hostile to weed pickers but friendly to the weed. It might be that we will have to return at a later date with more modern weaponry. As fate would have it we have been promised the use of the latest hedge cutting technology by Peter Forrest, a new member of the team from Southminster. We were also joined this time by two ecologists, Carlo Studinger and Mark Periam from Chelmsford. A warm welcome to all three.

On Friday Mike Lewis had managed to push a large weed raft over Rushes weir only to find that it went round in ever decreasing circles in the weir pool below, along with him in his canoe! Mike will be pleased to know that most of it did eventually drift down overnight to our waiting boom at Hoe Mill.

All the pockets of weed downstream of Rushes were freed by using our new invention, designed originally by Roger Edwards and subsequently modified: this is a wide broom attached to a long pole. With this it is possible to reach the most inaccessible places, and, most important of all, you can brush the pennywort out of the bank side vegetation and push it into the current. It worked a treat (see photo of Roland James de Jersey giving a demonstration).

Consequently when the "A" team arrived on Saturday there was a very large "catch" of weed to dispose of. A stretch of low hard bank was found for this amongst the many boggy bits. Using the bank team and canoeists we soon had the situation under control and were able to reposition the boom so that we could clear above the flood weir and lock cut as well. The overall result was so encouraging. The whole pond from Rushes to Hoe Mill is now clear. We even had some time left to make a start on the next stretch below the road bridge. Now there are only two pounds left with large concentrations of pennywort: Hoe Mill to Ricketts to Beeleigh.

The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers will be working at Ricketts Lock on Tuesday 29th March. If anyone fancies joining them, meet at 10-30am: you will be able to drive from Ulting Lane straight to the lock.

On Saturday April 2nd we will be back in action below Hoe Mill, working in the "red zone" to Ricketts lock.


March 12thon the Long Pond

We were favoured by a bright sunny day. Andy brought the work boat up from Heybridge Basin. At Tesco's we piled in all the gear and headed upstream.

The pennywort was reasonably thin from the golf course to the Langford flood gate, and in no time at all we had finished the whole stretch with plenty of time to spare. So, as to give us an excuse to eat the doughnuts, courtesy of Miriam and Dave, we went in search of more weed above Beeleigh lock- we were not to be disappointed! It was extremely abundant. Using our well tested method, the weed was released from the bank and floated into the lock for removal.


The "doughnut break", taken at Beeleigh lock, reminded us that this was the first place we started on the weed in August 2003. We had come full circle! Let's hope that this is the last time.


Fragments of blown pennywort collect in front of the flood gate at Beeleigh and enter the Long Pond when the gate is opened (see photos). This time we were on the spot and could use a long net to fish the bits out. Keeping the gate closed at all times is important. The gates used to have a chain on them to stop the easterly winds blowing them open.


March 5thRushes Lock - One Kilometre Conquered

Saturday's working party scheduled for Rushes Lock had to be postponed at the last minute- or not quite the last minute because the secretary needed some time to write and post out all the letters! A heavy snowfall on Friday made the minor roads around Nounsley too hazardous. Needless to say by the time the messages were all on their way the sun had come out and dramatically changed the situation. Another lesson was learned: we need everyone's phone number in case of similar emergencies: an email address is not direct enough as was proved by subsequent events.
Realising that our communications system was suspect, the secretary turned up at the appointed rendezvous on Saturday ready for action. And there waiting patiently were three stalwarts "raring to go".
And go they did! Working downstream from the white footbridge at Nounsley, both banks were scoured and cleaned very thoroughly. There were quite a lot of small patches which were mostly accessible. Problems encountered were the very muddy towpath, strong wind in exposed places, dense bankside bushes on the north bank with a deep ditch adjacent to it. The ditch was a former bed of the old river Chelmer prior to canalisation. This could not be forded, but a way over it was provided by a natural bridge, a fallen tree- an obvious challenge which had to be faced. Spurred on by our gymnastic success we even contemplated a pole vault with the cromes on the return leg: common sense prevailed! The morning's work was impressive with at least one kilometre of river cleared and cleaned. A small patch hung up in the bushes on the north bank, and two largish clumps at the head of the lock and weir were left to the river borne troops to tackle next time out.

"The Nounsley Four"

Long Pond, Saturday February 12th 2005

Our weed working parties have been blessed with reasonable weather so far. This time it blew and rained! Undeterred, our dedicated troops gathered in Tesco's car park, fortified by the promise of doughnuts for "elevenses", and discussed tactics.

Everyone was pleased to hear from Miriam, who has acted as our chief negotiator with Tesco, that the store has agreed to support our efforts by giving us one hundred and twenty pound's worth of vouchers. From now on all our hardworking weed pickers will be well sustained at coffee breaks! We were also able to buy two new thermos flasks. Tesco will be helping to sponsor a litter pick in the area in April/May: details to be announced later.

The weed party worked upstream, although there isn't much of one on the Long Pond, and picked up from where we had left off last month. The weed was in small patches fringing the banks, and needed careful removal as it tended to break up. Our two boats were a godsend as they could sweep up any small pieces that were left behind from the rakers, and could carry cargoes of pennywort and sundry flotsam and jetsam - like a Tesco trolley and a large wooden cable spool.

It is clear that the time of year is critical for pennywort removal. This month it was possible to reach most of the weed easily from the bank because the edges were clear of summer reed growth- once this starts life gets complicated. A very thorough removal was possible as far as the island opposite Maldon Golf Course- a good half a mile of excellent progress.

Eventually the sun brightened the day and added to the team's feeling of satisfaction of another good job well done. Many thanks, everyone.

Dudley Courtman

Paper Mill Lock - February 5th 2005

On this session we started further down the canal, half way down in fact, at Paper Mill. Some of our team, whose arrival was slightly delayed, went upstream to look for us! They couldn't believe that so much progress could be made in one month. (Goss Ltd has been working below Stonham's lock, where we had left off last time.)
Downstream from Paper Mill lock the weed is much less dense and matted, and is somewhat distressed by the frosts. On the previous evening, using canoes, some of us stretched a boom across the river about a mile downstream, and then loosened the weed from the banks. We encountered a new problem because lots of the weed was caught up amongst tree roots, bushes and brambles and was very difficult to extricate. Inevitably small particles were left behind which will have to be picked out later. The banks have not been maintained over the past few years and in order to get at all the weed the woody vegetation over hanging the water will probably have to be cut back.
Our volunteer group on Saturday were somewhat oblivious to all this as their first task was to clear the weed pile that had been caught up in the boom overnight, something which they accomplished in double quick time. From this point downstream the weed patches were infrequent, and mostly on the opposite bank, which meant that they had to be carefully loosened and guided across. We made excellent progress and in no time had arrived at the Nounsley white footbridge - this was handy as it meant we could work from both banks. Our morning's work resulted in another one and half miles "cleared", and left us in a good position to clear the remainder as far as Rushes lock, and possibly beyond, in a month's time.
Again the use of canoes contributed enormously to the successful outcome. They were invaluable in being able to catch all the small particles, to reach those places where our cromes wouldn't stretch, and to clear the far bank.

Since October we have now cleared all the way from Sandford to Rushes (nearly) and are well on track to reach Hoe Mill by April. The "Long Ponders" also have an impressive record and their latest report will be with you after next Saturday's session.

Another very encouraging result from our dedicated team. Many thanks everyone!

Dudley Courtman

Saturday 15th January 2005 at Fullbridge

We had a very good support for our handpicking work party at Tesco; it was nice to see some new faces amongst the regulars. The boats from Heybridge Basin were a huge help,as also were our trusty canoeists. The work was somewhat more refined than last week, rather fiddly trying to extricate the small pieces now that the winter frosts have weakened the pennywort. Still hard work though in that raking is very repetitive. The pain was soothed by a coffee break, and jam dough-nuts (courtesy of Miriam!) We were able to build on the excellent work done by the Navigation Company who had cleared the large clumps before Christmas. We had a very good support for our handpicking work party at Tesco; it was nice to see some new faces amongst the regulars. The boats from Heybridge Basin were a huge help,as also were our trusty canoeists. The work was somewhat more refined than last week, rather fiddly trying to extricate the small pieces now that the winter frosts have weakened the pennywort. Still hard work though in that raking is very repetitive. The pain was soothed by a coffee break, and jam dough-nuts (courtesy of Miriam!) We were able to build on the excellent work done by the Navigation Company who had cleared the large clumps before Christmas.
You will get an idea of the completed task by comparing the "before and after" photos taken from the Tesco footbridge. When you consider what the Long Pond used to be like we are making great progress. Many thanks to everyone for your hard work.
Before and After

Saturday January 8th at Stonhams Lock

Many thanks to everyone who braved a howling gale on Saturday to produce a record result. The best so far! The amount of weed cleared was phenomenal. The pile was some 30metres long and over a metre high. We were helped by some preparatory work on releasing weed on the day before by our canoeists, who allowed the strong winds to blow the weed rafts towards the lock; also a new magic tool was unveiled- a twenty foot pole with a flat rake on one end which could (with a little effort) be used to detach the pennywort rafts from the bank (photo of it in action on a small piece!) It was very effective and left no bits attached to the bank.

So much weed was pushed onto the artificially produced current (achieved by slightly opening the downstreamlock paddles) that we wondered whether we would be able to cope with it all. No worries as the bank team rose to the challenge magnificently and heaved all of the very heavy mats of weed up the lock sides. It was hard going and no one complained of being cold! The canoeists were able to release the weed on the far(non towpath) side- luckily it wasn't so thick on that side

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