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SOME CHELMER CANAL TRUST ORGANISED WORK PARTY 

REPORTS / PHOTOS TAKEN DURING 2019. 

Weedbusting.

Saturday, 2nd November 2019
The Langford Cut and The Long Pond

The ferrying of equipment upstream was a surprisingly pleasant experience, given the weather that had been predicted.

Two important events were starting at 9am on this Saturday morning. Both were challenges, but only one of them was a winner! It was today’s Chelmer Canal Trust work party! Despite the forecast of outlandish weather and despite the fact that this work party was going to take place in some of the grimmest locations in which we work, our finest volunteers turned up ready to take on whatever was thrown at them. And a bonus! We were joined by four members of the Southend Canoe Club.

Rafts of pennywort at the top end of the Long Pond, and outbreaks all along the Langford Cut, could have challenged us in terms of capacity. But an easy split where the canoeists, who would have struggled in the Langford Cut, dealt with the rafts in the Long Pond and the remainder of our volunteers worked on either side of the Langford Cut, was a good call. As usual, the session started with a reminder of the various risks that are inherent in activities like these, along with what action to take if anything untoward should occur.

Access to the water is difficult from either side of the Langford Cut but that didn’t stop our courageous volunteers who weren’t put off by barbed wire, dense brambles and altogether nasty conditions.

Crome-on-a-rope-throwing skills were evident from the start by those on both sides.

And with excellent team work an impression was soon being made on this difficult-to-access pennywort.

And on the other side of the Cut equally-impressive work was taking place. Nothing was going to stop these volunteers getting to what many would have regarded as inaccessible areas.

Sometimes it was difficult to know where our volunteers were. There’s one down there within the vegetation!

It was tough going, the only positive aspect being that the weather outside the cover of the overhanging vegetation was worse than that within it.

Meanwhile our excellent canoeists had collected an impressive amount of pennywort from the top of the Long Pond.

Time for refreshments. Enjoyed by all, but sadly the bar has been raised in terms of expectations! Our volunteers will potentially no longer be satisfied with the hot drinks, hot cross buns, pies and chocolate bars. The canoeists cooked BACON SANDWICHES!

Then back to the task in hand and some creative ways of moving along the fringe of the water in the Langford Cut.

So much pennywort just out of reach! Some got a tad too close to the water’s edge….! And how useful would it have been to be able to use a long spray-lance to spray the strands just out of reach?!! Oh well….!

Here’s a ‘before’

And an ‘after’

Coracleman Steve had been kept busy all morning, accessing parts that the rest of us couldn’t get to, even with cromes-on-ropes.

All our volunteers had again exceeded expectations, once more carrying on valiantly under some very grim conditions.

We try to leave pennywort high enough above the water that it won’t fall back in, but close enough that anything that usually lives in the water can get back there. So after a spell beside the bank it was moved further up.

By now we’d done all we could along the Langford Cut and it was time to head for home and dry out.

Our canoeists carried on for a while, as did the crew on the work boat, working down past the flood gate to the bypass bridge.

That final effort has meant that, as well as the impressive amount removed from the Langford Cut there is currently practically no visible pennywort along all of the Long Pond. That will, of course, change!

Thanks to all of today’s volunteers. We look forward to seeing them at our next work party. We hope to see our friends from the Southend Canoe Club again soon too.

Different Kinds of Work Parties!

Tuesdays, 15th and 22nd October 2019
Heybridge Basin

Over the years we've amassed an array of different tools and equipment for use in our weedbusting work. They've served us well and helped us develop efficient techniques for pennywort removal and litter-collection. However, storage of them has always been a bit of a challenge. They need to be safe, secure and easily accessible in all weathers. We've gone through a variety of formats. At one point we had the use of a shed at Hoe Mill. Ideal! Pull up outside, collect the tools and drive them to where they were needed. But that facility was withdrawn and an alternative has been used for many years - store them at someone's own shed. However, being several hundred yards up a muddy canal bank, collecting and returning tools in some grim days in midwinter isn't a lot of fun - especially as there are potentially so many that two trips to collect them in a wheelbarrow could be necessary.

But wait?! What's this? Essex Waterways Ltd not only allowed us some room on their premises but also built us a very fine shed. We are so grateful to EWL staff for their excellent work. Our Chelmer Canal Trust task was to complete the job by making the roof waterproof (using donated recycled corrugated tin) and fitting out the inside so that our tools and equipment can not only be stored neatly, but so that they can dry out if (= when) they have got wet during a work party.

The call had gone out to those who were most likely to be able to help, and dates chosen to involve appropriate numbers of people.

And so it was that five willing volunteers met up on Tuesday 15th October to make a start on the work. With plenty tools to do the job, and with much enthusiasm, we were soon on the case.

The roof was our initial task. Making the shed waterproof was our first priority as until now rain had been pouring through the roof boards. Barry was on the roof in a jiffy.

And with a team feeding corrugated sheets and fixings up to him fast progress was made.

Despite our intention of using as much recycled material as we could we were going to need some timber for internal fittings so a trip off to the timber merchants was needed. No cyclists were collected on the return trip to the Basin.

With plenty of wood to fashion into the fittings that were needed for storage of cromes etc. it was then on to the next stage of the fit-out.

At this point some had to leave and two could stay. Before the remaining two left the electrics had been installed so that our CCT shed now has a light (and power if needed).

With some finishing-off work needed a further session was planned and on 22nd October some of us re-grouped to make even more progress.

Barry was up on that roof again, ensuring that it was waterproof and that the corrugated sheet was going to stay there forever.

It's a fine job (but maybe in time could do with a coat of paint if there are any willing volunteers…?)

Then onto some bespoke fittings to hold the cromes and other pieces of equipment.

Finally a bit of a challenge re-assembling the parts of a (donated) cupboard. Working from inside the cupboard proved to be efficient!

Thanks to all of our excellent volunteers for the effort they put into this piece of work. At some point we probably need to consider painting the shed itself, as well as the roof, after a small amount of work has been done to replace a small amount of rotted board.

Weedbusting at the Weir
(and above and below it)

Saturday, 5th October 2019
Cuton Lock Weir

Work parties are coming thick and fast at the moment! This was the fourth Saturday work party working on the pennywort outbreak in four weeks!

Three Chelmer Canal Trust work parties between Sandford and Stonhams Locks had made a huge impact on the giant rafts of Floating American Pennywort that have formed this year. And EWL's weedlifter had also done a brilliant job.

But rather than that meaning 'job done' it was more a case of 'job to be completed'. Not only were there still strands and smaller rafts of weed that would need to be removed, there was also a massive build-up of 'crud' on top of the weir at Cuton Lock, as evidenced in the previous work party report.

So it was good to have such an excellent number of volunteers turning up for today's challenge. However, the first challenge was expecting to find the work boat ready for loading but actually spotting it pointing the wrong way in the lock. That sort of thing doesn't faze experienced boaters and the work boat was soon being lowered down in the lock.

A quick greeting and a slightly longer reminder of health and safety issues, a briefing on what was planned for the day and we were off, with everyone travelling in the work boat to the start point of today's work party. As we passed each strand and small raft of pennywort we muttered to ourselves that we'd get it on the way back, time permitting.

Eventually arriving at Cuton Lock a plan was hatched. One volunteer would head back upstream with a hook, pulling out what strands of pennywort could be accessed from the bank. Two more would do the same heading downstream. Coracleman Steve would work below the weir, catching anything set adrift from above the weir. Three 'haulers out' on the bank on the island above the weir would have pennywort delivered to them by three 'haulers in' on the work boat. A tribute to all our volunteers that they so willingly take on their allotted tasks, even if they might prefer to be doing something different. Everyone's contribution is important.

The view from above the weir wasn't good. Just like it had been last Saturday, although the island of foam was probably higher still.

After only a short time pulling pennywort out of the soup of rotting duck weed, pennywort, watercress, etc. the smell was FOUL! Many of us would have the smell lingering with us for the rest of the day (despite thorough washing!). Hopefully, if the huge amounts of pennywort that are covered in rotting duck weed stay there that too will rot. Worst case scenario - it doesn't rot and gets flushed over the weir when the water flow increases.

Our trusty volunteers on the lock island waited for deliveries.

And soon they came. Mucky, difficult to pull out, heavy. It was a tough job for everyone involved. Nevertheless it was done with humour and enthusiasm.

We worked along the lip of the weir, this made possible by the reliable outboard engine on this work boat which allows careful positioning with little fear of being washed against (or OVER!) the weir! (the water flow was far too low for that to happen; we wouldn't attempt it with fast flowing water gushing over the weir).

Eventually all the pennywort that could be removed from above the weir had been and it was time to lock down. And an opportunity for those less-familiar with the procedure to take part in locking.

A quick trip in the work boat to collect our valiant volunteers who had been weed-clearing from the bank below Cuton Lock. And brilliant to see that sections that we have worked on previously are still completely clear of pennywort.

Time for refreshments, but first the need to clean our hands. Plenty of well-earned refreshments for most; a decided lack of hot chocolate for one who needed it - apologies!

Then for many, a trip round the corner to the far bank which was to be the hauling out place for pennywort below the weir. Coracleman Steve was soon arriving with deliveries of weed that could be dealt with by our excellent bank volunteers.

Our work boat crew tackled the pennywort in a massive raft of 'crud', delivering it to our hauliers faster than they could reasonably manage at times. But they coped admirably.

Unfazed by the water rushing over the weir the volunteers on the boat also tidied up what they hadn't been able to reach from above the weir.

Eventually about as much pennywort as could have been reasonably removed had been. Time to rescue our bank crew, lock up through Cuton Lock, and head for home, using any opportunities that arose to grab strands of pennywort on the way. Many were found and brought on board; a wayward plastic milk crate lived another day, held firmly into the bank by strong roots.

The compulsion to grab just one more strand of pennywort was great. Several of us would later be dreaming about wayward strands of pennywort. Passing it without grabbing it was hell! But a tidy amount was brought on board and subsequently dragged off at a convenient location, well known to us, under the A12 bypass bridge.

Far too late Ron found his anti-pennywort glasses. If only he'd used them earlier! Oh well!

Then the final return to base, with the engine spluttering to a halt within, thankfully, rope-throwing distance of the bank and of, fortuitously, our trusty volunteer who had walked back.

Some washing down; some tidying up; some car-packing. And another work party was over.

Again, massive thanks to our willing and cheerful volunteers on today's work party.

Weedbusting Extra.

Saturday, 28th September 2019
Back below Cuton Lock.

This was an extra workparty to try to get on top of the latest outbreak. We had three of the regulars and Dan, a new recruit complete with his kayak.

EWL were also out as we were getting ready joining the battle with their hydraulic weed lifter, and most of the really large rafts between Sandford and Cuton had been lifted onto the bank, saving our volunteers a lot of muscle work!

Before setting off in the work boat, there was just time for the obligatory team photo.

We headed downstream, through Cuton Lock to the spot where the last workparty had left off.

It wasn't long before we had the first large raft under tow to the removal point...

.. and Steve was pointing out where the smaller strands hide in wait in the reeds.

Because we were short-handed, it was necessary to multi-task, with the boat crews coming ashore to haul out.

Refreshment time was well earned by all, and a very welcome break from the heavy hauling!

Then it was back to removal. Some of the medium sized rafts coulbe pulled aboard the raider, while the smaller strands started to fill up the kayak and coracle.

By home-time, the river was looking mostly clear in both directions

Being a keen lot, we decided to remove a small patch just below Cuton Lock, while we waited for the lock to empty.

But the large patch of mixed weeds, stuck above and below the weir, were a bit too much for just the four of us to consider tackling at this point!

Dealing with this lot will require some planning!

Safely back at Sandford lock, it was time for a quick clean up of the boats, and then home. A good solid achievement for a small but hardworking group!

Just More Weedbusting.

Saturday, 14th September 2019
Below Cuton Lock

This was our first regular work party of the Autumn, although we'd had a well-attended 'extra' work party two weeks ago at the end of August.

If there was one thing to say about this work party it was that the weather was great. And so were the participants. Cheerful and positive at the start.

The plan was to start off where we had left off at the last work party - downstream of Cuton Lock. Meaning that we had a long old journey downstream in the raider (which started and ran beautifully for the entire work party, incidentally). It went against the grain to have to pass so many rafts of pennywort, but we are hoping that others will take up the challenge as the pennywort along this stretch is more accessible than at other places.

A brief bit of respite as we dropped down to the next section at Cuton Lock

Then, on past the area we had worked on at the last work party. Agreeably clear of all of the main rafts, with just a few small strands that we had necessarily had to leave. And finally to the start of today's adventures. Having two craft on the water, clearing up what the work boat had to leave, was again invaluable and enabled the work boat to deal with large rafts without having to go back and tidy up.

Meanwhile the rest of the group identified a good landing place and sorted out how they would best deal with pennywort removal and retrieval.

Three on the boat; four on the bank. What's not to like?!

Well, actually, what wasn't to like were the rafts of weed we could see all the way down to Stonhams Lock. However much effort we put in this wasn't going to be a task we could complete today.

But that's not to say we didn't make a stunning impact on the tons of weed that is lurking in rafts in so many places along the Navigation. So much work being done, such attention to detail, such energy expended by so many, that the priority was removing weed, not taking pictures!

With energy levels sapping, understandably as this job was not for the faint-hearted, it wasn't so much a case of wanting a break for refreshments, it was a case of the needing them. Sadly, one member of our party had already had to retire injured and walk back to Sandford. The rest replaced the energy they had expended (who needs Slimming World?) and looked surprisingly cheerful, given the ordeal they'd been through.

Then a re-arrangement of tasks for some and back to more of the same. It is difficult to describe the effort that went into removing so much pennywort, or to describe the amount piled up along the bank (where possible in places that the various critters that might have been brought out in the weed could find their ways back to the water).

Our 'spreaders' were doing a fine job distributing the weed along the edge and not blocking the tow path.

Although they caused a temporary pause in our activity it was good to see so many walkers and cyclists out and about using the tow path. Enjoying the Navigation and its surroundings is what it's all about.

For this work party it certainly wasn't the fact that we'd run out of weed to remove that caused us to stop. Nor was it really that time had caught up with us. Frankly, we had all worked so hard that many of us had run out of energy.

Nevertheless, the journey back was full of humour and cheerfulness with another candidate undertaking The White Water Experience (Not Quite).

It was good to travel back through the section where we'd worked last time. The clear views being a reward for our hard labours.

Up through Cuton Lock and the final leg back to Sandford.

And further reminders on the way back that the job isn't finished yet

Again, HUGE thanks to our hard-working team, all of whom went above the call of duty.

We'd tentatively talked of running an additional work party on 28th September. Unfortunately that's not going to work, but we hope we'll have a good turnout for our next work party on 5th October.

Just Weedbusting

Saturday, 31st August 2019
Below Cuton Lock

The call had gone out - there's a lot of weed around and we're holding an extra work party to deal with it. And the response was excellent. Eleven loyal, enthusiastic and keen volunteers turned up, as did one new volunteer who soon proved her worth.

Before anything else - THANK YOU to everyone involved in this work party. Everyone worked very hard and excellent results were achieved.

An early start for some in order to get the work party underway in good time. Unfortunately the work boat wasn't where we'd expected it to be, but it wasn't long before there was loads of help to get the work boat through the lock and get it loaded. No less than three windlasses were in use!

Our party looked happy and confident before we got started!

Many walked and some went by boat from Sandford down to Cuton Lock. The sights on the way were depressing! Despite a feeling that this section had been cleared - after all we were working there a few weeks ago - large rafts of weed regularly lined both banks. But we had no time for them. We were bound further downstream.

Quick work getting the workboat down through the lock and then on with the task in hand. And with an excellent distribution of human resources. Two teams working from the bank to haul weed up the bank; others at the top of the bank spreading the weed out; some in the work boat either taking weed on board or towing rafts of weed to the bank for removal; last but by no means least, and essential, two in smaller craft clearing up the fragments that the others had left behind. It all worked so well. Even before everyone was underway pennywort was being taken to the bank.

Attempts were made to find places where rafts of pennywort could easily be removed. Some were judged more appropriate than others.

Working gradually downstream, and with the work boat towing rafts regularly to the bank (and giving those hard-working volunteers on the bank little time for any rest), steady progress was made. Having two 'sweepers up' meant that those on the work boat could concentrate their efforts on the large rafts, rather than having to go back to clear up themselves.

Some of those rafts were well-established and HEAVY!

And still the 'sweepers up' followed on behind.

There was no objection to the stop for some refreshments. Always appreciated. And necessary of course - expending that much energy means that it has to be replaced. And extra appreciation this week from the skipper who would otherwise have had to, out of boredom, consume any left over cakes and buns on his journey back to London!

There is no doubt that pennywort is growing at its fastest at this time of year. Strong, lush green growth above the water and dense matted root systems hanging down into the water. Dense and consolidated. The downside is that it makes it very heavy. There is an upside - that it enables us to take it out in large mats that break up less than at other times of year.

Our work continued in the pattern that was working so well. The workboat delivering rafts to the bank.

And our bank volunteers hauling it up the bank for spreading out along the top. Doing so allows those critters that need to return to the water to do so but also means that the weed loses its high water content and rots down quickly.

By the way, if anyone has any spare water buffalo they love it!

With time pressing on, and with a long journey back to base, we eventually had to call it a day.

Sadly the engine on the dinghy had failed and the dinghy needed a tow back. Not exactly a white water rafting experience, but at times it looked a bit hairy!

Hopefully everyone at today's work party managed to get some rest later in the day - it had been one of the toughest work parties for a long time. Probably quite a few Radox baths (other bath products are available!).

We face a challenge over the next couple of months clearing the rafts of pennywort that are evident along most of the length of the Navigation. Hopefully we will have an equally-well attended work party on Saturday, 14th September.

If you know a few people who would like to help out by taking part in an additional work party, maybe mid-week, we'd love to hear from you. A group of friends, a group from work where time off is given for charity-involvement, a group of young people maybe. We will aim to provide a supervisor, the tools and hopefully the refreshments!

More Weedbusting

Wednesday, 7th August 2019
Around and below Sandford

A work party that didn’t go as planned – but was nevertheless another success! It was good to have a good group of volunteers who were expecting to be involved in one task, but willingly undertook another.

Coracle man Steve was ready early.

And eager as ever was soon off to undertake his task for the evening – more work on any pennywort that was still lingering in the mill stream. And there was going to be plenty for him to deal with.

Meanwhile our remaining five volunteers headed off in the work boat, with the outboard engine running unusually well thanks to the excellent service it had received (thanks, Chris). The intention was to go downstream to moor up and deal with pennywort in the ditch we’ve worked on for the last two work parties. However, having passed one large raft of pennywort in the main river, then another, then another, then……... that plan was quickly revised. Our effort would be better directed to removing these large rafts we’d been passing. And so the pattern for the rest of the evening was established.

A quick division of labour, with two of our volunteers going ashore to pull pennywort onto the bank, and three on the boat dealing with the rafts that could be better accessed from the water.

We all had lots to do, both working from the bank

nd working from the boat.

Soon there was so much pennywort in the work boat that there was some concern that the weight of it onboard, in addition to the heavy rafts being pulled over the gunwales, could cause a capsize! Careful monitoring, and emptying the work boat of pennywort at regular intervals, ensured that that didn’t happen.

With less time available on an evening work party there was no time to lose and as soon as one boat-load was offloaded it was back for more.

Everyone was playing their part, whether on the boat or on shore.

We had to take a pragmatic approach. If we had stopped to remove every last strand of pennywort – our preferred approach – we would not have had time to remove the many large rafts. So it was a case of prioritising the large rafts, based on the principle that in another week or two’s time some of them could have grown across the width of the river, making it likely that passing boats would break them up and the resulting islands of pennywort could then drift downstream to cause further problems.

One large raft was so big that we deliberately detached it and took it downstream to remove it under the A12 bridge.

For those on the work boat it brought back memories of techniques used in former times when dealing with the many large rafts of pennywort that in some places had blocked the Navigation completely. Who remembers these days in 2004?!

With the light fading, and our muscles aching, we had to call it a day. We hadn’t removed all the rafts in that section, but we’d given it our best shot. More teamwork was involved as the work boat was bailed out (it’s surprising how much water drains out of the pennywort while on board) while the work boat made its way back to base.

Having unpacked the tools from the boat, and given it a very cursory clean (sorry EWL!) ending the evening with some hot drinks and cakes was a small reward to our volunteers for the effort they had put in. Well done chaps!

And well done too, to those who, knowing that at this time of year the growth of pennywort can seem to get ahead of our efforts, and with the next work party not until 14th September, volunteered to take part in an extra work party on Saturday, 31st August. ALL ARE WELCOME! The usual time for a Saturday morning work party, 9 am – 12 noon; the location will be emailed round and posted on the website, in due course.

Just Weedbusting

Wednesday, 3rd July 2019
Cuton Ditch and Sandford Mill Stream

Well, well, well! We were jinxed for the second work party in a row at Sandford! Last month we found, almost at the last minute, that we couldn’t use the Boaters car park we had expected to use. This month we found, almost at the last minute, that we couldn’t use the work boat that it had been agreed we would use. Never mind. We can accommodate to such changes (although it did almost mean that we got our cars locked in for the night - more later).

Another smashing bunch of volunteers, ready to do whatever was needed. Here are almost all of them

With the intention of this work party being solely to remove pennywort, and with the initial intention being to use the work boat to work in the Sandford Mill stream, the lack of boat was adequately overcome by a canoe and a coracle (and their owners!). They set of for the mill stream, only to be seen again at the very end of the work party (and after the refreshments!).

The rest of us agreed that we’d risk driving down the ‘fishery’ road to park under the A12 bridge, reducing the walk to our destination by about 1/3, but with the potential of us getting locked in. So we drove, parked and tooled up.

And then set off to walk to the area we wanted to work in. So much talking went on that most didn’t notice one of our party who needed to walk slower. Having heeded an earlier warning that there might be a less-than-friendly farmer around, and that we must behave ourselves, looking round it then appeared that a farmer with a gun, or something, was following us. Some sped up!!!

However, there was no need to worry. We continue trialling our new herbicide-spraying equipment and today provided a further opportunity to spray rafts of pennywort with mock-weedkiller (aka fresh water). Our man John, fully qualified, was no farmer, but was the man with the ‘gun’!

We were on the other side of the ditch to where we’d worked before, and the plan was to remove any left-overs from a month ago and then work upstream – meaning that any stray bits of pennywort we couldn’t remove should simply drift down to our intentional barrier where we can deal with them later in the season.

Our eleven volunteers soon got sorted into self-selected teams, broke their ways through the tall vegetation and got stuck in to the dense bank-to-bank 75m stretch of matted pennywort.

And it worked so well. At each location one or two pulled pennywort up to the bank while a third pulled it on up and spread it out to encourage a fast rate of decay.

Unusually, because of the number of volunteers, and the amount of work we had to do, practically every tool in our armoury was brought into use.

Some demonstrated skills that they had picked up on previous work parties; some learned new skills; all worked hard on what was after all a tough task.

Finally, with an impressive stretch of water cleared, and an impressive amount of pennywort spread out, it was time to do some tidying up and head back to the cars.

The refreshment break was friendly and relaxed, with a sense of satisfaction in the air that we had done a god job.

That is until a Man in a Van arrived and advised us that we should not be parked there and we were lucky not to have been locked in. Fortuitously an early-returner from our work party had met this person and explained what we were doing and when we would be finished. So it was a very quick stopping-of-refreshments and packing-away of tools and equipment. Thankfully the Man in the Van was very understanding and helpful, and even complimented us on the work we were doing, and waited until we had all driven off before locking the gate.

Then just time to meet our other two volunteers who had done their bit, removing two large rafts of weed in the mill stream.

Another good, productive, work party with some very beneficial results.

Weedbusting and Litterpicking.

Wednesday, 5th June 2019
Downstream from Sandford

There are two things that can generally be said about our volunteers - they are always willing to take on whatever tasks are asked of them, and they remain cheerful under nearly all circumstances. This evening's work party had its challenges - but they were undertaken with skill and in good spirits.

Rain beforehand, rain forecast, but nevertheless we had a good team.

We were pleased to welcome EWL's General Manager David Hewitt to his second Chelmer Canal Trust work party. And as he'd been responsible for arranging the use of the work boat it seemed only natural that he should skipper it.

With limited time, and the slight frustration that, with the Boaters' car park being out of use, time needed to be taken getting cars parked elsewhere, the plan for the evening was outlined, an agreement was made to try to enjoy ourselves, and we all set off in the work boat. There's always something to spot on the way!

With nine people on board, plus equipment, the boat was well-loaded and struggled as soon as the prop picked up any weed - which it did on several occasions.

Despite the continuing rain three litter-pickers cheerfully prepared to set off further downstream of Cuton Lock, having, at a previous session, dealt with the section between Sandford and Cuton.

The remainder headed back to try to find the ditch in which we knew we would find significant pennywort. Although it might look like only one of us is serious about it, we all braved the nettles and undergrowth to get to the ditch.

It's fair to say that there was plenty of pennywort in the ditch. And what we could do this evening would help, but in no way remove the huge amount of pennywort. We are hoping that when we bring our herbicide-spraying equipment and skills into effect we'll be able to make faster progress in areas like this.

Some sub-dividing of our weedbusters, with two being ferried downstream where they could work on a section of the ditch where we have previously successfully removed a lot of pennywort, and the remainder working further up the ditch, hoping to link up with those further down.

Sadly no pictures of the 'downstream' gang in action - which is a shame as they had Mark IN the water in waders, lifting pennywort onto the bank, and Steve on the water, in his coracle, removing fragments that had resulted from previous pennywort-removal there.

The 'upstream' gang, having trampled down enough of the undergrowth to gain access to the ditch, then started making inroads into bank-to-bank mat of pennywort. With one area of water cleared routes were cleared through the undergrowth up and downstream towards further removal points. It is difficult to describe how densely-matted, and therefore how heavy, the pennywort was. It was HEAVY!

A useful technique was to throw the pennywort we lifted out onto the vegetation which was in the direction of where we needed to go next. This created both a way through to our next extraction points as well as meaning that the weed we removed was placed where it was most likely to rot down. We made some good progress!

All too soon it was time to return to the work boat and pick up our other volunteers. We are sure that the sign in this picture is not intended to describe our two group members!

No picture of the lovely litter-pickers as we then picked them up - it was raining too heavily.

Impressively, despite the hard work and horrible weather, everyone was in good spirits as we headed back upstream!

We were right to be pleased - although there's a long way to go we'd made some more progress in removing weed from one of the main 'infection sites' for pennywort, and the banks of the Navigation were no longer littered with litter.

No work party would be complete without the traditional refreshments and, given the continuing rainfall, the obvious place to have then was under the A12 bypass bridge. Not necessarily the outdoor environment that many of us seek, but pragmatically a good way of staying dry (or maybe that should be 'stopping getting more wet').

Yet another excellent work party - thanks to everyone for their hard work.

Weedbusting

Saturday, 11th May 2019
Sandford Feeder Stream

Having had a work party in the same area only a week before it was unusual for us to be back so soon. However, we'd had a number of reports of a significant raft of weed in the feeder stream, where it enters the Sandford Mill Stream. In fact, this was a 'plug' of weed that we'd previously purposely left at the end of the feeder stream when we'd worked there in the Autumn to trap smaller amounts of pennywort and prevent them from being washed into the main system.

The plug of weed had done its job during the winter but was now flourishing and it was time to remove it. Not an easy place to access or work so rather than ask all of our volunteers to turn up knowing that many would potentially get bored due to the area being so restricted, and it could feel like misuse of their time, a few 'regulars' planned to meet to do this work.

We've used several techniques for removal of pennywort at this location before. With very steep banks, quite high above the water, manual removal from the immediate vicinity has been both difficult and occasionally inefficient with much weed being broken up and drifting off downstream and even more becoming caught, still in the water, on the overhanging brambles. We needed a different technique.

So today's plan of attack was firstly for our man, Steve, in his coracle, to detach rafts of pennywort from the source. It was considerable work for him but easy (at this point) for some of us - we just stood on the bridge and watched!

Next, the detached raft was floated towards the area under the footbridge where cromes on ropes were attached.

Steve then took the ropes to the far bank where the pennywort could be hauled in and more easily removed. And it was a plan that worked well, even if it was extremely hard work removing such dense, lush, heavy mats of pennywort.

It's fair to say that there would be work party members there today who would be looking forward to long hot baths when they got home and nevertheless having aching backs the following morning. There was a lot of pennywort to remove, the thick mats were not only heavy themselves but they also contained a lot of water. Our skilled team are used to this, having, over the years, been involved in removing large rafts of weed in various locations along the Navigation. Nevertheless, although doing so again brought back memories of the past, it didn't actually make it any easier!

Once out of the water the pennywort was spread over the surrounding ground, allowing any creatures that had been inadvertently lifted out in the weed to find their way back to the water and making the pennywort most liable to decomposition.

A fishing net was used frequently to catch small fragments which would otherwise have remained in the water, floated away and initiated more rafts further downstream.

There is sometimes a reluctance to stop for refreshments as many of us would just like to remove a bit more weed before taking a break. Not so today. We all knew that we needed a break and something to give us the energy to carry on and there was, understandably, no one objecting to a break.

The refreshment break over it was back for more of the same, with it getting ever more difficult to detach and move the weed further away from the footbridge. An intentionally light craft such as a coracle (built light enough to be carried by one person) doesn't easily shift a heavy raft of pennywort.

Nevertheless we were not to be outdone and the established technique continued. Experienced weedbusters, working as a team - what more could we want?

Eventually our target was achieved - all of the floating pennywort that we had planned to remove was on the far bank. The water was now clear of weed.

Time to pack away the tools and head for home. But not for Steve who, like the previous week, knew there were small rafts of pennywort in the mill stream that could do with being removed and while the rest of us were on our way, Steve stayed to compete his task. Again, what a trooper!

And what another successful work party!

Weedbusting and Litterpicking

Saturday, 4th May 2019
Downstream from Sandford Lock

Not unusually there were a couple of challenges that had to be dealt with before we could start today’s work party. Firstly, the work boat was above the lock and we would be working downstream – easily resolved. Secondly, the engine of the work boat refused to start – eventually resolved by the very patient Steve (not for the last time today). In fact both issues were dealt with at the same time with the work boat being lowered in the lock at the same time that Steve worked on the engine.

The workforce was split two ways. Three litterpicking along the bank, three on the water with two on the work boat and Steve in his coracle.

The three litterpickering volunteers started off enthusiastically.

The three volunteers who would be working on the water headed downstream to Cuton Lock, noting the locations of pennywort on the way down with the intention of collecting it on the way back. However, the first task was to moor up and check the condition of a feeder stream that runs close to the Navigation, is a regular breeding ground of pennywort, and which unhelpfully discharges into the system just below the Cuton Lock weir.

The good news was that our previous work there, manually removing the pennywort, had been very successful and there were only small strands of ‘baby’ pennywort in what had previously been a location where there were large rafts of established, strong, weed. It was tempting to spend time removing these small strands, but the time that would take up would potentially be better spent removing pennywort in the main system. And potentially these could be candidates for herbicide-spraying with a long lance at another time.

The ‘deal’ was that the coracle would work upstream on one bank while the workboat did so on the other bank. Good progress was made and small growths of pennywort were removed to prevent them becoming large rafts in a month or two’s time. Having larger rafts tumbling over the weir, and breaking up as they did so, would cause even greater problems downstream.

Meanwhile the litterpickers were speeding along!

With one eye on the time and another on the weather – which had been surprisingly good so far – the decision was made to take time out for refreshments. Always ample; always appreciated.

Next, a slight adjustment to the workforce, due to the litterpickers having been so efficient on their way to Cuton Lock, and an extra member of the crew on the work boat. Their first task was to check the condition of the feeder stream further upstream than the earlier check. Not such good news here. Plenty of pennywort to be dealt with. Again, a candidate for another day.

Back to the main tasks, with the coracle and the work boat dealing with pennywort on their respective banks of the Navigation.

All seemed to be going moderately well. Then, just as one of several very heavy hail storms came over, the engine of the work boat stopped yet again and this time could not be restarted. Double trouble. At least the wind was blowing so strongly that, although stranded in the middle of the river with no other way of moving anywhere, we tended to be moving upstream. Un-phased by the unwelcome conditions the crew nevertheless continued to grab any pennywort in grabbing range while we drifted. Thankfully Steve was in hailing distance and was able to come on board and, after lots of patient adjustment and re-adjustment, got the engine running again.

Unfortunate as it was to have to leave a number of rafts of pennywort we had planned to remove on our way back, our priority now was just to get the work boat back to Sandford. Two of us in today’s work party have the experience of hauling that same work boat most of the way to Sandford etched strongly into our memories and we didn’t want to be doing that again! But even then we had to stop on our way back to take on board a significant amount of litter collected earlier and offload pennywort.

Nevertheless, back to Sandford (successfully) and the unpacking of the work boat just as yet another hail storm came over. It was good to have the litterpickers return too.

There was some regret that we’d had to leave significant rafts of pennywort due to the workboat-engine problem. But, yet again, Steve came to the rescue and went back downstream to deal with the rafts of pennywort that would otherwise have been left. What a trooper!

Another good work party. Thanks to all of today’s volunteers – excellent results.

Work Party.

Saturday, 13th April 2019

One dedicated volunteer was up early to retrieve our tools from Heybridge Basin for delivery to Hoe Mill.

A total of 11 enthusiastic volunteers (and one delivery driver) turned up at Hoe Mill Lock ready for action.

With the engine on the work boat already running and ready for action, the bank and boat crews were soon on their way.

Having agreed the time for refreshments at Hoe Mill Car park, a small detachment went downstream litter picking, while the workboat, a canoe and the second group of litter-pickers headed upstream towards Rushes Lock, carefully checking for anything which shouldn't be there.

At this time of the year, you could be forgiven for thinking that there was no pennywort at all in the river, but closer examination revealed plenty of small growths, which would grow into huge rafter later in the year if left unchecked.

While working up the river, removing these small pockets of pennywort and litter, the boat crew spotted some branches in the water, which seemed to be trapping some weed and detritus. A quick assessment was that a clear up would be easier if the branches were removed. Rather too late, the full size (and weight) of the offending vegetation was revealed, but by then macho determination had taken charge, and it was coming out!

Then a quick time check revealed that it was time for refreshments, so Hoe Mill became the destination.

As if in anger at our cheek in taking a break, the weather rapidly turned from sunshine to hail as the boat crews picked up some of the litter pickers and headed downstream.

By the time Hoe Mill was reached, the weather had brightened up again, and the eagerly awaited refreshments were enjoyed by all.

After the break, the hard core group of enthusiasts headed back up-river to complete the final section below Rushes Lock.

Of course, being hard core enthusiasts, it was impossible to resist taking a short detour to inspect the impressive new lock gates and safety ladder being installed. After the remaining detectable pennywort and litter below the lock was expunged, it was time to return again to Hoe Mill, stopping on the way to offload the collected weed.

Once again, the Hailstones returned as if the weather knew that work was ceasing again!

Weedbusting and Litterpicking

Saturday, 2nd March 2019
Downstream from Paper Mill

Several of our regulars were unable to be at this work party – but that that was more than compensated for by the excellent attendance of a number of ‘newbies’, all of whom were willing to get stuck in to whatever work was needed.

A key component of most work parties is having use of a work boat, enabling us to access pennywort and litter from the water and, crucially, giving us access to the non-towpath bank. Starting the outboard engine of work boats, especially on winter mornings (o.k. - technically it was Spring!) is sometimes a challenge. Today was no exception. More choke, less choke, more throttle, less throttle, you try, he tries, someone else tries. It wasn’t going to play!

But then, thankfully, with the skill that clearly comes from being the General Manager of the Navigation, our thanks went to David Hewitt for getting the engine started.

Our lovely volunteers had watched the engine (not) starting patiently from the far bank and it was good to do some introductions and to run through the basic ‘health and safety issues’; the main one – enjoy yourself (after all, who wants to give up their Saturday morning to NOT enjoy themself?)

So off we went with a very strong contingent litterpicking along the towpath and surroundings, and the crew on the work boat ready to deal with inevitable Floating American Pennywort we were there to deal with.

Although not growing as fast and as lushly as it does in the summer months there was plenty about, and removing as much as possible at this time of year means that there is less of it to grow into the huge rafts we often see later in the year.

Our willing volunteers were soon hard at work, well, willingly! No scrap of paper, can, bottle, bag or other piece of litter was going to escape their attention.

And soon the crew on the work boat were getting the hang of using the various tools to greatest effect (or using the techniques they have perfected over several years as a work party member).

Steady progress was made by the litterpickers along one bank

And steady progress was made by the work boat crew along the opposite bank

We never stop being surprised by the amount of rubbish that is thrown away – especially by people who have, presumably, walked this far, hopefully to enjoy the surroundings. (Although, of course, some floats downstream from more populated areas).

As if it had been planned, the work boat arrived just as the litterpickers were at an area which would be ideal for refreshments.

Whatever the weather we like to ensure that our volunteers are provided with adequate refreshments – after all work like this in the fresh air stimulates the appetite – and with the refreshment box safely rescued from the debris in the work boat it took only a few minutes to start the preparations

And then time for our happy band to enjoy them! Most managed an adequate intake; some need more practice!

Then all too soon it was time to pick up the rubbish bags, get back on the work boat and head back to the car park at Paper Mill.

Hopefully the litterpicking crew wouldn’t find too much on the way back. But the crew of the work boat still had a few tasks to complete before their morning’s work was over.

It had been another excellent effort by all of today’s volunteers and we hope they will come back again.

To be sure of being one of the first to receive the details of each month’s Chelmer Canal Trust’s Work Parties ensure that we have your email address by sending it to: neil(at)chelmercanaltrust.co.uk

Weedbusting and Litterpicking

Saturday, 9th February 2019
Fullbridge and beyond

It’s fair to say that the Work Party Organiser isn’t a morning person! Having to get up at the crack of dawn, prepare refreshments, lug all of the equipment to the car or onto a work boat, and travel to the location for the work party is not his favourite activity. Especially if the weather is foul and especially if the outboard engine of the work boat doesn’t start, or when it does the telltale of the engine isn’t weeing out water proving that the engine is being cooled adequately.

But some days, rare, but they exist, it all works smoothly. Today was one of those days. Who could grumble when the morning was developing the way it was?!

And things got even better. Several of our most experienced weedbusters arrived at the meeting point, as did three new volunteers who, during the morning, proved their worth. Ten in total.

The usual plan of attack to deal with Floating American Pennywort and litter. A crew on the water principally dealing with pennywort – four on the workboat with coracleman Steve in his coracle, and three groups on the bank principally dealing with litter.

There was plenty of pennywort for the folk on the water to deal with. And the newcomers were soon at home with the tools and techniques we have used over many years.

Meanwhile the folk on the banks were kept busy litterpicking

And occasionally helping with pennywort-removal from the bank.

There’s always plenty for Steve to do. The work he does from the coracle is invaluable.

And on the bank some good PR was going on – spreading the word about what we do and why we do it is no bad thing.

We like to ensure everyone has the opportunity to have their refreshments at the same time, meaning that everyone needed to be collected and ferried to our chosen spot.

But not before the first load of pennywort had been offloaded (it’s fair to say, with energy and enthusiasm – maybe the prospect of the forthcoming refreshments helped!)

Always appreciated, and an opportunity to catch up with each other’s news, the refreshment break seemed to be appreciated (sadly, despite trying to find him, we couldn’t find one member of our group)

Then, as always, more of the same. The litterpickers headed to Beeleigh Lock while the weedbusters found some large rafts of weed that they just couldn’t leave there.

Finally for the work boat a trip upstream to collect the litterpickers, the return trip to the landing stage, and thankfully the meeting up with the tenth member of our group.

Another impressive morning’s work by everyone. We are proud of our core team of ‘regulars’ and we particularly hope that the newcomers will return again next time too.

Weedbusting and Litterpicking

Saturday, 5th January 2019
Upstream of Paper Mill

The first of our 2019 work parties and it was good to have an enthusiastic group of volunteers to deal with whatever work was needed.

Some of us thought it was a cold start and some of us were pleased that it wasn’t as cold as we had expected. Either way, we got colder as we progressed upstream to Kings Mill (Little Baddow Mill) Lock. Nevertheless, our volunteers were keen and ready for action, usefully spotting, on the way up, the pennywort we would remove on the way back.

A quick check above the lock showed that there was no obvious pennywort in the lock cut, the place where it would have been most likely to linger.

So we took on our various responsibilities to work downstream, with the usual roles established over the many years of us doing this work: some on the bank both collecting litter and removing any accessible pennywort; some on the water lifting pennywort into the work boat; Coracleman Steve in his coracle, accessing areas that other techniques can’t reach.

It’s a sad commentary on modern society that so many people throw their litter away rather than take it away with them. Our volunteers aim to reduce the dangers to wildlife and create a better visual amenity by collecting this needless rubbish. This is a good time of year to do so when vegetation has died back and when litter that would otherwise be concealed is evident.

What would we do without Coracleman Steve who not only manages to make remaining stable in a coracle look easy, but also works effectively, removing pennywort that might otherwise not even be noticed?

With two volunteers removing pennywort from places not accessible from the bank, and a workboat skipper ensuring that the work boat got them to the relevant places, more valuable work was done. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

Armed with the appropriate tools for both litterpicking and pennywort-removal some demonstrated admirable multi-tasking!

With good progress having been made it was time to moor up ready for delivery of the much-needed refreshments.

The refreshment break. Time to recharge our batteries and to chat further as a group, share some anecdotes and catch up with personal news. Maybe it was the cold weather, maybe it was the energy thus-far expended, that meant that there were healthy appetites. And maybe some found that the resolutions they had made hadn’t lasted very long…….

Then, with a bit of swapping over of roles, more of the same. It’s great that we have volunteers who are happy to take on each of the important roles, enabling us to make good progress and work efficiently.

More work to do on the bank, along the tow path

And plenty more to do on the work boat which rapidly filled with pennywort. On the plus side the pennywort was still growing well enough that it came out in useful crome-fulls (rather than break up, having been weakened by the cold weather). On the minus side, so much of the pennywort was trapped in roots and braches just below the waterline.

Meanwhile, valuable opportunities were being taken to remove pennywort from the tow path side.

A long morning’s session during which we had usefully removed a large amount of pennywort from a large stretch of river as well as collecting several sacks of rubbish. We had had to leave some pennywort, trapped in the vegetation or hiding in the rushes, but hopefully some cold weather will kill off the pieces that were broken off and not caught.

And what a fine band of volunteers who were willing to carry the equipment from the off-loading point back to the car park. Well done everyone!


CLICK HERE FOR SOME CHELMER CANAL TRUST ORGANISED WORK PARTY REPORTS / PHOTOS TAKEN DURING 2018.

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