Chelmer Canal Trust

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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.


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)

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!


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