Friends of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation

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COATE'S CUTTINGS

FRIENDS OF THE CHELMER & BACKWATER NAVIGATION NEWSLETTER, September 2000, Issue 14

In This Issue

From the Editor
Reminder for September 16 - 17th
Up the River Blackwater to Langford
The Wind in the Willows
Assessing the Landscape on the Chelmer and Blackwater
Working parties
Rolling Calendar
Information
View of Coates Quay in 1950

From the Editor - Judith 01206 853282

We are trying out a new format – what do you think?
Do you want the same photograph on the front cover or photo's that members have sent in?
Why not write in with your comments on the new format and also any articles that you have read or any article you would like printed.
May be we could have a letters page. So get paper and pens out and lets hear from you

We would also like to welcome the new members:

Blackwater Boats will be operating a trip boat over the weekend of 16/17tth September, in conjunction with the Friends, from Coates Quay, Springfield Basin.

Blackwater Rose, was recently introduced after being fitted out by Blackwater Boats. The original wooden cabin, on a steel Springer hull, was removed and replaced with steel and designed with passengers in mind as the boat has a large fore deck for sitting outside. Why not try her out? 01206 853282




Reminder for September 16 - 17th

"Be there or be square"

Programme of Events

  1. 1pm approx.- Susan, historic barge, arrives in Springfield Basin
  2. Exhibition of navigation history open in the Old Warehouse, Coates Quay
  3. 2.30pm - Boats return to Springfield lock and assemble ready for procession 3pm approx. Flotilla arrives in basin led by Susan
  4. 4pm – Boat Handling Competition (Waterway quiz sheets given out and raffle tickets for sale)
  5. 6.30pm - Barbecue and Live Music
  6. Interval for raffle draw and quiz papers marked
  7. Entries for illuminated boats
(The organisers may alter the programme of events subject to attendance and weather conditions prevailing during the weekend.)




Up the River Blackwater to Langford

with a Boat and Canoe

William Marriage and Dudley Courtman
Regular readers of Coates Cuttings may be wondering what became of our plans to restore waterborne access to Langford. You may remember that the most critical problem with restoring Langford cut (AKA Mr Westcombe's waterway) was the large concrete obstruction, half way down the cut and just at the water level. Unfortunately our enquiries reveal that it is a main sewer, still very much in use and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. The cost of re-routing it just does not bear thinking about!

There is however an alternative. Our friends at the Museum of Power at Langford have been watching our exploits and are quite keen to give boats access to the museum. It was at their suggestion that we turned our attention to the other possible route to Langford, namely the main course of the River Blackwater.

For people who have cruised the navigation past Beeleigh Falls, this is the wide arm of water with a rather unfriendly "Private" sign hanging from a thick steel hawser stretching across the water from bank to bank.

Although this water has never been officially navigable, there do seem to be advantages in opening it for use by boats. The first advantage being that there are no major physical obstructions between the museum and Beeleigh falls! The river also runs along beside the grounds of the museum, so people might step straight from their boats into the museum's grounds. The Museum of Power could then perhaps solve their problem of access to Beeleigh Mill with the use of a small trip boat. But could it be done? It was time for another survey. As we had observed informally that the river had no obvious blockages, we decided to try the trip by boat. That way we could really test how navigable the river could be.

Before we could attempt this though, it was necessary to obtain permission for our venture from the landowners and Essex & Suffolk Water, the owners of the river. My boat was chosen to take part because her lifting keel lets me test the depth of water, but still reduce draft to get over the shallows!

Just to make sure, I also had my wading boots and Dudley came with his kayak, capable of floating on wet grass. I made the journey up from Heybridge basin running the gauntlet of the Tesco trolleys but Dudley decided to take the short cut, dramatically launching in one plunge from the top of the Beeleigh flood lock wall. (The sort of thing only kayaks can dream of!)

SPLASH!

We set out on a perfect May day, sunny and windless. The height of the river gauge at Beeleigh read 2ft - 11 inches with the water just level with the sill of the weir. Dudley led the way using his paddle as a depth finder while I followed gingerly in my (temporarily mastless) 17ft sailing yacht. In the circumstances of an unknown river I quickly found that my 4hp outboard, even at tickover, would propel the boat a little faster than was comfortable not knowing what lay below the surface. We were distracted after only a few yards by the sight of the wild fauna in those parts: a terrapin sunning itself on a half-submerged log on the left hand bank; it quickly dived into obscurity as we approached; too soon for any photos but it definitely was seen! At about 50 metres there is the "Private" notice: fortunately my boat's rather low cabin passed comfortably beneath it.

The river flows beneath overhanging trees and in the season is a favoured spot for anglers who had placed various notices to the effect on both banks; we found it was wide, deep, quiet, secluded and very peaceful.

Over head high tension electricity cables were noted at 200 metres; the first shallows appeared at approximately 300 metres. A small stream or inlet entered from the left: rushes grew in mid-channel as the first shallows were reached; a passage was possible by keeping tightly to the left avoiding overhanging trees or going to the right where the depth was down to 18 inches. ( It would be desirable to carry out some dredging in this region-Grid ref: TL 80/90 837086).

The river emerged from the trees: an inlet expanding to a sizeable lagoon is located on the left bank which on closer inspection contained a flourishing abundance of American pennwort (some patches about one metre square had been observed downstream). The river narrowed appreciably to about 10 metres width and flowed through flat meadowland. At 400 metres the right hand bank was eroded and undercut with a large rusting iron rod sticking out of the bank presenting a navigational hazard; it would appear that the eroded material has been deposited some 10-15 metres downstream restricting the depth to about 18 inches for a short section. (Some dredging would be desirable at this point- Grid ref: TL 80/90 837087).


Beyond this the river narrowed to 5 to 10 metres and maintained a depth in excess of half a metre- in most places appreciably more- as far as a concrete bridge which carried a track way. One or two overhanging trees had to be passed with care and these slowed progress. (Some careful pruning operations would be required to improve access). The bridge had a central support and was passed to the right. Beneath the bridge a large number of concrete blocks could be seen. Not the sort of thing I would be keen to chip my gelcoat on! At this point the tall trees bordering the Museum of Power were seen on the right. Further upstream progress was impeded by a large deposit of silt, which diverted the channel to the left and restricted the depth to between 8-12 inches.

I was forced to abandon ship and take to my wading boots, personally towing the boat through! (Some dredging is needed at this point-Grid ref- TL 80/90 835085).


The river frontage of the Museum was reached on the right; adjacent to a small outlet pipe the bank was conveniently curved and would accommodate a landing stage; moreover the large pool in front would permit visiting boats to turn with ease. The intrepid explorers proceeded upstream under a metal footbridge until the way was barred by two huge 4ft.diameter pipes which traversed the river at water level (the pipes would reduce the flow rate of the river considerably in times of flood). The curator of The Museum of Power appeared on the bank and listened with great interest to our report; he was very enthusiastic about our proposal and offered every assistance. It would appear on the basis of this first survey that it is possible to reach the Museum of Power by boat using the lower course of the river Blackwater and the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. To improve access some fairly modest dredging would be needed at three points and some overhanging trees and bank side vegetation would have to be cut back. It would be essential to preserve the environmental integrity of the area; and disruption to bank side and riverbed habitats should be minimised. On the return trip two kingfishers were spotted -or it may have been the same one twice!




"The Wind in the Willows" - the conservationists' new bible

DudleyCourtman
Where have all the birds gone? Just last year any boating trip on the navigation would be rewarded with sightings of prolific water bird activity: coots squabbling, moorhens fleeing, grebes diving, and duck dabbling. Today you will be lucky to see one or two on any stretch of the canal between the locks, and only the occasional nests in the reeds. Something drastic has occurred to cause their disappearance. On a recent canoeing excursion from Hoe Mill to Rushes lock no water birds were seen; similarly on "The Friends'" Victoria Cruise on June 10th they were notable by their absence. It was whilst on this cruise that a possible cause was suggested.

Leonora and Mark Wollner, the new occupants of Barnes Mill, said that, since their arrival last year, they had been bothered by mink; the escapees had systematically attacked almost anything small that moved, even using their hunting skills to pursue moorhen chicks into the water and attacking them from below the surface! Voles had been meted out similar treatment. Such a depressing story led to a search for more evidence from amongst our members: Diane and Roger Edwards of Chelmsford Canoe Club reported last year seeing a group of about half a dozen mink swimming in the canal near Sandford –they seemed quite unperturbed by the presence of canoes. Additional sightings have been made this year at Rushes lock and Hoe Mill. While pondering on which agency to contact with this story in the hope of finding a solution, I spotted an article in the Independent newspaper by their environmental correspondent, Geoffrey Lean, who reported that the return of the otter to our rivers is helping to boost numbers of the beleaguered water rate (vole). It would appear that, as in "The Wind in the Willows", otters have come to the rescue of Ratty (voles); this time the threat to him comes not from stoats and weasels but from one of their relations, the mink. Evidently otter numbers have been increasing since 1977 and they like to kill and eat mink, although fish are the mainstay of their diet. The mink population is decreasing as the otter population is increasing which is good news for conservation. After decades of massacring voles and water birds the mink are getting a taste of their own medicine; mink numbers have, according to the Vincent Wildlife Trust, been reduced by 88% in the 1990's. It may be that the otters will return to the Chelmer and destroy the mink and thus give extra credence to the Otter's comforting words to a frightened Ratty in the Wildwood: " It'll be alright my fine fellow. If there's a head that needs to be punched you can confidently rely on me to punch it."

The otters may be indeed "punching their weight" as the latest news from the Great Baddow and Galleywood Environmental Group is encouraging: a mallard family and eight chicks plus twenty young adults and two families of moorhens, were recorded on16thJuly at Barnes Mill (this was mentioned to Leonora at the Mill who thought the improvement was more likely due to the sustaining diet of wholemeal bread that she had provided there!)

Meanwhile what can "The Friends" do? Members can report all sightings of mink, voles and otters to Dr Tony Walentowicz, the Keeper of Natural Sciences at Chelmsford Museum who would welcome any observations/reports on wildlife, plants and insects along the navigation. The water vole is one of Chelmsford Borough Council's flagship species and any sightings would be particularly welcome (Tel 01245 615124: fax 01245 611254: e-mail ). Don't forget to detail what? When? And where?

Let Coates Cuttings know as well and re read " The Wind in the Willows" for any more clues on natural conservation methods!




Assessing the Landscape on the Chelmer and Blackwater:

The Way Forward - DudleyCourtman
The "Haywain," painted by John Constable at Flatford Mill, on the River Stour became one of our most admired and well-known national works of art. It depicts a peaceful scene towards the end of a summer's day: horses and cart pause for a moment in the shallow ford across the stream; cattle graze in the distant meadow; the water reflects the fleeting images of high clouds, ancient bankside trees and the mill keeper's cottage; ducks dabble afloat, dogs gamble on the beach; the sun slants through distant trees and hedgerows. The artist invites us to enjoy a quiet moment of solitude and tranquillity, to admire the countryside in all its diversity and to feel the relaxation of the easy pace of life.

It is still possible to visit the same spot today and to see many of the same features. Mercifully the beautiful view has been preserved. The importance of the landscape character of Dedham Vale was deemed to constitute a national asset and the forces of economic change were kept at bay.

An Environmental Survey of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation conducted by The Friends last year, whilst recognising the many attractive features of the canal, recorded several undesirable ones: unsightly industrial development next to the canal at Heybridge and Springfield, offensive graffiti on the bridges at Chelmsford, Sandford and Heybridge, and various ugly pipes crossing the river, one attached to the side of an original John Rennie designed bridge! And, inevitably, there was the noise and forbidding presence, of the major A12 trunk road.

These concerns have been reflected in the recent Landscape Character Assessment of the Chelmer and Blackwater Conservation Area carried out by Essex County Council as part of their contribution to the Conservation Area Partnership Scheme (CAPS).

Some ten landscape zones, stretching along the navigation, have been described in detail in their report, numerous problems and opportunities have been identified and specific recommendations have been made for each zone. The assessment is clearly written, contains many perceptive observations and is well illustrated by accompanying maps.

Among the positive landscape features identified were: the traditional water meadows, preferably still grazed by cattle; the attractive old field and hedgerow patterns usually associated with such pastures; the waterside vegetation and bankside shrubs which, as well as providing a haven for wildlife, can be tantalising mirrored in the water's surface; and the adjacent soft surface towing path which adds interest for ramblers and naturalists.

The less attractive features described are: the barren landscape of very large arable fields and the uniformity of the serried ranks of cricket bat willows - neither feature encouraging the diversity of habitats conducive to wildlife; the intrusive presence of the A12 dual carriageway, the buildings of the Langford Waterworks and our old enemy, the American pennywort.

Among the various recommendations made for future action are the mixing of native trees with the willows, whilst conceding that the latter do allow you to enjoy the views across the valley and along the river revealed from beneath their branches. It is thought desirable to resist the temptation to change the nature of the towpath in the face of demands for a cycle path, and that the restoration of waterside pasture would pay handsome landscape and wildlife dividends. The planting of native trees and the preservation of existing ones could enhance vistas along the rivers. Boats could be encouraged to locate at the centres of population where they would form water features, The provision of new car parks should be considered with great care. New rights of way across the valley could be provided to improve footpath access.

A number of projects have been proposed and tree planting to shield unwelcome views has already started. The progress on other fronts will involve consultation with landowners and the funding agencies – CAPS and the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

The general objective of the Landscape Character Assessment is 'The conservation and re-creation of our attractive distinctive landscape centred on the navigation'. This statement is enshrined in the Friends' objectives and as such the assessment is to be welcomed: it identifies and explains key elements of each landscape area and suggests factors which contribute to past change and current pressures. What this study shows is that the landscape of the Chelmer and Blackwater Conservation Area can be enhanced through positive action. It helps us to understand the task and supplies us with a decision-making vocabulary for change.

Even though John Constable didn't live at Barnes Mill, and thereby give us a head start in the landscape awareness stakes, we can deputise for him by doing our level best to conserve the "Haywain" landscapes of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation and to improve the others.




Working parties:

Sandford Lock on October 14th - Contact Chris Copping Tel No:01376 521199

Rolling Calendar:

Springfield boating rally 16th /17th September - put it in your diary!
The Country and Western Group are booked. the group is a duo called " Tawny" an offshoot of "West One".
They will play for two three quarter slots starting at 6-30pm


Landscapes of the Chelmer and Blackwater Conservation Area.
An illustrated talk will be given at Langford and Ulting village hall on Tuesday 21st November at 8pm by Peter Spurrier of the Essex County Council's Planning Department. Peter recently completed the Landscape Character Assessment that is reviewed in this edition of Coates Cuttings. Come along and find out what progress has been made in the implementation of the proposals contained therein. It will be an ideal opportunity to share your personal views on the practicalities and compromises involved in achieving an ideal landscape.

Closure dates for submission of articles for the newsletter:

29th February for the March edition
31st May for the July edition
15th August for the September edition
30th November for the December edition.
Please note that if articles for inclusion are not received by the dates listed above they will be held over for the next publication.

Some useful phone numbers:

Friends of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation - 01621 892231
Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company - 01245 222025
Ron and Judith, Blackwater Boats - 01206-853282
Environment Agency - 01376-572095


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