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|The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter||May 2003||Issue 22|
The murky depths of the rivers' bottom were scoured by members of the Chelmsford “Adventures in Diving” group, led by John Ballard. What an impressive sight they all were in their neoprene suits, masks, goggles, flippers and compression tanks. They put on a bravura performance in the town centre, much to the delight of passing shoppers who also were able to relax to the special music laid on to mark the event by the Meadow's general manager, Malcolm Tilsed.
An impressive array of old trolleys, metal pipes, push chairs, bikes, road signs and other junk was retrieved which was transferred by the Council's Leisure Services special vans to waiting skips. At one point in the proceedings a police car, helicopter and ambulance made an impromptu visit, and one wondered whether something more sinister had been discovered. Perhaps it was just a show of public service solidarity.
Volunteers from the Inland Waterways Group, the Chelmer Canal Trust and the Great Baddow Environmental Group cleared the banks and water margins. They were assisted by boat crews from the Chelmsford Sea Cadets and the Environment Agency who searched for and cleaned up the floating rubbish.
All were helped by workers from the borough and county councils (plus at least one councillor) and by volunteers from the private sector: MacDonald's, and the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company.
Metal drink cans were removed from the hanging bank-side flower boxes. Much to the approval of the resident ducks as it freed up one of their favourite nesting sites
The Sea Cadets also found time to provide all the helpers with coffee, tea, and hot bacon rolls, thereby ensuring that nobody had an excuse for flagging. Many thanks to them!
Eileen Lawless was impressed by the large numbers of the general public who came, “a lot more than last year, probably because of the good press coverage on the event”, and also confirmed that most of the supermarket trolleys recovered were old ones.
The Clean Up was a splendid recreational community project for over one hundred volunteers. The many youngsters who came were able to put their diving and boating experience to good use.After last year's spectacular haul of rubbish this year's was more modest. A cause for celebration - we are obviously making a difference!
The Trust has recently inspected the site together with the committee of the Inland Waterways Restoration Committee who were of the opinion that the works required would cost in the region of £100,000. This could well mean that we shall have to revisit the idea of dredging the lower Blackwater.
The warm welcome from the pub staff, and the salty atmosphere, no doubt helped our visitors in their deliberations on national restoration policy matters. After the meeting our trustees joined the group for a discursive and appetizing lunch.
Talks continued on the canal bank at Beeleigh where the Trust's Langford Cut proposal - restoring the Cut to provide a link between the Museum of Power and the Navigation - was explained. The day was rounded up with a visit to Chelmsford to examine the Chelmer Waterside project and the proposal to link the Navigation at Springfield to Chelmsford's town centre.
The day was both enjoyable and instructive for all concerned. It especially enabled the Trust to establish closer working links with a national body and to benefit from the experienced advice of their committee members.
Permission to convert two former stables into holiday chalets on the former site of Hoe mill at Ulting was refused.
We urgently need a new editor. So if you would like to practice your computer skills in a good cause now is your chance. Material would be sent by email for you to lick into shape and to forward to the printers. Ian Petchey, our new trustee, has kindly agreed to take over temporarily so both he and Judith can tell you more about what's involved. Any offers of help to Ian Petchey
Otters were present at Beeleigh up until the 1960's when the local otter hounds could often be spotted from the towpath
When a lock along the River Trent was recently drained for essential repairs, five tons of fish were caught and removed!
A narrowboat owner has been fined £50 for dangerous overtaking on the Grand Union Canal!!
The Heritage Lottery Fund has given first stage approval for a grant of £4.5 million towards the 21 mile, £9.5mil Droitwich canal Restoration.
Leonardo was a genius: as well as being an artist he made advances in anatomy, hydrodynamics, optics, aeronautics and mechanics: you name any modern innovation and he had a hand in it. We know that he was fascinated by water and water pressure because he designed diving bells. So it should come as no surprise to learn that he invented the first watertight, hinged, lock gate. His angled gates, built in 1497, were shut by water pressure onto mitred joints. It seems hardly credible that the new lock gates currently being installed at Hoe Mill have been made to Leonardo's specifications.
One would have thought that the age-old practice of building timber gates would have been superseded by metal by now. However, whereas some metal gates can last upwards of 30years, twice as long as wooden ones, there can be drawbacks; they can be more difficult to manage and more expensive to repair - once bent they stay bent - whilst wood usually gives a little and springs back into shape. The advantages of wood are proven and wooden lock gates are still used countrywide.
|Wooden Boards at Hoe Mill Hold the Water Back|
The new gates for Hoe Mill were made during this winter using English oak and elm by Navigation Company craftsmen working in a marquee on the quayside at Heybridge Basin - modern workmen obviously insist on their creature comforts!
Lock gates are in fact large waterproof doors which have to be constructed strongly in order to resist immense water pressures. To avoid leakages they have to be built precisely, and to be fitted tightly to the masonry of the lock walls and to one another. Each gate is unique, no two are alike. The whole structure has to be carefully hinged and pivoted so that it can be opened and shut safely by a single person. The Chelmer and Blackwater gates are counter-balanced by long lock beams, or arms, which also act as long levers. The fulcrum for the lever is provided by a metal ball and socket joint fitted to the heelpost of each gate.
|Hoe Mill Lock Under Restoration. Note the cut-out in the lock chamber brickwork ready for a new escape ladder to be installed. The darker shade of the wall around the cut-out is all new brickwork. Around 20% of the wall has had to be re-bricked. New gates are under wraps on top left side of bank.|
It is customary for lock gates to be made on site, beside the lock for which they are intended, as, once completed, they are heavy objects to move around. If made on Company premises at Paper Mill or the Basin they have to be craned onto the steel workboat Julie and taken to their destination by water.
In the past the Company was able to buy green oak and elm quite close to home but these days they have to search further afield - and pay higher prices! So precious is the oak that all possible savings are made by reusing much of the timber from the old gates: on parts for new gates, or on landing stages, steps, oak posts, and clapper gates. Conservation of resources is the order of the day and the massive bulks of timber from old lock gates can be seen carefully stored on the bank upstream of Hoe Mill lock
The refurbishment of the lock at Hoe Mill has been taking place over the last few weeks. The lock side resembles a modern building site with Portakabins, skips, pumps, pipes, generators, JCB's, dumper trucks, safety fencing, and hard hats all round. The 19th century methods employed by former Company stalwarts like George King and Harry Gowers are fast becoming a distant memory. One hopes that their lifetime skills have been passed on.
Lock gate construction is a fascinating sight and many people would welcome a chance to see carpentry and joinery on such a major scale. Such is the attraction to the public that British Waterways open their workshops in Hertfordshire . One wonders whether the Navigation Company would consider setting aside a viewing area in their marquee when they next make a set of gates at Heybridge Basin?
By drawing attention to the Mona Lisa's pregnancy inspired serenity The Times reminded us that it was Leonardo who “gave birth” to lock gate design 500years ago. What a remarkable achievement! We must take a much closer look at his self-portrait to see if there is a hint of a self- satisfied grin.
Fortune smiled on him in finding him a job that included two of his favourite pastimes: boating and fishing. I've no doubt that his detailed knowledge and experience of both helped him considerably in the day to day management of the Navigation Company. His former experience with the Ipswich engineering company, Ransom Rapiers, plus his membership of the Institute of Engineers, gave him the ideal qualifications for the general secretary's post of the Company that he held for 14 years. He retired, with reluctance, some four years ago but still kept close links with his beloved canal, both as a director and as an active boat owner. He and his wife June could be spotted aboard their narrow boat, Campion at Paper Mill on most weekends during the summer months.
Fate was not so kind to him however, over the matter of his health, and in his latter years he had to endure many hours of hospital and surgery visits. He seemed quietly resigned to the inevitable frustrations to his life and always said how marvellous the doctors and nursing stall who treated him, especially those at the London Hospital at Whitechapel. Bill admired all the “characters”, as he liked to call them, in life and appreciated the special differences between people that make us all unique. Despite the fact that he had so much to bear in recent years he coped with it all with great courage and cheerfulness.
June, his wife, has shared all of his interests and has supported him immeasurably in his difficult times. They were inseparable and our kindest thoughts and deepest sympathies are with her and her family at their very sad loss. Bill will be fondly remembered and respected by all of his working colleagues and friends.
|Saturday 31st May & Sunday 1st June||Museum of Power Summer Show. Craft stall and demonstrations, vintage vehicle, charity stalls, model train rids, musical entertainment both afternoons ,children's attractions and refreshments. Chelmsford Morris Men and displays of vintage tractors and stationary engines on Sunday. 10min walk northwards from Beeleigh Weir Lock, along the small road leading from golf course. The Museum will be open with engines turning. 10:00am to 5:00 pm. Admission: Adults £3.50, Concessions £2.50, Under 16's free|
|Saturday / Sunday T.B.A.||Springfield Boat Rally. To celebrate the opening of the new marina at Springfield. Date to be announced depending on completion of the new lifting bridge. All boats welcome. Organised by Chelmer Canal Trust. See page 26 for further details.|
|Saturday 14th June||Heybridge Basin Regatta. Original fishing smack sailing race, plus rowing, fun in the mud, stalls etc. Boat owners moor at Heybridge Basin. A good fun event, bring a camera.|
|Sunday 22nd June||Auto, Bike, Boat and Vintage machinery Jumble - Museum of Power. Admission: Adults £1.50, Concessions £1.00, Under 16's free. Refreshments available and the Museum will be open. 10min walk northwards from Beeleigh weir lock.|
|Sunday 22nd June||Sponsored Walk & Treasure Hunt along the canal. Starting at 10am from Chelmsford along the canal path to the Ship Public House at Heybridge Basin. Walk 14 miles or just 5. Contact Bev on 01621 852229 if interested in taking part.|
|Sunday 6th July||Dragon Boats at Paper Mill. Teams will be racing powerful and impressive dragon boats / canoes along the canal to raise money for the Anthony Nolan trust. The C&BN will be turning a blind eye to the 4mph speed limit!.... plenty of bank side activities too. Further information on page 27. Tel 01371 811205 if you wish to participate.|
|Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th July||Little Engine Rally & Model Show - Museum of Power. Models inside the Museum and in the yard, including Meccano® and Manod®,vantage vehicle, model train rides, refreshments, stalls and attractions for all the family. 10min walk northwards from Beeleigh weir lock. 10:00am to 5:00 pm. Admission: Adults £2.50, Concessions £2.00, Under 16's free|
|Sunday 20th July 2003||Boat Rally and B-B-Q. Rushes lock (between Paper mill and Hoe mill). Boats can either moor overnight, or arrive for the day. Bring own food / drinks, BBQ provided. Organised by Chelmer Canal Trust.|
|Saturday 13th September 2003||Round the Island Race, sponsored row. Start and finish at Heybridge Basin (Mid day event). Boat owners moor at Heybridge Basin. A good fun event competitors dress up in costume. Some take it very seriously, others not!!|
|19th October||Museum of Power Olde Tyme Rally with Maldon District Vintage Tractor and Engine Club. Vintage Tracrors, stationary engines, steam rollers, vehicles, train rides and refreshments.|
|13th&14th December||A Bit Of A Do - Museum of Power. Festive Cheer. Charity stalls, last minute gifts, musical entertainment, refreshments, vintage steam rollers and a tractor and engine display. Free admission!|
In my opinion the need for a reservoir is, at the most, questionable as one already one exists on the farm. If one is really required there is, of course, the derelict filter beds nearby owned by Chelmsford Borough Council who could probably make them available should there really be a need.
The planning permission makes 43 conditions. The majority deal with matters arising out of the potential extraction of sand and gravel. There are some vague requirements for after use, the details of which seem to form part of a separate document.
The land is shown in the Draft Chelmsford Borough Plan as included within a potential Country Park and is within the Chelmer and Blackwater Conservation Area, whose aim is to preserve the natural landscape and its environmental integrity: it was part of the Trust's submission that such a scheme would not be in keeping with the above allocations. In addition the Trust felt that the Chelmer Valley had already suffered from far too many gravel workings, all of which diminish the quality of the linear valley landscape and have destroyed large areas of natural water meadow and decreased their ability to act as a natural flood basin.
The land is not included within any of the areas of the county earmarked for future gravel workings and, indeed, in the last review considerable reserves remained. Given the above facts, I feel that the decision is totally incomprehensible. At a time when the County Council is fighting to retain various functions one cannot help but wonder, that despite their protestations to the contrary, they are out of touch with the local scene.
It also seems an unfortunate fact that little attempt is being made by the authorities to look at the Conservation area as a whole, although considerable sums of money are being pumped into the restoration of the canal itself by various bodies, including the Trust. At present only the Trust and the Chelmer Valley Association seem to have an overview of the whole valley. There is probably a strong case for an official Conservation Area Advisory Committee being set up.
Older people will remember the Meads as they were some 50 years or so ago when the whole area was unfenced from the bypass to Sandford Mill, the different ownerships marked only by boundary posts, creating a wide, open natural vista. In those days the land was given over to hay and in springtime the whole area assumed a wonderful golden hue, the result of thousands of flowering buttercups, which gradually faded as the grass engulfed them. Later, during the year the grass was cut for hay and the whole area turned over to grazing. In those halcyon days the public had free access to the whole area and it was, in effect, an unofficial public open space. The more recent introduction a cash crops over part of the land has reduced the natural appearance and character of the Meads though recently I was reminded of their former glory when the current crop of oilseed rape came into bloom.
The decision is to support development of the river for use by light craft, ie, use by canoes, small sailing craft and rowing boats only (not motor driven boats). The Agency envisages that such development would include improvements to canoe portage to improve passage around sluices and weirs. Other improvements might include slipway facilities to improve access to the river.
The Agency also agreed to a further study into the possible options for future development of the river for use by steam or electrically powered craft and it will explore how this might be progressed in liaison with the organisations interested in this aspect.
Navigation on the Stour runs from Brundon Mill near Sudbury to Cattawade near Manningtree on the tidal Stour estuary, and for much of its length the river navigation forms the county boundary between Suffolk and Essex.
The navigation was established by Act of Parliament in 1705 and was used by commercial barge traffic for many years. As with the C&BN and many other waterways the commercial traffic declined with the coming of the railways and commercial traffic ended in the 1950s.
The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) have stated that it is disappointed in the Agency's decision and has long-lobbied for full restoration of the river navigation back to its original condition and has supported The River Stour Trust in this work. The Stour Trust will also continue to press for restoration for all suitable craft.
There will not be much boating on the Long Pond in 2003 because it is completely blocked in several places by dense weed.
The Long Pond is the name given to the last two and half miles of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation between Beeleigh Weir and the sea lock at Heybridge Basin. If you stand on the Maldon bypass bridge, or on the footbridge over the canal at Tesco's store, and look up and downstream you will see a carpet of green. The American Floating pennywort is thriving everywhere and it appears to be still growing, even in the winter!
Two years ago the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company made a superhuman effort to keep the channel clear by physically removing this foreign weed from the canal and placing it on the banks. The clearance was successful but short-lived because the following year the super weed reappeared and is now busy colonising larger and larger areas.
What Floating pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides) loves is a quiet haven away from the currents of a main river. Originally from North America the pennywort thrives in the warm, tranquil, nutritious water of the shallow Long Pond, where there is no competition from other plants and there are plenty of soft banks to colonise. It has a longer growing period than our native plants and soon overwhelms them, spreading itself naturally through adventitious rooting. Small pieces that break off are carried by the current or the wind to another site where they quickly establish themselves.
In a recent commemorative lecture to the Royal Society, its President, Lord May of Oxford, said that the dangers caused by the invasion of alien plant species, sold through garden centres in the UK, far out weigh those posed by the possible hybrids from GM crops. Amongst those he cited, apart from pennywort, were Australian swamp stonecrop (Crassula helmsii), Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum), Parrot's feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum), water hyacinth (Eichhomia crassipes) and water fern (Azolla filiculoides). The Australian swamp stonecrop, an invasive species introduced to this country in the 1920's, has choked more than 20,000 ponds, preventing the growth of native plants, and interfering with the breeding of frogs and newts. Water fern, like the pennywort, is frequently found on our canal. Even now, in March, it can be seen as a red carpet on a nearby pond in Heybridge. Pennywort is now choking the Long Pond to such a degree that parts of it are unnavigable, and will soon become indistinguishable from the surrounding green fields.
With no water visible, this stretch of the canal will be a danger to the unwary walker and young children. Already over the last few years, there have been some unexplained drownings and several instances where children and animals have mistakenly tried “to walk on water”. It becomes an even greater hazard at night.
How do these super weeds find their way to the Essex waterways? Plants and animals can cross international boundaries quite easily, they don't need a passport. Australia takes the threat of foreign plant imports very seriously, and zealous customs officials have parted many a tourist from his packed lunch. Despite this stringency the pennywort has still invaded their rivers! Foreign plants are introduced into the country for a variety of reasons: some are used for a specific purpose, such as cord grass to consolidate salt marshes, and many others, like the pennywort, are sold by garden centres for ornamental use. It's when these alien species escape into the wild that serious problems arise. Once a foreign species becomes established it is almost impossible to eradicate. Hence the problem in the Long Pond. Here the super -charged plant is out of control. In its peak growing period in late summer it can double its biomass every three days!
Various means have been tried nationally to control the spread of fresh-water pennywort: mechanical, chemical, biological and legislative.
Mechanical removal is the most effective, but also expensive, because you have to completely remove the plant (roots and all) and not allow a single piece to break off: a very tall order. Initial attempts in 1998 to remove the weed from the Chelmsford Rivers only made matters worse, and resulted in its spread along the whole 14 miles of the navigation. More recently, under the guidance of the Centre for Aquatic Plant Management at Reading, a handpicking programme was started in Chelmsford by the Environment Agency. First indications are that this method, although labour intensive, is quite effective. If the removal of the weed is a success then it is hoped to move gradually downstream. Unfortunately at the present rate of progress it will be too late to help the Long Pond.
Chemical control is a possibility but it has to be carefully monitored not only because of the effect on water quality which may be extracted for drinking but also for the possible adverse effects on the native flora and fauna The quest is still on for the best herbicide to apply in this situation. Some progress has been made with glyphosate, a herbicide applied to the emergent leaves of the plant when it is growing well. Care has to be taken not to contaminate the water, and not to spray too much wed at one time to avoid deoxygenating the water and killing fish. Specialist contractors with the appropriate qualifications are required to undertake this work, which also makes it quite expensive.
Biological control would involve the introduction of natural biological controlling agents like an environmentally friendly beetle or caterpillar, but none to date has been identified in Britain. However, an Argentinial weevil has been observed to feed only on pennywort in South America, and this may offer a long term solution. Development of successful biological control agents can take as long as 10 years. Bank side cows grazing on the canal's water meadows, however, find the pennywort irresistible and have been seen wading into mid -stream to munch the succulent plant Sadly, their predilection for pennywort cant be turned to any advantage because the weed fills them with air and not much else!
Only a legislative ban on invasive plant species could prevent the sale of these exotic plants in garden centres, but just as important is the need for information programmes to persuade people not to flush the contents of their fish tanks down the toilet or to throw garden-pond plants into a nearby ditch or waterway. The Ornamental Aquatic Trades Association has adopted a voluntary ban on the sale of a number of alien invasive species, and has also produced a poster encouraging composting of excess aquatic plants.
Such measures are preventative, but to be effective they need to be combined with a major government-sponsored eradication campaign. Defra, the Environment Agency (EA) and English Nature (EN) are all potential providers and facilitators of front line troops and one would want them to lead the way. When one considers the vast sums that Defra has committed to the promotion of national biodiversity action plans for endangered species, and the Capital Modernisation Fund recently made available by the Treasury to English Nature's for its “Nature for People” initiative, one would hope that some funds could be found for the protection of an endangered natural habitat. Surely any biodiversity and conservation strategy for England should have a corner in it for the eradication of alien species? It is indeed ironic, that the logo used by Defra for its Biodiversity Newsletter portrays a water vole. On our precious waterway, thanks to the dreaded pennywort, there soon will not be any water space left for the voles “to plop” into.
The Chelmer Canal Trust, as a guardian of the public interest in the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Conservation Area, has been aware of the danger of pennywort since 1997. The Trust has, not only actively involved itself in clearance programmes, but has also rigorously campaigned through the appropriate national and local channels for its eradication, and will continue to do so. It has been an uphill task trying to persuade the various agencies that unless immediate action is taken the problem will get only get worse and worse. The invasion of our rivers and ponds by alien plants is, as Lord May tells us, an extremely serious threat to the whole environment. Remedial action against the pennywort is an urgent priority. Thanks to the spread of rampant pennywort The Long Pond is rapidly becoming an ecological disaster area and help cannot come soon enough.
The following is the list of the submitted recommendations and it is interesting to see how many have been adopted with or without amendment. Others still remain to be implemented.
Other more general recommendations made by the Friends were a call for improved screening of the Chelmsford A12 bypass, better dredging and weed clearance, and the continued preservation of Susan - the last surviving working canal barge. Sadly, however, another suggestion - that of providing new moorings at Little Baddow, conversion of the existing house into a cafe and the creation of a public picnic area, with toilets - cannot now be implemented, as the premises have become a private house.
This particular rally is to mark the opening of Chelmsford's first marina, Marina One. This should herald the return boats berthing in the Springfield pond for the first time since the days of the working barges.
If you own any sort of boat capable of reaching Springfield Basin we would love you to attend the rally. The only problem is that there have been some administrative issues, which have delayed the replacement of the causeway across the entrance, with the new lifting bridge. (Another first for the Chelmer?)
Unfortunately, this means that for now the final opening of the marina is at the mercy of local government red tape, and what looked realistic at the start of the year, no longer seems achievable. So although we probably won't be holding the rally on the 7th and 8th June, we do intend to arrange it as soon as we know the marina can open.
The idea is that boats will assemble in the basin on a Saturday ready for a procession of boats down to the new marina for the opening mid afternoon, followed by a barbecue and other events.
In view of the uncertainty over the date, we would encourage you to register your interest by e-mailing , or filling in and returning the registration form (one enclosed with this newsletter) with your e-mail address and/or phone number so that we can keep you up to date with our plans.
Pictures show the entrance to the new marina still blocked with earth and the new bridge ready to go in but awaiting approval.
Paper Mill Lock will be hosting the race and the fundraising event is being organised by The Anthony Nolan Trust. The sport has become extremely popular in England. It is exhilarating and tremendous fun as the teams paddle the elegant 30 foot boats as fast as they can, to the beat of their drummer.
Supporters and spectators are welcome to come along and watch the beautiful dragon boats belting along the river. There will be plenty going on at the same time to keep the younger members of the family happily occupied and there will be a Barbeque, Entertainment, Beer tent, tea & refreshments for everybody.
For further information on the Dragon Boat Race and /or the work of The Anthony Nolan Trust, please contact Bronwen on Tel: 01371 811205 or mobile 07909 907240.
The racing starts at 10.30 am and will go on all day with a Final competition and prize giving at around 5.30 PM.
Closure dates for submission of articles for the newsletter:
31st December for the January edition
30th March for the April edition
30th June for the July edition.
30th September for the October 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.
Terry Peters and Carol Wright from Rayleigh
Maeve and Jock Kay from Chelmsford
Barry Golds from Hornchurch
Coates Quay Residents Association from Chelmsford
Chelmer Valley Association from Little Baddow
The Chelmer Canal Trust welcomes you all.
The Chelmer Canal Trust may not agree with opinions expressed in this newsletter. Nothing printed may be construed as policy or an official announcement unless stated otherwise and accepted no liability for any matter in the newsletter
Some useful phone numbers:Chelmer Canal Trust - 01621 892231