The valleys start their lives as small meandering streams in North West Essex and gradually enlarge as they reach the coast.
At first their habitats are more natural and contain some rare species of plants and animals; these become less represented as the valley becomes more intensively farmed. By mapping the presence of specific species on the bankside and in the water it is possible to deduce the state of health of the water as a natural habitat. More importantly such investigations, especially when they include estimates of population densities, enable any changes that may occur from year to year to be identified.
There are too many plants to mention but yellow irises, dropworts and unbranched reeds are examples found in quiet pools and runs upstream. Some recent foreign introductions via peoples unwanted fish ponds have been noted - the red carpet weed and American pennywort.
Animals of the waterway are Increasing; populations of otters are improving and evidence is being collected on voles - they are often wrongly called water rats. Fish and invertebrates are scientifically sampled by the Agency's Fisheries Department. Again, foreign introductions of Crayfish compete unfavourably with the natives! American again! Great crested newts, a protected species, are present along with amphibians, reptiles and water birds, snipe, lapwing and dabchicks are frequently sighted.
The rivers are, in effect wildlife corridors and very precious ones at that. The Agency has a duty to provide a natural healthy environment for recreation and flood protection. It pools its knowledge with Essex Water with a view to limiting damage to natural habitats with its engineering works.
The needs of fishermen canoeists boat owners and walkers are considered. Fish stocks are enhanced and monitored and landing stages constructed. Trying to balance the demands of all user groups with the aim of flood protection and water is a delicate operation.....Dudley Courtman.
In pointing out that the Partnership Scheme provided an opportunity for high quality restoration to the historic structures our report also outlines various ways in which the navigation could be made more "user friendly". They included - construction of landing stages at head and tail of every lock, more bollards at the approaches and escape ladders to be provided within each lock. Also warning signs at the approach to every weir. Interpretative boards at Springfield and Heybridge Basins and at Paper Mill and Beeleigh, launching facilities at Chelmsford.
In addition, it was suggested that the old hand crane should be reinstated at Springfield Basin as a feature, Chelmsford Bypass should be screened by quick growing trees and bushes. The need to dredge and carry out weed cutting must be taken into account by all concerned parties. A low key use for Little Baddow Mill should be found. The Borough Council should be encouraged in their efforts to preserve and operate "Susan". Off road facilities at Little Baddow should also be provided for canoeists and picnickers.
It is its beaches, spits, marshes and mudflats that give its wild nature. Although surrounded by several large towns it remains for the most part a wilderness, a wild haven. This aspect is much appreciated by wildlife organisations Europe wide and many areas have been designated sites of special scientific interest.
There are potential threats to its natural health from the pressures of caravan sites, speedboats, jet-skis, marine debris, oil spills and bait-digging.
The Project is supported by English Nature, Maldon District Council and Colchester Borough Council. It acts as a vehicle of communication between the estuary users and the local residents to improve and conserve the various habitats. Voluntary groups are encouraged to carry out improvement works on reed beds and sea walls, to collect marine debris, to manage the flooding of old pastures, to create new wildlife sites and to establish new access routes.
The Project's role is educational and enabling. It provides the link between all the people who impact upon the estuary in order to raise their levels of appreciation and awareness of the delicate nature of the marine environment as well as encouraging active participation in its conservation.
This is an excellent educational framework for the Friends to apply to the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation.
The future of the navigation is inextricably linked as it forms a major geographic frontier and routeway traversing the development area from east to west. To a large degree development is constrained by past practice, and many crucial decisions affecting the environment of the navigation were made in less enlightened times. Hence in the Heybridge area, once the nineteenth century wharves were abandoned along with the watermills, the sites were used indiscriminately as yards and stores, and buildings were crudely adapted to alternative use. In more recent times the trend has been perpetuated by building modern factories adjacent to the navigation with no attempt made to integrate them into a new landscape nor, indeed, to screen offending factory walls.
Listening to Barry Norrington gives us the hope that all this is about to change. At last there seems to be acknowledgement that the scenic quality of the waterway can be reflected in new proposed housing at the old chalet site off Hall Road; that the waterway's edge can be used for foot and cycleway linking Heybridge to Maldon; and that existing adjacent meadowland and gravel pits can be assessed for differing public amenity use. Thus a remote area at Herring Point in Heybridge Basin can become a potential scientific site, and an adjacent gravel pit a recreational area for watersports. While the western end, at Beeleigh, various natural meadows and marshland sites can be preserved whilst providing generous space for public recreational use. That the whole area is going to be much used recreationally is undisputed. The signs are that much thought has been given to providing a variety of areas for people to enjoy. As most of these areas bord the navigation the outcome would appear to enhance the natural charm of the waterway.
This said, one must be for ever vigilant, as cycleways and similar innovations may bring unwelcome side effects, sometimes what appears to be acceptable, can become not so in reality. One has only to look at the garish signs attached to the Black Bridge at Heybridge and the new safety railings beneath - a cycleway has to be made safe but the canoeists now cannot easily launch and the eyesore the on bridge cannot be avoided. This little example shows why eternal vigilance is vital before a fait accompli is delivered. All development plans need to be closely scrutinised by all "friends" of the navigation.
Our members are urged to alert our committee when they spot any planning applications that might affect the well-being of the navigation.
Luckily all these vicissitudes were no match for the enterprise of the navigation company who dispatched teams for immediate remedial action and called in the assistance of the Environment Agency.
The passengers, most of whom had booked on the original trip, knew nothing of these dramas and were treated to a tranquil summery cruise from Paper Mill, leaving at 10 o'clock. The journey was expertly interpreted for them by John Marriage whose fund of knowledge on the waterway is limitless. Despite slower progress because of remaining patches of weed the party arrived at Springfield to see the rally of boats and waterside exhibition. Here some passengers headed for home, others replaced them and others, after a short lunch break, boarded for the return trip.
Much interest and appreciation was expressed by the passengers, some of whom joined the Friends, whilst others subsequently sent letters of thanks. It was a memorable, enjoyable day, which everyone wants us to repeat. Perhaps downstream to the sea in 1999?
The final outcome seemed to be satisfactory as the lock was more user- friendly for all boaters and the erosion below the lock had benefited from the deposition of soil and turf.For the Friends it was our first venture in restoration/conservation activities with the approval of the Company and thereby marked a very important beginning in building mutual trust and understanding. We now have to build on this in 1999 and choose some similar project to improve the waterway's environment.
An exhibition of photographs and canal memorabilia was displayed in the old warehouse shed on Coates Quay; this was enjoyed by the assembled boats and spectators, especially those from the Inland Waterways Association who were visiting the town for their national A.G.M.
The scene was captured for posterity by Anglia Television who interviewed some of the participants for their regional news round. The subsequent transmission did much to publicise the event and our aims: to attract boats to the Basin.
The evening activities included a barbecue. Unfortunately some of the other planned activities had to be abandoned due to demolition work of the old Chelmer and Blackwater wharf buildings.
Many thanks are due to Judith Abbott and Rebecca Loader for their organisational gifts and hard work. They gave us a very successful event despite all the worries over weather and weed. Everyone felt that this has to be a special rally every year. Date for your diary next year - 18/19th September 1999, so keep your weekend free.
Following the article in issue number 5, William Marriage writes:
What might the future of the cut be? In the modern context the cut would seem to have potential. In particular the possibility of boat trips to and from the Museum of Power close to the canal basin at Langford. But before this could happen, the cut would have to be made fully navigable again. On 3rd October, with permission of the landowners we were able to visit the cut, to see what might be involved.
It soon became clear that nothing would be happening without the enthusiastic support of the local residents. The basin at Langford has private land on all sides with no public access. This is not agricultural land without public paths, it's private residential gardens! How would these people feel about boats passing the bottom of their garden and even mooring up to their lawn? Some people will give an arm and a leg for a canal-side residence, it's not for everyone.
Looking at the physical side, the basin is still recognisable with the brickwork and coping stones of the quays still visible, but very overgrown. The basin itself has filled with the decades of silt (there is a suggestion that it was even used as a landfill site) and although there is still water in the basin, it resembles a reed bed more than a canal basin. In the north east corner of the basin a culvert enters, which appears to be the feeder. Water was still flowing!
About 100 yards down, the cut is joined by the millstream. After this point, the cut is much less silted, presumably the increased flow of water has kept it clearer, although still very overgrown. As we made our way downstream, the water seemed to steadily improve, and for much of the length it appeared that restoration would merely involve cutting back vegetation and a some dredging, but we soon encountered something more substantial!
About a third of the way up the cut from it's entrance at Beeleigh a huge concrete pipe runs across the cut half submerged. Finding this was a bit of a blow, as whatever it is, removing it would be no easy task! We suspect that it may be a sewer pipe, but establishing it's exact function will take further research.
Further down at Beeleigh, one of our maps showed "Remains of lock" We were unable to see any evidence of a lock at the mouth of the cut (apart from the flood lock), and the water levels had seemed constant throughout the cut, so hopefully one was not needed at this point after the construction of the Chelmer & Blackwater maintained the water levels.
Across the navigation the former path of the cut can still be clearly seen as a dip in the Maldon Golf Course, although it does not continue all the way to the estuary. We were unable to tell if this was because it had been filled in, or if perhaps work on the cut had been abandoned when the new canal had made it unnecessary.
Looking across the Chelmer estuary we could see the lower end of another stretch of water which has been filled in in this area; Beeleigh Mill stream. This reminded us of the wishes of our friends at the Museum of Power, to set up a passenger link to Beeleigh Mill. Now if the mill stream were extended again, perhaps a passenger launch could...... well maybe in the future!
So should we restore Langford cut? We still don't know the answer. But our survey has given us a better idea of how to ask the question!
To mark this 800th Anniversary Chelmsford Borough Council, in association with the town centre and the local community, are planing events and activities throughout 1999.
On Saturday 18th September there will be a re-enactment of the signing of the charter a grand parade through the town led by King John and the Bishop of London, along with a medieval street party.
What are the "Friends" going to do? Well we have been invited to hold our annual BASIN BASH in Springfield Basin to celebrate Chelmsford as a Port. It would be great if we could join in the spirit of the event and wear period costume. As before, all are welcome, so please keep the weekend of 18th-19th September free, and make it an event to remember.
Further details of the other events throughout the year can be requested by ringing the events office on Chelmsford 606985.
May we take this opportunity to thank you for your support in renewing your membership and also wish you a :-