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Sandford Lock - November 6th 2004

We returned to Sandford to continue the previous month's good work. The plan this time was that we would visit the site on Friday afternoon and release some rafts of weed so that they would float down to Cuton lock overnight, thus giving the first arrivals on Saturday something to be getting on with. The plan relied upon using the fallen tree above Cuton weir as a boom. Plan A failed on two counts: we couldn't spare the time on Friday: the tree had been removed by the Canal Company the previous week!

So Saturday started early for a few of us. Before the main group arrived at 9-30am a boom was constructed in place of the tree at Cuton and various rafts of weed were unleashed and floated down. There was an added refinement in that the lock paddles were opened a little to stimulate a flow.

The strategy worked a treat and ensured that we made maximum use of our hardy bunch of volunteers who were soon hauling out tons of the "dreaded" from Cuton lock. The hard sides of the lock and the bank height made it an ideal removal point. We managed to amass an armada of small boats which were not only were very useful in detaching the weed from the banks but could assist by towing, steering and pushing the weed rafts into the lock.

(One little dog thought the pennywort in the lock was dry land and made a jump for it!   See photo right)

It wasn't long before we had cleared all weed visible from upstream of the lock and had to go in search of more around the bend! It is true to say that when you see the amount of weed there is to clear you think you will never do it. The great discovery is that using our method you can do it a lot faster than you realise. One could never have foreseen the excellent progress that was made. In fact almost the whole of the pound between Sandford and Cuton is now clear; there are a few patches in the middle of the stretch and some around the weir mouth.

We once again finished a bit earlier than usual which allowed everyone time to walk back to their cars and the enjoy Saturday afternoon. Well done everyone!


Volunteers Fight the Pennywort - Report of Work Party Sat Oct 2nd at Sandford Lock

A record forty volunteer turned up on Saturday to continue the fight back against the alien weed which is threatening to take over our precious Essex rivers. The group consisted of boaters, nature lovers, canoeists and fisherman. The support was inspirational; it was especially good to welcome several youngsters: the experience was a practical lesson in nature conservation.

Based upon previous experience on what works best in extracting the pennywort, the group was divided into two, one on the water in the boats, and one on the bank. A wooden boom (eight 9ft lengths of sizable timber) was placed about half a mile downstream under the A12 bridge - an easy take out point- and the weed was floated down to it.  Those on the water were able to physically detach the large rafts of weed  by forcing their boats between weed and bank and pulling the weed free; at this time of year the pennywort is strong and will not break up when tugged away thus ensuring that a massive raft is created and thereby minimising the amount of  remnants. We had previously found that extracting the weed with chromes from the bank had the disadvantage of leaving more bits behind to grow another day.

On the chosen day the wind direction and current were just sufficient to carry the weed rafts downstream the selected take out point. With so many hands to make light work the chosen stretch was cleared in record time and the boom had to be moved further downstream to below Graces footbridge. The slight delay was handy as it allowed a well earned coffee break!

It was very handy to have strimmers on hand to clear a convenient take out points. These are going to be very useful when we have to concentrate on handpicking the low muddy coves where the pennywort is rooted amongst other vegetation

Fortified by coffee tea and biscuits, and some creative consultations on future strategy, the group set about the next stretch with so much enthusiasm that it was cleared in half an hour. With such a positive result it was decided to finish a little earlier than usual- usually it's the other way round- but it gave everyone time to have a leisurely walk back to their cars,  and for the organisers to clear away, and to avoid more aching muscles for Sunday morning!

The overall result was exceptional. Tons of the weed were removed in a very short time. The strategy worked, and the workers were very keen.  Well done the team! Thank you for giving up your precious time.

For Saturday November 6th we are contemplating running two groups: one to continue below Sandford Lock on clearing and cleaning. And another to concentrate on keeping the channel clear in the Heybridge area where the weed is at its thickest (recently featured on BBC TV Look East).

The full details of both work parties will be circulated nearer the time and will also be posted here

More volunteers are welcome to join us.

Saturday 5th June 

The last work party 

of the 'winter' season.  

Saturday 1st May.  

The smallest work party so far, only 12 volunteers turned up, probably because it was a bank holiday weekend and was raining 1st thing in the morning. However as this was probably the most 'weed free' section of the canal we did manage to clear all the main clumps of pennywort weed from Hoe Mill up to Paper Mill lock. We were assisted by 3 boats, which helped clear the non tow path side.

With contractors working at Heybridge, the navigation is nearly fully navigable throughout it's entire length. With June's work party and C&BN working at Beeleigh, the entire canal should be major clump weed free through it's entire length, probably better / clearer than it has been for the past 6 years.  

However if left alone the weed will only return again, so it is essential to keep it under control. Keep a rake on board, or take one with you when going for a walk along the tow path.


Saturday 3rd April 

We had around 35 volunteers in total, split between bulk weed clearance between Little Baddow Lock and  Paper Mill Lock, and canoeists fine picking between Sandford Mill Lock and Cuton lock. By the end of April, with the help of BTCV volunteers, the canal should be clear of all significant clumps of pennywort weed between Springfield and Rushes lock. Contractors are due to start work clearing the pennywort weed, week commencing 5th April at Heybridge. This work is primarily being organised by the Chelmer Canal Trust in liaison with the Environmental Agency and Essex Environmental Trust. 

Saturday 6th March

Good progress was made with around 15 volunteers. We cleared around a mile stretch between Stonhams Lock and Little Baddow Lock. The canal is now 'large clump free' from Springfield basin down to Little Baddow Lock. It's encouraging to think that there is a possibility that by May the whole canal could be largely free of the Pennywort weed. But the weed will grow again from June onwards, so we need to continue with work parties with fine picking, otherwise it will simply grow back again from the small remaining remnants.

Freeing the weed from amongst undergrowth on the other side of the tow path. The freed floating weed was removed by other volunteers from the tow path side, as it drifted towards the bank

Saturday 7th February.

Good progress was made with 21 volunteers participating on the day. Around 1 mile, between Cuton lock and Stonhams lock, was virtually cleared of large clumps of Pennywort weed. We could not reach two clumps on the far side of the canal, and there remains a few clumps in front of Stonhams lock, but we will remove these on the 6th March. Remnant clearing between Sandford lock and Cuton with canoes was also further undertaken. We noted that the pennywort weed had been considerably weakened with frost and the amount of clumps  reduced, probably helped by the fast flowing current over the last few weeks.

Raking out the weed. 7th February

Saturday 31st January, Heybridge


On a very wet and windy day 18 volunteers from ICS Triplex, Chelmer Canal Trust and friends met up on Saturday 31st January to tackle the pennywort weed outside the ICS Triplex office in Heybridge. This was the scene before work started.


.....and 4 hours later

Some 4 hours later and the canal looks much better, although the 18 wet and windswept volunteers didn't look quite so good!!


Volunteers raking out the pennywort weed. 

A tow path view. Guys and girls hard at work.


Saturday 3rd January 2004. 15 volunteers participated on the day. This photo shows fine picking of the pennywort remnants from the rafted canoes. The collected weed is placed in a net hung between the two canoes


11 o/c and time for a well deserved hot cup of tea or coffee. In 6 months time the requirements will be for ice cold drinks!!!  and the cool bags will be working to keep the contents cool, instead of currently struggling to keep the  drinks hot!!. 

Saturday 6th December 2003. 20 volunteers participated on the day, clearing a good few tons of the Alien Pennywort weed from the canal. This taken after about 15 minutes work, we were working downstream, towards the camera, having cleared the canal upstream 4 week previous.... doesn't it look nice and free of weed!!!!!. 

All of the weed was removed by hand using garden rakes and cromes. The cromes were great, the most efective tool we have found so far. They are like a garden fork, bent at 90 deg. from their 6ft long handle.

The photo above left was taken after about an hours work, taken around 100ft (30m) feet further upstream than the photo on the far left. The pennywort weed covered around 3/4 of the width of the canal (50ft) at this point. We split up into 2 teams, this team of 14 cleared an area of around 30ft wide x 200ft long (6,000 sq ft) in around 1.5hr. 

The photo above right shows what it was like after we had left, with all the pennywort weed on the right hand side of the tow path. To get access to the weed we cleared the bank, leaving a nice mooring / fishing area.

A few hundred yards upstream, on the same day (6th Dec.) another team (of 6) worked around Cuton Lock for around 2 hours, then all remaining volunteers from the other team worked here for the last hour. 

Different tactics were employed here, with all pennywort weed within around 300 yards from the lock being towed into the lock, assisted by 2 canoeists, grappling hooks and rakes attached to long ropes. 

Because of the ease of access, large amounts on the pennywort weed could be removed very quickly with around 6 people working together. 

 These two photos were taken just 18 seconds apart, which gives an idea how quickly the weed can be removed, given ideal access. There were around 8 people involved in the transfer of weed from further upstream into the lock. 

In January (3rd) we will clear the remaining small remnants between Sandford lock and Cuton Lock... the area volunteers have now cleared of all large clumps of pennywort weed, over a mile long. In February (7th) we shall start work down stream of Cutton Lock, towards Stoneham Lock. 

We would love to see you there. 9:30 am at Sandford Lock on Jan 3rd and Feb 6th. Hot coffee, tea and biscuits now provided, around 11:30am.

Photo sequence; left.

This sequence of photos show how easy it 'can' be to remove large clumps of pennywort from the canal, given ideal conditions and tools. The ideal conditions being good access to the weed, in this case in the lock, where the water level was only a foot below the concrete edged bank. Unfortunately the locks are around 1 mile apart, so weed in between locks is more difficult to remove.

Saturday 1st November 2003. 15 volunteers participated on the day, clearing nearly half a mile stretch of the canal. The Alien Pennywort weed was raked from the canal........

There were numerous piles like this at the side of the tow path. We are now within a couple of hundred yards from Cuton Lock. Hopefully we will reach it on the 6th Dec.

20th September 2003- Alien Pennywort weed being raked from the canal. Around 50 volunteers participated on the day, clearing around half a mile stretch of the canal.

20th September 2003- Alien Pennywort piled up under the A12 bridge. Some 5 feet high x 50 feet long


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