Chelmer Canal Trust

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Saturday, 2nd December 2006.

Despite torrential rain increasing the flow of the river the previous weekend, and large amounts of pennywort being washed further downstream, there was plenty of weed left for the 12 volunteers who turned up to deal with it on Saturday, 2nd December.

Large rafts in the weirpool were tackled by an expert canoe crew and an equally expert bank party. Using excellent teamwork the two people in the canoe detached weed and brought it to the shore; two volunteers in the mud at the side of the weirpool brought it onto the bank and two more volunteers dragged it high enough up the slope that it would not get washed back in or continue to grow on damp soil.

The teamwork theme was maintained by the remainder of the party with a good balance of canoeists fetching rafts of weed for volunteers to remove, and others dealing with the small pieces hidden in the bank-side vegetation. The raider was used to good effect and dealt with the bigger rafts of weed.

By the end of the session the majority of the weed had been removed from the well over half of the stretch of the river between Rushes and Hoe Mill Locks.

An excellent morning's work 'many thanks to the volunteers who made it possible.
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Saturday, 4th November 2006.

The day dawned clear and cold as the November Weedbusting session saw an impressive 20 people turn up to do their weedclearing thing - with one enthusiast, keen to see how we deal with American Pennywort on the Chelmer and Blackwater, travelling from Leicester to join in (look out for an article on Leicester American Pennywort in the next edition of Coates' Cuttings).

The crew of two in the Workboat, after initial outboard engine problems, made it up to Beeleigh in record time.

Five canoes with six eager Weedbusters set off from Beeleigh Lock.

Two parties, each of four people, set out on foot from Beeleigh.

Another four people crewed the Raider down from Hoe Mill.

Again, Weedbusters worked hard both to remove the large rafts of weed which continue to grow at this time of year, as well as hand picking the small growths nestling in the reeds and other waterside vegetation.

In the middle of all the hard work some of the Weedbusters stopped for their well-earned refreshment break

But so keen were other Weedbusters that they worked on through the break, and many of those returning to the water after the break just wouldn't stop at the usual finishing time of 12.30pm (In fact one intrepid Weedbuster was so late home that his wife, assuming he must have drowned, was checking the Insurance Policy!). One of the groups working from the bank, having helped the Workboat through Beeleigh Lock, decided that the lower gates were leaking too much and wouldn't leave until they had emptied the lock again and set the gates to a much better fit - such attention to detail!

Reflecting on the morning's effort most people agreed that a massive amount of weed had again been removed, and having an impressive number of people - 12 - on the water had meant that much otherwise inaccessible weed had been dealt with. However, as always, even more weed could have been busted if we'd had even more boats or canoes.

Another impressive job done by the Chelmer Canal Trust volunteer Weedbusters, The next Weedbusting session is on Saturday, 2nd December - everyone is welcome!

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Saturday, 7th October 2006.

In total ten Weedbusters turned up to tackle the continuing onslaught on the American Pennywort weed on Saturday, 7th October. Three groups went their separate ways to deal with rafts of weed which were starting to grow out from the banks. It is at this time of year that we either manage to get the weed under control, or leave so much that it easily gets the better of us the following year - which is why we need as many volunteers as possible.
DudleyNot only was it a pleasant day, but one of celebration too, as we were pleased to have Dudley (looking very healthy) back with us having recuperated from a major operation.

Two intrepid Weedbusters set off from Beeleigh flood gates down towards Heybridge. They did an impressive job, especially on the section between Chapman's Bridge and the bypass bridge. This group weren't content with gathering weed - they collected various branches, a bike and the ubiquitous Tesco trolley (what weedbusting trip on the Long Pond would be complete without the supermarket trolley?!)

Four weedbusters (two in canoes and two working from the bank) dealt with the section from the Beeleigh flood gates up to Ricketts Lock. They managed to remove the main rafts of weed from the Navigation - but a lack of time and human resource meant that they had to leave some American Pennywort to continue growing.

The 'builders afloat' group of four weedbusters started at Hoe Mill and made their way down to Rickets Lock. Again, the amount of weed growing along this section meant that they had to limit their efforts to the larger rafts, but you can see from the photographs that they were enjoying themselves!

Of course, volunteers need refreshments to keep them going - and thanks to Miriam there were plenty to go round - so taking time out for drinks and cakes was important.

All in all an excellent day - but there is still plenty of American Pennywort - and if we can't remove it with our volunteer efforts we'll need to hire a contractor, meaning that '20,000 which could have been spent on other aspects of maintenance and improvement of the Navigation will be spent weed removal (and we don't think the contractors are as careful as we are!)

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Saturday, 2nd September 2006.

The weather forecast was for high winds and torrential rain, but nevertheless ten intrepid volunteers turned up to continue the battle to stop the invasive American Pennywort taking over the Navigation. In fact, apart from a slight sprinkling of rain, the bad weather held off until milliseconds after we got in our cars and drove away!
From Hoe Mill down towards Ricketts Lock three enthusiastic volunteers crewed the Raider and removed enough weed to fill nearly four builder's bags with weed. They noted that despite their success there was still significant pennywort growing in the reeds fringing the water. Hopefully we can get at this as the reeds die back later in the year.
Two parties set off from Beeleigh Lock. Two volunteers crewed the workboat (towed up the previous night from Heybridge Basin and guarded overnight - its engine is too delicate to be able to make the journey by itself, but too valuable to leave unattended!). They removed impressive amounts of weed from the section of the Long Pond between the flood gates and Chapman's Bridge as well as feasting on greengages and blackberries while they worked!
Another party, three volunteers in canoes and two volunteers working from the bank, headed upstream towards Ricketts Lock. The volunteers in the canoes brought rafts of weed across the river, and gathered impressive piles of weed onto their foredecks such that the two on the bank could only just keep up getting the weed onto the bank - let alone dragging it far enough away from the water to enable it to die rather than re-root.
With groups removing weed so far apart we decided that instead of having a coffee beak mid-morning we would not waste valuable time returning to Beeleigh in the middle of our endeavours, but leave our coffee (and tea, juice and hot chocolate) until the end. Ample quantities of cakes, doughnuts and hot and cold drinks were available when we finished - we can't expect volunteers to give up their time without rewarding them with adequate refreshments!
The pictures show some of the volunteers in action - apologies to the Hoe Mill Raider crew who didn't get into the frame! Our plan to have as many people as possible in the water - where at this time of year the weed can best be accessed - had certainly worked well.
By the end of the morning huge quantities of pennywort had been removed from the Navigation, but as always, there is still a lot we didn't get to, and that will continue to grow. One of the reasons that the pennywort is being kept so effectively under control is that between the organised weedbusting sessions, individual weedbusters go out by themselves, patrolling sections of the Navigation and removing what they can.
If YOU are out and about on or beside the Navigation please consider removing American Pennywort while you are there. Three key tips for effective removal:1) only haul out amounts you can manage. 2) try to remove all of the weed (pieces that get broken off during removal, if not captured, are the 'cuttings' for next year's 'crop'. 3) move the weed far enough away from the water that it will die off - if it is left near the water, or on a damp bank, it will colonise that area or get washed back in if the water level rises.
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Wednesday, 16th August 2006.

The target areas for the latest Weedbusters' work on Wednesday, 16th August were from Hoe Mill to the Langford water intake below Ricketts lock.

With only about 1 'hours of daylight in which to get the task done, fourteen volunteers got to work with enthusiasm to remove weed that was showing those dangerous signs of prolific growth if not checked. A party of four took the Raider into the weirpool at Hoe Mill and filled the boat with an impressive amount of weed. This area will need careful ongoing management to control the weed as it is rooted in the mud below the shallow water.

A lone canoeist worked valiantly to attack the weed which is starting to grow from the bankside weed beside the meadows downstream of Hoe Mill.

Below Ricketts Lock three people in two canoes not only cleared weed from the lower section of the Ricketts weir stream - further progress having been halted by fallen trees across the stream - but also joined the fourth party of six people who removed significant rafts of weed which had started to grow away from the bank between Ricketts and Beeleigh Locks. Some frustration was caused by the horses which seem to be responsible for treading the weed into the banks where they drink from the river, causing it to root. They seem totally disinterested in eating the weed while it is in the water but ate it enthusiastically when we served it up to them in a giant pile on the bank!

The agreed view of the evening's work was that significant effective weedclearing had taken place and impressive quantities of weed had been removed - but the oft-heard comment was re-inforced yet again - "if only we had more people in boats on the water".

Well Done Everyone!

One of the groups of weedbusters is shown in action:

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Work Party Report - Litter Pick at Heybridge

Sat 1st April 2006

We managed to avoid the early morning downpour by not starting at our usual time of 9-30am- a fortuitous bit of planning! With the eventual sunshine came the litter pickers in abundance - an inspiring turn out of twenty five volunteers, including six canoeists. A survey during the week had confirmed that both banks of the canal downstream of Tesco, as far as the Wave bridge, were very polluted with rubbish and litter. The upstream stretch to Beeleigh was not so badly affected. So the plan was to work downstream first and to see how we got on. Just as we started an Essex youth group arrived, so they were able to work on the upstream stretch as well.

Swans amongst the litter
Swans amongst the litter

Trying to estimates how long it would take to do the job was difficult as it depended on how much litter was present and how accessible it was. Some items took longer to remove from the canal than others. Whereas the canoeists could cope with bottles and bags, they need strong bank back up to handle the shopping trolleys, road cones, bike frames, pallets, fire extinguishers and chairs, including one arm chair!

Our mobile communications system, well- honed over the years in dealing with the pennywort, enabled us to coordinate a coffee break at the Holloway Road bridge. Also to use the site as one of the collecting places that we had arranged with Maldon District Council - the other two were to be Tesco bank side and Beeleigh car park. Approximately twenty bags of rubbish were collected at all three sites in addition to the other items mentioned. The Beeleigh area was cleaned by a group from the Inland Waterways Association who had arranged to operate there.

All in all, the canal and its banks were restored to their natural state and no longer constituted an eyesore and a navigational assault course. The splendid example set by the volunteers made the point that if you want to continue to enjoy the pleasures of an attractive environment you sometimes have to make the effort to conserve it. Various onlookers commented upon the good work that was done and said how important such actions and gestures are.

Dont Throw Rubbish in the Canal!
Dont Throw Rubbish in the Canal!

It is a sad fact that a minority of people use the canal as a rubbish dump. Such fly- tipping attitudes are difficult to change. But we can work towards persuading people to take the dreaded plastic bags and bottles home with them or to use litter bins. The fact that one of the most beautiful places in Essex is in danger of being spoilt by lazy and thoughtless people needs constant publicity.

The Beeleigh team with their pile!
The Beeleigh team with their pile!

The Tesco pile!
The Tesco pile!

Many thanks to Saturday's volunteers who took matters (rubbish!) into their own hands and made such a valuable contribution towards preserving our heritage.

Dudley Courtman

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Work Party Report - Sandford March 4th 2006

"Farewell to Chromes?"

This was to be a celebratory occasion, the completion of the final part of the battle to clear the invasive pennywort from 12 miles of waterway.

The weather obliged us by being very cold, bright and sunny. The cold was good news in that it enabled us to cool the champagne easily - under the car- but the bad news was that the lock cut was frozen solid making it a somewhat daunting, but irresistible, challenge to the canoeists. The very cold morning start didn't affect the enthusiasm of our regular band of loyal volunteers: they turned out in force- we had at least twenty of them, including eight canoeists.

Led by our experienced icebreakers, Gary and Cheryl, the canoeists were soon breaking their way (slowly!) through 600metres of pretty solid ice to reach the clear water at the end of the lock cut. The big bonus of their exertions was that when they eventually reached the clear water they were thoroughly warmed up! Once there, some turned right to search for pennywort in the old Sandford mill stream, while others scoured both banks down to Cuton Lock. As well as any pennywort they could find they also removed floating litter and flotsam on the way.

The bank party, armed with chromes and rakes, started at the lock and proceeded downstream .They removed the bank side patches of cress which provided a home for the pennywort - these two plants like the same quiet places where the current is at its slackest. Progress was steady; there was a lot of cress and the frozen conditions had fragmented it, thus making its removal more difficult. We managed to clear to a point well below Graces footbridge. Quite a lot of floating and bank litter was also removed: wooden pallets, vacuum cleaner hoses, spare wheels, as well as plastic bags and bottles, and a tailor's mannequin whose long bare legs sticking out of the water caused a few hearts to flutter! In fact our combined toll of filled black sacks came to six in all which should help with the river clear up scheduled for April 1st.

At the end of the morning we all assembled at the lock to celebrate an historic moment. After constant battling against, what at times looked like overwhelming odds, all visible pennywort had now been removed from 12 miles of waterway from Sandford to Heybrigde Basin. It had taken three years and we had finally made it! Iced champagne was the order of the day- it tasted good! With luck we can now put our chromes away for a little while, hopefully forever, although we won't be able to say the same for the canoes for a little while yet.

This great success was achieved by the fantastic efforts of a loyal and committed team. They are all gold medallists!

Dudley Courtman

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Cuton Lock to Stonham's Lock

The work party met at Sandford Lock. The idea was to move down to Cuton lock, below which there were large masses of cress mixed with pennywort. We had a good turn out, three canoeists and a sizable bank party: all had braved the cold, grey, February morning to come and see how the work they started last year was progressing - they were not to be disappointed. We were pleased to welcome a new recruit, Sophie, from Chelmsford County High School; she wanted to make a contribution towards her community service project.

A gentle paddle and walk down to Cuton Lock served as a good warm up activity. Once there the canoeists searched the south bank for traces of pennywort, and the bank party pulled out the cress beds on the north bank( towpath side), starting from the right angled bend half a mile downstream from the lock.

The canoeists really had to look hard to find any pennywort. Only a few small individual plants were found, usually hidden amongst other floating weed in quiet corners. It was so reassuring to realize that the river was virtually clean and that only a few small plants still remained. (see photos).The smallness of the plants made them very difficult to see when they were mixed up amongst the cress. We knew from our regular surveys that they were there somewhere, so to make sure we got the pennywort we pulled out all of the cress. Needless to say there were quite a few pennywort plants hiding amongst it.

The marginal cress beds are a natural habitat for the pennywort: it was due to them that the Long Pond became impassable. The pennywort hitches a lift and grows out from the margins of the cress which is denser and doesn't extend too far from the bank into the main current or deep water. The floating pennywort is more buoyant and is able to spread well out into the river - as we well know.

The bank party worked hard and managed to clear the cress from the north bank all the way to Stonhams Lock- an excellent effort as there was a lot of cress. Their sterling efforts, combined with the handpicking of the canoeists, insured that the whole pound was cleaned completely of visible pennywort. Yes, it's true, not a leaf to be seen from Cuton to Stonhams. This is a first! An historic moment in the Pennywort Campaign. Congratulations everyone! A team photo was taken to prove that "I was there".

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Hoe Mill mill stream and the grazing meadow west of Ulting church

The first Saturday of the New Year saw us all assembled beside the lock at Hoe Mill on a damp, overcast, chilly day- just right for tackling pennywort!

The original attention was to clear the stream above the Hoe mill pond. We were looking forward to it as the previous session, on the stream below Ricketts weir, had been quite a change from the canal proper. However, our plan had to be modified because the recent heavy rain and snow melt had washed most of the pennywort away. There not being enough weed left to occupy our main party we diverted it to the grazing meadow upstream of Ulting church.

A party of four was thought to be sufficient to clear the mill stream, especially as it included Nathan, a professional from Goss & Co who had come to give us a hand. A drainage ditch next to the automatic flood weir was cleared first- this was a new find, and, luckily, was easy to deal with, unlike similar ditches we had encountered upstream. Our canoe came into its element for reaching the weed where the dense vegetation made the bank inaccessible. In the mill stream the canoeist had to cope with a fast flowing current and several fallen trees - some limboing was required! In places the tree branches had to be sawn so that the weed could be released and removed. Nathan went for a swim at one point to guide the weed to a friendly bank! The whole job didn't take too long and at the end we had time to spare for a leisurely chat and coffee.

The chat and coffee experience was also enjoyed by the main party who managed to clean the margins of the grazing field in even quicker time. This area was much infested with pennywort because the horses which grazed it had trodden down the banks where they drink. In some places they made the surrounding banks so boggy that the weed had started to spread into the field itself. These places will need special treatment as the weed, although substantially reduced by us, will probably reappear in the spring.

The pound from Rushes lock to Hoe Mill lock, including the mill stream is now nearly completely clear of pennywort.

Very many thanks to everyone for turning up on a damp January day and showing the weed who is in charge. Another very encouraging and pleasing outcome.

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 More work party photos - Ford Help in the Community

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