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Work Party at Paper Mill.

Saturday, 1st December 2012

Considering the fact that only days earlier the whole area was under water and the road was impassable, it was surprising that anyone could get to the car park at Paper Mill. In fact, today's weather/travel challenge was negotiating the ice-covered roads.

It was good to welcome some new members to our work party and after the usual safety briefing those who had not already left by car to get closer to where we were to work were rearing to go.

Litter-picking is a regular and vital component of our work parties these days, and a jolly band of five litter pickers set off to clear the upstream towpath. Sadly that was the last we saw of three of them - not because they disappeared never to be seen again (well hopefully not) but because they needed to leave us before we could meet for refreshments. Nevertheless the amount of litter that they collected was impressive - we need volunteers with their dedication!

Meanwhile, with no problems at all getting the work boat ready, three more of our volunteers headed up to Little Baddow Lock and beyond to meet up with the coracle and kayak and to deal with pennywort growing in a feeder stream.

We could tell there had been significant rainfall!

Patches of pennywort growing in a feeder stream can soon infect significant lengths of the Navigation, so it was important that it was removed (and this was a task we had wanted to deal with much earlier in the year). In wet and muddy conditions, and with lots of tall vegetation, our skilled volunteers soon got to work, removing what weed they could reach, and again with the coracle (or rather its captain!) skilfully reaching pennywort that those on land simply would not have been able to access.

A good job, well executed.

Before After

All too soon it was time to start heading back and, as luck would have it, our litter-pickers were just arriving at Little Baddow Lock at the same time as the work boat.

Which made it a fine time to have our refreshments.

Then it was downhill (or rather downstream) all the way! A stop on the way to pick up the bags of rubbish left by our litter-pickers and several stops to pick up the most offensive rubbish from the non-tow-path side of the Navigation.


And with one further stop to pick up two enthusiastic litter pickers - who just didn't seem to be able to stop litter-picking! - it was a short trip in the work boat back to Paper Mill, unpacking of the boat and packing of the cars, and away home till the next time.

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Work Party

Saturday, 3rd November 2012 at Paper Mill

The use of a different email distribution list didn't seem to make any difference to those who turned up to work on the weed 'eight of our trusty regulars (or becoming-regulars) were there, ready to take on whatever work was needed.

Dudley had decided there was a special task which he wanted to deal with further upstream and left by car to get a bit closer to it, and the task of getting the work boat ready to go started with the usual bail out.

But it wasn't long before the rest of us wished we had headed off by car like Dudley, since getting the work boat ready for action seems to have become a regular feature of our work parties and today was no exception! In fact our two 'afloat'members did leave by car to get further upstream unaided by the work boat.

Despite careful planning and helpful agreements about the use of borrowed equipment, a communication issue meant that the wrong fuel tank had been left and the right one was padlocked away with no one nearby having the correct key. Eventually a key was found and the fuel tank retrieved, although rather predictably it was not only empty, it was bone dry. But at least this occurrence had been predicted and spare fuel had been brought along. By now our remaining volunteers were understandably feeling that standing around waiting for a boat to be ready 'or not - was a waste of their time and two of them set off to do the decent thing 'collect litter. It was looking like we would all have to drive further upstream and work without the work boat.

Two steps forward and one step back 'eventually the engine was started but at its highest revs it was on little more than tickover and there was no way that sort of power was going to push the boat against the strong current. Off with the engine cover and the use of a Swiss Army knife (other brands are available) enabled the three talented engineers to adjust the engine for optimum performance 'which later on proved to have been an essential move.

So at last it was time to pack the boat and leave.

Eventually the work boat arrive triumphant at Little Baddow Lock

and caught up with the rest of the group who were dedicated to their tasks.

With much effort having been put in by those who were actually getting on with the work we were there for, and not inconsiderable effort (they claim!) having been put in by those who eventually got the boat running, loaded and ready for action, it was decided it was time for refreshments.

During this work party so far our main group had removed not a single strand of pennywort. In complete contrast, as well as getting himself a long way upstream, Dudley had taken on his own challenges and was clearing a considerable section of the Navigation. In fact he got so 'into it'that as the date stamp on his picture showed us, he was still working at 2.10pm!.


After many hour's work

Whereas Dudley was well into his game, our main party still hadn't seen the rafts of weed they had come to remove, but not long after successfully employing advanced hydrology skills to successfully get through the lock despite high water levels making the gates difficult to open, the enemies came in to view 'two huge rafts of pennywort giving several of us a 'd'j'vu'experience which continued while we removed it from the lock later on.

It was a task which would have been far more difficult, and much less effective, had we not had the work boat.

Each raft was towed carefully into the lock where we know from experience a much easier and cleaner job can be done to remove it.

Attention to detail is important 'a few breakaway strands can lead to large numbers of rogue rafts of pennywort further downstream (full marks to those who can identify how many times this comment has been made in weedbusting reports!). So a keen 'netter'is a must.

And eventually not only was all of the weed removed from the lock, it was dragged back into a pile at the edge of the grass. An impressive amount had been removed'..

Meanwhile, equally essential tasks were being completed upstream 'clearing the remnants of the rafts away (if a few fragments are left to drift downstream'..)

Due to the time we had wasted getting the work boat started we didn't have time to undertake the other challenge we had planned 'working on a ditch further upstream 'but nevertheless our volunteers returned to their various starting points pleased with their successes 'two huge rafts of weed removed, many smaller patches exterminated, and a massive bag of the usual rubbish ready for disposal.

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Chelmsford Rivers Litter Pick.

Saturday, 13th October 2012

We have supported this event over several years and today we managed to add six Chelmer Canal Trust volunteers to the impressive number who turned up to clean up the rivers in Chelmsford. But whereas the start of the litterpick was in Springfield, the day started for three of our trusty band at Sandford from where the work boat had to be collected and moved upriver.

Nevertheless, the journey was a pleasant one, heading upstream as the morning mist rose from the river.

Safety instructions and procedures are always important when working near water and our team listened avidly as they were briefed.

So with two craft working on the water, and a volunteer on the bank, we set off for our morning's work.

As 'old hands' at this task we knew where litter is most likely to collect

As usual we found a wide range of rubbish from coffee cartons to old chairs - though no supermarket trolley this year!

And Dudley did a fine job on the bank near Moulsham Mill.

Next it was time to head into Springfield Lock and along the lock cut.

And all too soon it was time to head off for our refreshments, where we were joined by Dudley and Coracle man Steve

Then adequately fed and watered we headed off again to finish the task in the lock cut and Springfield Basin

And still on the bank Dudley was hard at work. It's surprising how much pleasure finding a few pieces of litter can bring!

Another good day's work, and many bagsful of rubbish that will no longer be able to find their way downstream.

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Work Party 6th October 2012


We'd had a few apologies before the event, and maybe the wet weather the night before put some people off, so disappointingly, given the task we had ahead of us (and we only knew part of how hard that task would be), our total number of volunteers was just five, four of them starting from Sandford and one from Paper Mill.

Despite problems starting the outboard of the work-boat, and an unusually long time getting all the equipment we needed on board, we eventually set off to deal with, we thought, Floating American Pennywort between Sandford and Little Baddow locks.

The outboard was eventually behaving itself, the current was considerable, and we made fast progress. There was some concern that we might not be able to get through Cuton Lock, with so much water overflowing the top lock gates, but we managed.

In the meantime, Dudley was on his way up from Paper Mill and had his own raft of weed to deal with near Little Baddow Lock.

So far, the day seemed so good! It was lucky that our Cuton Lock team spotted a huge raft of weed in the weir stream below the lock as, motoring back up the weir stream to get back to it took some considerable time, and had we gone further downstream, with the current as fast as it was, and with the incident that was to occur later, we would probably still be trying to get back upstream several days later.

We started removing a large raft of weed that, had it broken away, would have caused major problems downstream. Little did we know how much work it would take to remove this raft.

As the water thundered over the weir above us our three trusty volunteers worked over and above the call of duty to remove the massive raft of Floating American Pennywort.

Not only was it very hard work pulling the weed from the water into the work-boat, it was also tough work unloading the boat and dragging the weed far enough up the bank that it would rot. A new addition to our armoury of tools was a landing net which we used most successfully to catch fragments of weed which would otherwise have been carried further downstream, potentially eventually forming further rafts of weed.

As our work-boat crew removed three boatsfull (ok, boatfulls if you like) of wet heavy weed, a further volunteer had been litter-picking, and arrived with his second bag almost full.

Not before time (in fact, long after time) we needed a break to regain our energy by way of a refreshment break.

(Please note, this might be one of the last pictures you will see of these guys with smiles on their faces!)

To our great delight Dudley arrived and was able to join us for refreshments.

There was some small irony in the fact that having devoted an entire work party to searching out Himalayan Balsam earlier in the year, and finding none, today, when we had no time (or energy) to deal with the Himalayan Balsam we found it all around us.

After our break there was just time to tidy up the remaining remnants before the (supposedly) short-ish journey back to Sandford.

We hadn't done all we had intended to do, but our aching muscles told us that nor had we slacked on the task we had undertaken. So we headed for home.

Or so we thought! Exiting the lock we experienced a significant loss of power from the engine (Houston, we have a problem). We managed to get to the bank, rather than be swept over the weir, and four people contributed their expert views of what the problem was and how to resolve it. But whatever the problem was, it seemed that we were not going to resolve it there and then. That engine was not going to get the work-boat back to Sandford. Continuing to try to run it might have risked permanent damage. There was only one thing for it. Back to basics. TOW the work-boat back to Sandford. The idea was simple, and it had been done so many times before. After all, towing craft along the Navigation has been part of its history for longer than this new-fangled 'engine' idea.

So we set off with our impressive bank volunteers taking turns to provide the 'horsepower'.

To say it was hard work is an understatement. It was almost literally back-breaking. All credit to Duke and his predecessor horse-colleagues who had apparently made such easy work of towing barges up the Navigation, against the current, in conditions of high flow. Even getting the tow rope in the right place was a skill in itself, and a steerer was certainly needed. And it was taking ages to make any progress at all.

But seemingly, with our luck being about as far out as it could be (a series of phone calls to try to get a rescue boat to come down from Sandford for us met with no answers), our luck then changed as one of the Navigation's unique vessels came to our aid. We were so grateful. We still are! THANK YOU to the crew who came to our rescue.

The view from the work boat

And the view from the bank.

More coal, more water, more steam. All were needed to pull the relatively heavy boat back to Sandford. Never have we been so pleased to get back to the home mooring.

What a day!

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Work Party 8th September 2012


We were back for a second 'hit' at this location, probably currently our second-worst pennywort-producing area, and having the potential to ruin years of hard work along the Long Pond between Beeleigh and Heybridge Basin if it is allowed to grow rafts of pennywort.

Nine fine volunteers turned up to work, from the banks and from the water, along the Lower Blackwater. Within no time canoes had been launched and were making their way through the challenging vegetation and weeds.

Meanwhile our bankside crew had been ferried across to the opposite bank and soon started the thankless task of receiving pennywort from the canoeists and hauling it up high enough that it would dry out and die, rather than remain in a damp environment near the water's edge where it might continue to grow.

Steady work, by skilled weedbusters, consistently delivered, was the order of the day.

And eventually we reached our goal, the almost pennywort-free pool where the sewage pipe crosses the river.

Time for a short breather and an opportunity to look at the (currently) pennywort-free water.

And then it was time to head back to base for our well-earned refreshments.

After our break there was more to do. One volunteer valiantly went on a litter-picking sortie.

For the rest it was a short walk across the meadows to the bank (if we could ever find it) of the Upper Blackwater and a small amount of weed there.

And then on to the creeks which often act as a breeding ground for pennywort. Luckily Dudley had been here a few days earlier and dealt with what would otherwise have been another challenging outbreak.

Almost time to finish, we looked at a further pennywort outbreak just above the weir near Beeleigh Abbey, but reckoned that it was practically no threat to the Navigation and left it.

Another excellent morning's work!

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Work Party.

8th August 2012

Having hoped for an evening such as this for so long, at last it arrived - a pleasant, warm, sunny summer evening. Just the right conditions to be out on the river. But sadly our task was to work on the Blackwater between the sewerage pipe and the Long Pond - a section overhung by trees and vegetation!

Joined by a new (and very welcome) volunteer, and with three on the water and three on the bank we started off.

Access to the area via water wasn't easy, and due to nettles and dense vegetation access from the bank was much more difficult than it had been previously when we worked in this area

Nevertheless, never to be beaten, our brave gang battled on and managed to extract a much larger amount of floating American pennywort than had been expected.

It was hard work, but someone had to do it!

And eventually it was 'job done'. A pleasant and successful evening, with not just pennywort, but also bags of rubbish, completing our haul.

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Work Party.

11th July 2012
Sandford Lock

This was to be our triumphant evening when we started the removal of our next invasive non-native plant - Himalayan Balsam. WRONG!

Several of our regular volunteers were unable to make it for very good reasons, and others we hoped would come along had probably looked at the weather and the weather forecast and decided that it was better to be at home. Two of our once-regular volunteers called by, but without a black bag in sight, wished us well, donated two life-jackets (for which we are most grateful) and left!

So it was a small band of four volunteers who ventured upstream, ready to identify Himalayan Balsam and deal with it quite simply by pulling it up - WRONG! After all, we had been here last year, seen the easily identifiable weed growing, and in flower in September, and knew just what we were looking for - WRONG!

Whereas it might seem like this participant is simply sheltering from the increasingly heavy drizzle, he is in fact our lookout, eager to spot the merest hint of Himalayan Balsam.

Our plan was a simple one. Head up to Barnes Mill, identifying Himalayan Balsam as we went upstream, disembark and walk down one bank 'pulling' Himalayan Balsam as we went. Then return upstream and do the same on the other bank.

Not to be thwarted by the apparent absence of any visible Himalayan Balsam seen from the water, we reached Barnes Mill and headed along the non-towpath bank.

A lively discussion ensued around one possible sighting, smartphones and Blackberries were brought in to use to help with identification, but the leaves were arranged wrongly on the stem, and the sample was left.

And so it continued. Some rain, much walking, no Himalyan Balsam.

But not to be outdone, and feeling that maybe this sociable plant might prefer the company of those using the towpath, we returned and looked for the plant on the other bank. One brave explorer went out and might have been gone for some time, but returned empty handed.

The going was getting tough on the towpath, and there had still not been a single sighting - so our time having run out anyway, we returned to Sandford.

We hope our IWA Chelmsford Branch colleagues have better luck at their forthcoming Himalayan Balsam work party!

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Working Party at Hoe Mill

on Wednesday , 13th June 2012 at 7pm

After a very turbulent spell of weather we were blessed with a perfect summer's evening: warm and sunny, a clean, high flowing river and no wind. Very tranquil all round. It wasn't enough to attract a big turnout of volunteers but those that attended savoured it.

It was decided to scout upstream towards Rushes lock and remove any foreign weed or alien objects which distracted one's eye from the natural beauty of the riverside landscape. We set forth armed with bags and collecting sticks. Transport was provided by one canoe and the Dory which enabled us to penetrate into the inner depths of the overhanging vegetation. We made a very thorough inspection and clearance along both banks. Extra attention was paid to the island at Rushes lock area.

We returned to Hoe Mill helped by a strong current and armed with our trophy bag full of rubbish, feeling very satisfied with an evening well spent.

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Work Party at Sandford Lock

Saturday, 26th May 2012

With such fine weather we had hoped that many of our volunteers would turn up for a pleasant morning on the river, but sadly it seemed they all had better opportunities!

Nevertheless the group that did turn up made good use of their time. A canoeist went off to look at the ditches we have worked on in the last two work-parties, a coracle went to look at the situation in the weir stream and the raider (after the usual routine of baling-out that always seems to be needed at Sandford) headed downstream to look for pennywort in the main system and to check further ditches.

The overall situation, which could have been compounded by the recent flooding, was that there was plenty of pennywort around, growing healthily, and that we need to maintain our efforts if pennywort growth in this area is to be prevented from continually 'infecting' the main Navigation.

At first the crew of the raider felt that it was going to be a pennywort-free day!

Even the ditch that runs into the system below Cuton Lock was almost clear (from what we could see). So having picked up litter at Cuton Lock a quick return to Sandford meant that our raider crew could work on the weir stream which coracle-man Steve had already started on. The situation here was far more serious. Fresh pennywort, some of it continuing to grow high up in the vegetation (presumably as a result of the raised water levels during the flooding), provided plenty of pennywort-clearing opportunities for our raider crew (or at least the two of them at the front).

But they set to with enthusiasm and skill and had soon amassed an impressive pile of pennywort and assorted debris from the trees.

And what comes on board has to be disposed of, so the next task was to throw the pennywort ashore.

In the meantime coracle-man Steve was taking on a huge task further up the weir stream (meaning that not only did he miss refreshments, but we had to go searching for him long after the work-party was over!).

It was without doubt a tough task, probably resulting from pennywort weed that had been flushed downstream from the ditch we have worked on in past work-parties.

But a thorough job was done and the end result was impressive.

Eventually we managed to find Dudley who had been on his own mission, dealing with pennywort in the Baddow ditch, and it was time for a well-earned refreshment break.

With the refreshment break over it was time to return to Sandford, pack up and send a search party to look for Steve.

With some relief we found him - cheerfully paddling back having done his own impressive thing all morning.

Alone again - naturally!

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Weedbusting Workparty at Barnes Mill.

Saturday, 28th April 2012

A hard working Work Party had done valiant work on the nearby ditch last month and we needed to return to do further work on considerable amounts of pennywort which, if not brought under control, could get washed in to the main system. Given the task to be tackled, and the gloomy weather forecast, it was heart-warming to know that we had eight skilled volunteers willing to tackle the task. There was only just room to park!

On arrival at the ditch it didn't seem that things were too bad, and with little delay the coracle was in the water and doing good work.

One of our party headed upstream while the rest headed downstream. The view downstream was not a pretty sight! Expanses of what would otherwise have been open water covered in dense mats of pennywort. It was just like the 'good'old days.

Using the tried and tested techniques, now long established, our volunteers set about the task of pennywort-removal with enthusiasm.

It was just as well that our volunteers were enthusiastic as there was plenty more like that and they worked their way down the ditch, dealing with each raft of weed as they came to it.

Work progressed well, but a work party needs sustenance and it was eventually time for refreshments and a short break.

Then it was back to the task in hand, including some fine picking and tidying up that had been left for the experts.

Again, our volunteers worked progressively downstream, hardly seeming to notice that by now it was pouring with rain.

And just when we thought it might be time to call it a day (it was, after all, the time we should have been finishing) our enthusiastic chaps came across more weed that they refused to leave.

Tough work, but team work made it possible.

And eventually the task was completed.

There was further weed downstream but again the clock had beaten us.

We'll be back soon!

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Barnes Mill Work Party

Saturday, 31st March 2012

The Trust continued its clearance of pennywort from the Baddow ditches on Saturday.

This session started at Barnes Mil where the group met before crossing over the lock and walking across the very wide water meadow towards Great Baddow. It was quite a hike carrying all of the gear - and the lunch! - and the prize on the far side was a ditch full to overflowing with pennywort. Even us hardened pennywort pickers were surprised by the amount, and it was still growing vigorously even in March!

Working in ditches is more difficult than the main river because of the steeply sloping banks and the overhanging vegetation - quite a number of trees had been felled by westerly gales and were still sprouting branches in all directions. This coupled with clumps of prickly hedges and boggy patches tended to slow things up a bit. The pennywort team is very experienced and it wasn't long before we had a continuous pile of weed along a hundred yards of bank.

For the most part it was possible to reach the weed on the far bank, especially as its matted nature allowed large amounts to be extracted in one go. For the fragments, it has to be said, the coracle would have been a help, although one or two more daring team members managed the crossing to the opposite bank ; one by means of leaping over a narrow part and another by climbing over a fallen tree!

The group was fully occupied throughout as the bank side piles proved. One could only reflect on job well done although conscious that it was unfinished business. There was no further pennywort to the west but there are still numerous patches along a 500metre stretch to the east where the ditch meets up with the north/south ditch which we cleared previously. There were signs that odd fragments of weed are finding their way into the main river so, despite our hard work, and we still have a problem

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Weedbusting Workparty.

Saturday, 3rd March 2012

Our task was to remove pennywort from a ditch beside the Navigation just upstream of the old waterworks and this meant using the Raider to access the site. Unfortunately the engine wasn't playing the game, so manoeuvring the Raider was more difficult.

But our volunteers are not to be defeated.

Our most loyal, skilful and hard-working volunteers turned up for this work party (there were two more not in the picture)

The gentle motoring upstream was not to be with no outboard engine, so it was a case of 'row and tow'.

And some made easy going of it

At first glance it seemed that we had come to a dry ditch, but investigation only 20 metres away showed that we had come to the right place - a flooded ditch with an almost complete covering of pennywort. But, used to the task, our volunteers got to work, and it wasn't long before impressive results were evident


There was no shortage of pennywort to work on, and spreading out along the route of the ditch steady progress was made.


The enthusiasm was such that only an insistent tone of voice managed to get the work suspended and the refreshments started. They were not completely finished - our party failed to eat everything.

Back to work after the break, and it was then time to look at a bigger drainage ditch nearby. The situation was depressing with a huge amount of pennywort in the deep wide ditch, just waiting to be flushed down into the main Navigation by heavy rain. But our volunteers are not the sort to let an opportunity pass by, so back to work they went on the weed most likely to be flushed downstream

Finally, and bearing in mind the fact that the Raider had to be paddled back to Sandford, it was time to go.

Another good day's work.

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Work Party, Beeleigh.

Saturday, 4th February 2012

It was cancelled due to the weather!

We take the safety (and comfort) of our volunteers seriously and it didn't seem that the conditions were going to be right.

Pictures taken on the day confirmed it''..

Cold Play!

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Work Party. Beeleigh

Saturday, 7th January 2012

Although the wind made progress of the work boat from Heybridge difficult, it was good to be able to get on the boat and 'drive'away with no further baling out or engine starting issues to deal with.

Our task for today was to deal with what we thought was going to be small patches of rogue pennywort in the Beeleigh area, with most of our effort to be devoted to the part of the Blackwater that flows into the Long Pond just below the Beeleigh floodgates.

As our work party met it seemed that it would be a pleasant, easy morning.

Dudley had some further work to do the other part of the Blackwater so he set off, well-armed.

Using the work boat to gain access the remaining volunteers accessed the far bank and went in search of the patches of pennywort we expected to find.

A couple of patches were as we expected

And two volunteers soon got to work on them, using by-now familiar techniques.

But while 'downstream'volunteers got on with the task, upstream there was pennywort in quantities that we have not seen for many years.

This was serious! And it needed all of our human resource to deal with it.

We couldn't have had a more enthusiastic and committed group of volunteers than today's group willing and able to deal with this amount of weed. Pulling the vast quantities from the water and then lifting it away onto the banks required a lot of strenuous effort and good teamwork.

The refreshment break, enforced on those who would otherwise have carried on regardless, was indeed a well-earned break. Luckily there were sufficient refreshments to reward the hard work that was being done.

After the break, as so often is the case, it was back to more of the same, trying to ensure that every piece of visible pennywort was removed from the water and placed somewhere where it would rot.

Sadly the coracle suffered serious damage (causing the occupant to make for the bank p.d.q.!)

Meanwhile the main task was completed thoroughly

And finally the task was complete.

How we found it
How we left it
An excellent morning's work!
"We'll meet again!"

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