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Weedbusting along the Navigation

5th June 2021

We didn’t think it could get any better! And then it did!

Very unusually for this time of year there is very little pennywort around (click on this link and scroll down to 5th June 2019 to see how much pennywort we were dealing with then!

Which doesn’t mean that there was no pennywort at all. But what there was, was not enough for a full work party to deal with and we didn’t want to ask volunteers to come along if there was little or nothing for them to do.

So we hatched a new plan, maximising on the fact that we now have five additional trained work boat skippers. With thanks to EWL for the use of two of their work boats, and additionally our jointly-owned work boat, we were able to have THREE groups working on different sections of the Navigation at the same time. And that was thanks to the last-minute responses from a number of volunteers to our plea for help. Trained work boat skippers, willing volunteers – and some good weather too. The ideal mix!

A group starting from Heybridge Basin dealt with The Long Pond. A group starting from Hoe Mill dealt with the section down to Rickets Lock as well as one of the feeder streams. And a group starting at Sandford dealt with everything down as far as Stonhams Lock.

Skipper Chas took control of the workboat from Heybridge.

Taking the team to the Beeleigh flood gates where we knew from a previous time there that pennywort would be attempting to make an appearance. It was straight down to work getting close and personal with that damned pennywort!

And although there weren’t huge amounts of pennywort around, it was important to get all visible pennywort out.

Those red poles are still coming in handy – this version with a small rake attachment.

As we’ve found before when taking larger rafts on board, it’s not just pennywort that we bring in. Good to see this healthy-looking elver alive and well and soon to be returned to its natural home.

Working steadily down past the golf course to Chapmans Bridge our lovely volunteers, by removing the small strands of weed that we were all searching for, were lessening the likelihood of large rafts growing later in the year, potentially blocking the Navigation and preventing fishing, canoeing, stand up paddleboarding and so on.

Although not seeming a lot of weed compared with previous sessions, removing this amount is essential. And, although it wasn’t a competition, was the largest amount of weed collected by any of our three groups.

Meanwhile, another of our teams were further upstream with skipper Steve demonstrating his newly-acquired skills

And take a look at the concentration on skipper Mark’s face too!

Although not too many pics of this group they did sterling work, confirming that, by removing a few fragments, there was no visible sign of pennywort along either bank between Hoe Mill and Rickets Lock, nor in the feeder stream that runs alongside the Navigation and has in the past been a frustrating source of pennywort.

They even made time to collect litter that had been deposited on the trees and vegetation during the winter floods. Even further upstream our third team were also working. The increasing amounts of blanket weed in the lock cuts meant progress was very slow, and removal of weed from the prop was frequent. But once out into the main river the crew was on the lookout for pennywort and skipper Keith was a dab hand at getting the work boat close to it.

This is what all of our trusty volunteers had been looking for. Small patches of pennywort which, if not removed now, can impressively-quickly grow into healthy mats that not only impede navigation but also reduce water quality.

Even the smallest fragment, if it has a stem and a leaf node, will grow amazingly well!

It’s a long old haul from Sandford to Rickets Lock, but our valiant pair made it, ensuring that there was no visible pennywort along one bank.

Again, it is difficult to believe that EWL’s weedlifter was lifting large rafts of weed from this area only last November (if you don’t believe us scroll down to the November 2020 pics via this link.

Back up to Cuton, patrolling the opposite bank and with our finest equipment in use here too.

As elsewhere, sometimes the only way to deal with those small fragments of pennywort is to get close and personal!

Then back to Cuton Lock, an exemplary display of how to properly use a lock, and then back to Sandford, with a diversion on the way up the mill stream to remove a single strand of weed that wasn’t accessible by any other route, and to check our barrage (it’s fine!).

We’re in a good place with practically no visible pennywort along the Navigation itself and with most of the feeder streams also being clear.

This is due to the excellent work of all of our volunteers, both today’s and those at previous CCT work parties. THANK YOU!

Work Boat Skipper Training

30th May 2021

As regular volunteers at our Chelmer Canal Trust Work Parties will know, using the various work boats along the Navigation has for very many years, helped us in our efforts to remove pennywort. We can work directly from the work boats, removing the weed from the water, and use the boats to ferry volunteers to locations where they will be working from the banks of the Navigation.

Of course, boats with engines need skippers and skippers need to be adequately-trained. Our last skipper-training was a few years ago and since then several of our trained skippers have moved on, leaving just two of us able to skipper the work boats. To increase the numbers of skippers we had available we’d planned and agreed a Skipper Training Day for 2020, but the pandemic came along and scuppered that.

Today was the day we took the opportunity to roll out our CCT Skipper Training.

First, the basics. Healthy and Safety, procedures and practices.

Then on to the first of two practical sessions. Firstly at Heybridge on the boat we jointly own with Essex Waterways Ltd, Buster.

Familiarisation with the different types of craft and different controls is important.

Then a trip up the Long Pond with input around safe loading and unloading of pennywort and volunteers.

The ramp is an unusual luxury on Buster and needs to be used carefully for everyone’s safety.

Time for a spot of lunch, then off to Hoe Mill for more input and to get experience on a different type of craft. We are down there somewhere!

More about safety issues (there can never be enough said about safety on work boats!)

And the all-important proper procedure operating locks

Then on downstream towards Ricketts Lock during which time there was ample opportunity for everyone to get used to the features of this work boat

Getting ready for ‘Man overboard’

And then a safe return to Hoe Mill

We believe that the way our ‘trainees’ responded to their training was excellent and that they all showed that they have the skills needed to skipper the work boats safely and effectively.

Well done to; Keith, Hazel, Mark, Steve and Chas. We are sure our work party volunteers will appreciate having this new cohort of skippers.

Weedbusting in the Ditch!

A Feeder Stream at Sandford
21st May 2021

There's a finite number of words that can be used to describe our Work Party volunteers, but again we'll say what we've said before, they are brilliant!

On a day when the weather forecast wasn't especially positive, following several days of rain, all eight of our volunteers who said they would turn up did � and with smiles on their faces! And this was an additional, Friday morning, work party!

Just as soon as we could start with everyone present, we did. First with the Covid-19 safety issues, then the more general work party health and safety points.

Access to where we were going to work was easiest by work boat, and taking the boat also meant that we could take all the tools and equipment that we might need. Thanks to EWL for the use of their workboat.

Our group soon arrived at our chosen location. Eight volunteers; two areas needing attention; two groups of four with tools and equipment distributed equally between the two (yes, logistics is one of our many skills! Lol!).

Our first group was soon underway, working together to get maximum impact. We know from much past experience that if we can pull the complete raft across it is easier, and more effective, than grabbing individual crome-fulls.

Moving gradually downstream our first group were making quick progress.

It wasn't long before most of the weed had been removed and clear water could be seen.

Nevertheless, it's attention to detail that counts, and using the appropriate tools to remove any stray weedlets is at least as important as anything else.

Meanwhile, further down the ditch (let's call it a feeder stream; �ditch' doesn't do it justice) was our other group.

This particular stretch of pennywort hadn't had the advantage that the stretch further upstream had had of more sunlight. Hence it was prone to breaking up more and presented more of a challenge getting the entire rafts to the bank.

Nevertheless, our �red poles', expertly-handled, proved invaluable in retrieving even weed that might otherwise have been regarded as inaccessible.

In fact, nothing was going to be inaccessible here and a trip to The Far Side meant that the entire far bank could be tidied up.

Plenty of energy expended thus far, and it was time to replace the calories we'd burned. Some went for the lower-calorie versions � like tea; others of us couldn't resist the delights of frothy Caramel Latte. Crisps, cheese biscuits, chocolate rolls, cake bars. All seemed to keep smiles on faces! (and dispensed in ways that we feel are at very low risk of Covid transmission).

Then back to the task in hand. Tidy up where we hadn't yet been able to and attack some of the more challenging, remote, vegetation-obscured pennywort. Again it was clear that we have dedicated volunteers, willing to work in some pretty nasty conditions in order to get the task done. Inevitably some of the pennywort evaded us. Thankfully a specialist contractor, skilled in such work, will be visiting fairly soon to spray anything we missed with approved weedkiller.
And again, The Far Side wasn't going to escape attention with two of our party having somehow crossed the water.

Finally, we'd done all we could. The rain that should have arrived at 12 noon hadn't yet, but looked like it might soon, so pleased with our efforts, it was back to the work boat.

And then back to Sandford

Then, with thanks to everyone who helped get the tools and equipment back to the car park, and the work boat back to its mooring, cleaning of boots to ensure that no nasty bugs or critters could get transferred elsewhere, it was time for the farewells and a return home (and maybe a long hot shower or bath!).

Another excellent Chelmer Canal Trust Work Party. It was good to get feedback from several participants about how much they had enjoyed the camaraderie, the teamwork and the sense of achievement of a good job having been done.

Weedbusting in the Rain

8th May 2021
Creeks off the Lower Blackwater

The preparatory tasks of boiling hot water for drinks and loading our workboat, Buster, with all necessary equipment, early in the morning, especially on a rainy day, is a lonely and to be honest, often a miserable one! So, it was great to have help undertaking these tasks meaning that we were able to leave Heybridge Basin in Buster in good spirits, despite the pouring rain requiring full waterproofs.

The trip up to Beeleigh gave another of our volunteers the opportunity to skipper Buster - and it was great that he made such a good job of it!

A recce had been undertaken the previous Wednesday to establish what extent of work was needed. Until access was gained to two creeks off the Lower Blackwater the only thing we knew was that there was practically no pennywort anywhere else in the Beeleigh area! So, those who at that point had specifically said that they would attend this work party were invited to attend, or knowing the situation, given the option not to. Apologies to those who had subsequently said that they would come and who were asked not to in case there was nothing for them to do. We know that one went back to bed - probably the best place to be on such a grotty morning.

Our eight volunteers were remarkably cheerful and 'up for it' when we met at Beeleigh, despite the rain. A quick introduction and briefing, and soon we were off, through the flood gates on Buster, to get to the Lower Blackwater.

Access to the creeks is problematic. Routinely, some years ago, we would simply walk across the field beside Beeleigh Lock. This field has now been very effectively fenced off, making access that way impossible. So, let's just say that we used an alternative method to get to the creeks using our work boat and that we caused no damage in getting there so couldn't be accused of trespassing!

It was good that we had taken the opportunity to visit. There was plenty to do! The first creek eased us in to what was to be a hard-working morning of pennywort-removal.

The application to the task was impressive.

In fact, concentration was so great that there was little conversation.

But maybe that was more about not wanting to breathe in the rainwater that was running down our faces, or the foul smell that came from the mud, than it was about not wanting to talk! Settling down, some perfected their skills in using the equipment while others seemed to apply themselves less to the task in hand!

After maybe 45 minutes of dedicated work - by everybody! - that creek was clear of all visible pennywort. Time to move on to the next, larger, creek.

It has rarely failed to disappoint and today was no exception!

Coracleman Steve had made a start on the inlet to the creek from the Lower Blackwater.

As long as the growth of the pennywort is healthy-enough it is possible to drag the entire raft to the bank, a well-practised technique we've used before.

Then the start of the process of lifting it from the water.

Readers of this - especially those who have dragged rafts of pennywort from the water - will know what an exhausting task this can be. And, even though the rain had lessened at this point, if we were going to complete this task some of us needed a break. Back to Buster where the Barista could offer no less than five types of coffee along with tea (sachets and tea bags to remain Covid-compliant of course), and a range of (wrapped) savoury and sweet nibbles. They seemed to be appreciated!

Then back to our pond, with, it has to be said, a refreshing continuation of enthusiasm to get the task done. And the full team to complete the job in hand.

Our hard-working volunteers were creating piles of pennywort that were growing higher and higher.

Of course, good practice dictates that, at this time of year when water levels are unlikely to rise significantly, we place the pennywort just above the waterline so that creepy crawlies that like to live in the water can find their ways back.

A bit of final tidying up - we know full well that any individual strands that we leave can develop roots and in a very short time grow to a raft of pennywort of the size we started with!

And there we were, job done.

A pond that a couple of hours before had been largely covered with pennywort now clear water - that will help the wildlife living in the pond!

Job done! Back to Buster.

Or was it?! After making such a fine job at this location we couldn't bear to leave a further patch that we found, hiding, on our way back.

Exiting via the same route by which we had arrived, it was soon back to the landing stage.

Then just the task of taking Buster back down to Heybridge.

Or was it?! There was some infant pennywort just starting to get established at the top of the Long Pond which we just couldn't leave.

THEN it was time to head back to Heybridge!

Thanks to everyone for undertaking and successfully completing a challenging task under not-entirely-favourable conditions so cheerfully; and to those who took and sent in the pictures that appear in this report.

See you next time, hopefully.

Extra "Emergency" Work Party

10th April 2021
New Barrage Installations

Reports had come in that the barrage which had been installed across the mouth of the Baddow Meads stream had disappeared! Action was needed. Brand new barrage materials were obtained, specifically designed to catch floating weed, and a small but perfectly formed extra work party was assembled at Sandford Lock to carry out the installation while still complying with Covid restrictions. Heavy rain was forecast, so the team wasted no time in getting under way.

Upon arrival at the stream, the reason for the disappearance was apparent; it had sunk below the water!

The first task was to remove the old barrage, which now resembled a huge eel in the water.

Then it was time to prepare the new, and hopefully unsinkable barrage lengths.

The upstream end was first attached to the upstream anchor, which had held fast throughout the winter.

The downstream anchor was also firmly in place, but required adjustments to fit the length of the new barrage.

Then the barrage could be positioned ready to catch any stray pennywort attempting to escape the confines of the stream.

With the first job done, it was time to move on, but as the work boat was turning, the crew of volunteers took the opportunity to quickly remove some particularly unsightly debris which had wrapped itself around an inaccessible tree.

Then it was time to head downriver to the Cuton Stream.

First the ground anchors had to be hammered well into the banks, ...

...and the Barrage was attached, with a small amount of slack, to take account of increased flows.

The planned work had been completed in good time, so with the predicted rain holding off, there was time to remove still more litter before heading home with a modest mission accomplished.


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