Chelmer Canal Trust

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Weedbusting on the Long Pond, from Hoe Mill to Beeleigh, from Paper Mill to Stonhams and from Sandford to Stonhams

7th May 2022

Our aim for this wark party was to patrol those lengths of the Navigation that weren't otherwise being monitored. An important task at this time of year as, if we can minimise the amount of juvenile Pennywort now, along the length of the Navigation, that will significantly reduce the growth later in the year. For this work party, rather than hauling out large rafts of fast-growing, lush, bright green, pennywort our target was small, apparently insignificant, weedlets. Some growing from larger stalks that had survived the winter (and previous weedbusting efforts) and some with fledgling roots.

It needs a very special weedbuster to spot and remove the weedlets, but our experienced volunteers know only too well that every singe one of these apparently harmless little plants can form rafts that could block the entire Navigation by September.

Pennywort liked the environment in South America and, via UK garden centres and garden ponds in Essex, it's got to like, and invade, the Navigation.

So, for today's work party plans were in place for four teams to patrol four different sections of the Navigation. And, despite a couple of glitches (one volunteer didn't turn up; two workboats, without a bit of good luck, wouldn't have had sufficient fuel in their tanks) our brilliant volunteers completed their tasks with care and attention to detail.

Sandford. This was our 'non-workboat' team. Three volunteers in two canoes using their tried and trusted technique of a canoe patrolling each bank,

Here's the view from a canoe patrolling one bank across to the other bank.

Fine work by these three volunteers, clearing every weedlet they could find between Sandford Lock and Stonhams Lock, taking in the monitoring of a feeder stream at Cuton Lock.

Despite being weedbusters some just couldn't resist doing some litterpicking!

Paper Mill. We were lucky here. A chance comment the previous day had meant that a work boat that would otherwise have had practically no fuel and been below the lock when we wanted to use it, was above the lock, adequately fuelled and ready for use. Thanks, Del.

The team here would have comprised three volunteers. But a phone call to the Heybridge team identified the fact that that team was currently just one person! Work there couldn't start as the second volunteer hadn't turned up. So, having just driven from Heybridge to Paper Mill via Hoe Mill, one of our volunteers headed back to Heybridge.

Meanwhile our Paper Mill team headed upstream, their final destination being Stonhams Lock where they met briefly with the Sandford Team. No opportunity for a group refreshment break there! The heavens opened. This team didn't even open the refreshments box!

Careful scrutiny, eyes peeled constantly on and into the bankside vegetation, was needed to spot those cunning little weedlets.

Each of which was carefully removed

One task that had to be left for another day was this area of the system at Stonhams Lock. Too much for our team of two to take on today. But an area having the potential to cause problems downstream.

We'll be back!

Hoe Mill. Another of our teams that was in place early, ready for the tools to be delivered and to get the work boat down through the lock. Their task, to work down to Beeleigh and back.

Like the other teams it was those tiny weedlets that were the focus of their work. Another excellent pair of volunteers.

Sadly, no pics to show!

Heybridge. A late start having to wait for a volunteer to return from Paper Mill. But then it was all go, moving slowly up the Long Pond to Beeleigh, the only team that didn't need to go through or orund a lock.

Like those in the other teams, it was those tiny weedlets that they were after.

And when they were found, out they came!

Under other circumstances this amount of pennywort would have been pulled out in one go. Today this was the sum total of the day's haul. But nevertheless, an impressive collection of tiny weedlets.

Those hundreds of innocuous, weak, little plantlets, having been removed by our four teams, aren't going to grow to bliock sections of the Navigation this year (but there are plenty of others that inevitably were missed and will potentially do so. Watch this space).

Another excellent work party which has significantly reduced the amount of work that will be needed later in the year.

Our next 'Pennywort' work party is on Saturday, 4th June. Watch out for further details. All are welcome!

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Boom Installation at the Langford Cut

Friday, 6th May 2022

Another of those tasks that we get involved in. This time the installation of a boom across the mouth of the Langford Cut, aimed at stopping pennywort that forms in the Cut being flushed out into the Long Pond which was one of our most challenging areas last year.

We are not unused to boom installation. This is our third and we've learned all the tricks of the trade by now!

Thankfully our excellent volunteer Keith has all the tools we needed so the provision of some lengths of boom from the EA, along with Keith's skill in both tapping a hole and installing an eye in the metal shuttering, and manufacturing a securing anchor for the soft bank, meant that the job was fairly straightforward.

An hour on Buster the workboat to get from Heybridge to the Beeleigh Flood Gates and we were soon in action.

First, a hole to be drilled in the metal shuttering

Then a thread tapped into the hole

The eye screwed firmly into the threaded hole

The end of the first section of boom attached to the new eye

Several sections of 'boom' joined together to create sufficient length of boom to go diagonally across the end of the Cut, and the end secured into the bank.

And hey presto, a firmly secured boom that will hopefully trap stray pennywort.

Just one more task to complete before leaving - securing a very large log to the bank to prevent it floating down the Long Pond and causing problems for boaters.

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More work on the Susan at St Osyth

22nd April 2022

We seem to be becoming regulars!

Sadly, three of our number who'd planned to be there weren't able to make it (appointments, illness - understandable), but all of our volunteers are workers not shirkers so five of us were still able to make even more progress getting Susan ready to return to the Navigation.

Here's the dry dock that Susan is in, again.

And here are four of our five volunteers.

Before we started it was good to have a bit of a catch-up on what work had been done on Susan since our last visit.

And good to get a reminder of the overall amount of work that has been done and is still needed. Susan is a big girl!

It was more of the same (so we must be getting it right). And thankfully, not only did we finish the plugging of all of the holes in the outsides of all of the side-planks, progress was also made on some of the holes on the underside. AND we (well, one valiant volunteer to be fair) cleaned all of the muck, sawdust, shavings, baby pigeons and so on from the inside of Susan. (O.K. Don't call the RSPCA! We left the baby pigeons in their nests for their mums to return to them. Which they did).

One team plugged along one side

While another plugged along the other side.

Working on the top plank meant that the very helpful platforms could be brought into use.

By delaying our refreshment break we'd managed, between us, to plug the remining holes in the outsides of the planks.

And the considerable amount of messiness inside Susan was significantly diminished.

Yes, we deserved our refreshments!

Then back to more of the same but elsewhere.

Some plugging inside Susan and some plugging of her underside. In fact, one of our number stayed on after the work party had finished to do even more!

And, all credit to our volunteer who completed what, literally, was very much a sh*t job!

Another good session at St Osyth.

Next time we think we will maximise on our time there even more by, those of us who can, working until 2pm.

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Working on the Susan at St Osyth

Saturday, 9th April 2022

Another Chelmer Canal Trust Work Party with a difference. Again, not working on the Navigation, but working to support what we hope in future will be an important feature on the Navigation - the lighter 'Susan'.

In fact, with one of our members being called Susan we had Susan working on the Susan in the Susan (the dry dock is called Susan!).

A good strong band of volunteers were ready for action at 10 am!

All of them undeterred by the challenging way of accessing Susan in her dry dock.

Across the gangplank

And down a ladder

For some this was their first visit and an opportunity to understand what had only been left to their imagination until now - the dry dock we'd be working in for this work party.

Revision for some, new techniques for others - the materials we were about to use if we were involved in 'plugging'.

For those who are interested in the detail, here goes......

The holes we were about to continue plugging (we'd done the lower plank, hopefully today we could complete the next two planks) had been made to allow the hammering of the rosehead nails through the planks.

Most had been done; a few remained,

For our 'plugging' operation a support team would mix the two-part glue, create the filler, and deliver it to the three pairs of 'pluggers' who would work at various locations around Susan.

The pluggers would firstly clean each hole, prime the hole with glue and insert some filler.

The plug would need to be placed so that the grain was horizontal

And then primed

Ready for insertion into the hole.

Hammered in

And hey presto, one hole had been plugged (just needs the extra filler to be wiped away)

Now just a few hundred more to do!

The plugs we had glued into place last month were ready to be trimmed off in preparation for the final sanding down. First, expertly chiselled off

Then planed

Our plugging teams progressed efficiently along the planks

Meanwhile, two volunteers (yes, they volunteered!) were up inside Susan clearing up a monumental amount of debris

An unenviable task, removing not only sawdust and swarf but all sorts of other detritus including the odd dead pigeon!

Was it now time for refreshments? Oh yes it was! Apart from a welcome break some of us needed to warm up in the sunshine - it had been colder than expected down in that dry dock!

Then back for more of the same - with continued commitment, enthusiasm and skill.

Susan was looking well-plugged.

And she also had a lot less muck in her. The valiant clearing of about 1/3 of the inside had produced a hippobag-full of 'stuff'.

Travis Perkins are unlikely to want this back!

Of course, progress is being made on many aspects of Susan's rebuild. Here is one of the rudders

With perfect timing the resin ran out just as our 'pluggers' were completing the plugging of the last few holes. And the time was right for us to finish this excellent session.

The view from the bow of Susan. Maybe ironic that she is looking across the mud towards this wreck! Without a lot of hard work achieving the funding needed to rescue and rebuild her she might well have been in a similar state!

We are really pleased that we have been able to contribute to the work on Susan. We need to be getting back to our Pennywort duties at our work party in May. But in the meantime we are planning another visit to work on Susan on a 'midweek' day in April. Look out for details of this extra session in an email, or for the details posted on our website.

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Hole-plugging the Susan at St Osyth

5th March 2022

Without doubt, this was certainly a work party with a difference!

Built for Brown and Sons for use on the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation, 'Susan' has an interesting history (read all about it here.) She's now been languishing in a floating dry dock at St Osyth for some considerable time and CCT had offered to do some work on her in order to help make progress towards her being seaworthy enough to be able to be brought back to the Navigation.

We'd originally thought we'd be mainly doing clean-up work, removing what we had been led to believe was quite a build up of, shall we politely call it, 'pigeon guano'?! But thankfully there wasn't too much of that and our volunteers were to undertake a task that contributed more directly to the boat-building - Hole-Plugging. There are about 2,000 holes created in nailing and bolting Susan together and they all need to be plugged!

We are always impressed that all of our CCT volunteers come with a 'can do' attitude and don't mind taking on whatever is asked of them. Today was no exception. Saturday morning saw four of us meeting in Chelmsford ready to share transport and travel to St Osyth, meeting two more volunteers at the boatyard.

The early arrivals posed for a pic in front of the dry dock. Yes, that rusty, covered, barge in the background really is the dry dock!

If working on Susan was going to be a challenge, getting to her down in the dry dock was not a walk in the park! First of all, down the gangplank, quite steep as the tide was low - and that handrail wasn't anything like as secure as it seems!

Then through a low hatch and Susan was in view, down below. A clamber down a ladder (half as long again as the one resting on the stern of Susan) and we were in our morning's workplace.

Firstly, a bit of tidying up of the detritus that has accumulated on the floor of the dry dock. Next, a really helpful scraping off of the 1cm thick layer of wet nastiness on the floor, making it then much more pleasant to work along the outside of Susan.

Then an introduction to the materials and techniques of hole-plugging. We swiftly moved from being unskilled cleaners to being talented boat-builders! Well, that was the aspiration!

Firstly, an introduction to the preparation of the epoxy glue that would hold the plugs in place, along with the mixing-in of silica to form a filler.

We were all, of course, attentive trainees!

The training over it was time to collect what we needed and get started.

Three teams of two volunteers taking on three areas of Susan's bottom side plank.

It didn't take long to establish the correct routine: clean any detritus from the hole; paint glue on the inside of the hole; insert filler into the hole; apply glue to the plug; insert the plug into the hole, ensuring that the grain of the plug matches the grain of the plank; push fully in. And move to the next hole. Each group developed a good working technique within their pairs.

One team starting on the port bow

Soon with an impressive line of filled holes showing good progress.

Similar progress being made at the stern

Meanwhile further excellent progress was being made on the starboard side of Susan.

Each group settled down to a routine, returning to base every so often to restock on plugs, glue and filler, as well as replacing sticky vinyl gloves.

A couple of hours' work and practically all of the holes in the bottom plank had been filled.

Depending on what progress can be made, a further task might be working inside Susan. This is what she currently looks like.

In order to keep the momentum going we'd foregone the opportunity to take a mid-session break for refreshments. But having made what we feel is a good start on this initiative, feeling positive about the progress we made, we awarded ourselves a bit of a sit down, some warm drinks and some eats, before heading back home. With the tide having come in, and the dry dock now floating, even getting along the gangplank had been easier.

We've made a good start and are planning to return to do some more hole-plugging - and maybe more. Thanks to today's wonderful volunteers.

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Weedbusting on the Long Pond (and in another Pond)

6th February 2022

It seems that the potential for bad weather is the order of the day when we need to get two work boats from Heybridge Basin to Beeleigh!

Whereas for our last work party it was ice that could have caused problems, today it was rain and high winds.

Having got both work boats tooled up and ready to got it need a nifty bit of towing of one boat by the other to get her off her mooring safely without endangering any of the boats moored either side.

It was a grim trip up the Long Pond.

But the mood was lightened by the fact that by 9am (or just a bit after!) we had a group of volunteers keen to get started on the jobs in hand, whatever the weather might throw at us. (seems that the camera that took some of the pics was suffering from the wind and rain too!)

Briefing and Health and Safety issues dealt with, and a little bit or re-jigging of plans to fill a few gaps, and it was time to sort out tools and equipment and get underway with the various tasks in hand.

We were to have strong presence along this section of the Long Pond, and make an impressive impact. Buster, WORKBOAT, and two canoes.

Today on the Long Pond was more about removing recent growths of pennywort than it was about dealing with large rafts - equally if not more important work. Buster's crew had plenty to deal with.

With their haul receiving a regular top up from the two canoeists who diligently hand-picking remnants of pennywort that will otherwise form next year's outbreaks.

What gets brought on board by whatever route also has to be offloaded.

Meanwhile, WORKBOAT's crew were valiantly battling the wind to get in place in order to deal with their share of the weed.

As long as the boat was skilfully kept in place the crew could use our range of tools to get at that pesky weed.

All the while, with less human resource than had been expected, other volunteers were working on a pond near the Lower Blackwater that we have visited many times over the However, we generally don't find Pennywort in this upper section (which should not be mistaken for the pond itself)

All credit to all of our volunteers, but especially to those who get so fully involved! A new pair of chest waders, enabling the wearer to get up close and personal, contributing hugely to effectiveness of the operation - and doing so so cheerfully! What's not to like? (well actually, driving rain, cold wind and smelly mud!)

Twenty minutes of hard work and our starter pond was clear.

On to the main pond where the trusty coracle had already been in action, doing what comes naturally - removing the Pennywort that can't be accessed from the bank.

This group, probably like others, almost lost track of time they were working so hard, and didn't notice it was time for a refreshment break. However, as soon as word goes round that it's time for refreshments, no time is lost in heading back for them.

Always a dilemma about where to meet for the mid-session refreshments when there are volunteers spread out across a range of locations. But Beeleigh Lock, and the use of a balance beam as a preparation area, seems to have become custom and practice when we are working in this area.

We all deserved a break. Several deserved two breaks they'd been working so hard!

But as usual, by majority if not universal demand (it was cold!), the decision was made to head back for more of the same. Now with a redistribution of personnel - the crew of WORKBOAT kindly joining the group dealing with the pond.

Of all of the craft we use, Buster, the work boat we jointly own with Essex Waterways Ltd, is possibly the best boat to manoeuvre and to work from.

Enabling our returning crew to justifiably feel very pleased with the overall effort that had achieved some fine results.

Meanwhile, with the valued added human resource, work had still been going on along the banks of the pond.

Following our efforts today, this pond was now looking much better, free from so many rafts of Pennywort. We are hopeful that our work here will now mean that the Ilford and District Piscatorial Society, who have the rights to fish here, will be pleased and will be able to maintain the pond in this condition themselves. (But we'll be happy to come back if needed).

We wanted to ensure the task was as complete as possible and put some extra effort into removing the last areas of pennywort that we could access. (there's also a coracle down in there somewhere!)

That was supposed to be the end of the work for today. But one of our party, who happens to be a seasonal shepherd, had heard what he considered to be the sound of a sheep in distress. And it turned out he was right. A sheep had become entangled in brambles, making it worse for itself by struggling and getting its wool even more trapped. The delicate task of removing very thick bramble stem from around its body (sometimes a crome can be so useful!) was completed and the sheep (technically a lamb), which had probably been trapped there for a few days, was ready for release. But not before the photo opportunity.

(please note that there is no caption competition for this picture!)

Back to base. Canoe deflated or stowed on the roof, damp gear off, equipment packed away and returned to Buster, the coracle almost back (with a rather large hole in the skin!) and it was time to leave. For home for many. For Heybridge Basin for the work boats.

The opportunity on the journey taken to put WORKBOAT back together (removing the poles makes it easier for us to use our Pennywort Removal Tools)

Further along, the option taken to take more than just Pennywort on board! The final haul - a Hippo bag of Pennywort, several Tesco trollies and a buckled bike (which had potentially been buckled by being in contact with many boats going over it - won't have done the boats a lot of good either!)

Once more, huge thanks to our brilliant volunteers who took part in today's work party. We just wouldn't be where we are today without the continuing support of such a great group of lovely people.

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An Additional Work Party
Weedbusting on the Long Pond

Friday,21st January 2022

Given that the weather forecast in some parts of the UK was for the coldest night of the year, and that the Long Pond and Heybridge Basin had been iced over earlier in the week making boat-movement impossible, it was with some trepidation that our workboat skippers met early, not knowing whether or not they would be able to get the work boats up to the Beeleigh meeting point.

However, at Heybridge Basin and along the Long Pond where boats are moored, there was no ice. So, we were good to go. Hot water in the flasks. Fuel tank attached to work boat Buster's engine, tools and equipment loaded onto Buster, and it was time to head 100m across Heybridge Basin to collect our second work boat, EWL's appropriately named WORKBOAT!

There wasn't a lot of fuel in either of the fuel tanks, nor was there any reserve fuel around anywhere, so we hoped for the best, knowing that we wouldn't be a million miles from a filling station if we ran out.

Out of Heybridge Basin and up the Long Pond to Beeleigh.

The weather was getting better and the temperature was rising.

Useful that WORKBOAT is a steel boat as further up the Long Pond there was plenty of icebreaking to be done.

Eventually, arrival at Beeleigh and final preparations to enable our lovely volunteers to undertake their work.

Eleven volunteers arrived and it was time for the briefing and explanation of the plan for the day.

Then we were off, with the two work boats taking on a bank each

and a canoe and an inflatable dinghy following up and undertaking the valuable task of fine-picking the bits the work boats left behind.

One of the reasons for us wanting to work from WORKBOAT was to find out how well it would work for us on pennywort-clearing work parties and especially today, if we could trim the brambles that trap pennywort making it difficult for us to remove. Once we found which tools worked best - and we had a selection - the teamwork worked well. Cromes, secateurs, shears and red poles all came into their own and enabled the various tasks to be undertaken efficiently..

The crew on Buster were multi-tasking too, not only working along the bank removing pennywort but also helping others upload their haul.

We are well-used to operating on Buster and the regular offloading of pennywort onto the bank is second nature. But nevertheless, hard work.

It was all tough work in cold weather. Some were able to keep warm because of the amount of moving they were doing; others doing equally-valuable work didn't have that opportunity being restricted by the small craft they were in. It seemed only fair to take a break to warm up. The rush back to base probably started that warming up!

During Covid times we've been careful with our refreshment-preparation, sanitising hands before eating and drinking and arranging things so that everyone selects their own eats and drinks.

As usual our volunteers enjoyed the break and the refreshments.

But more work awaited us so it was all too soon that we were back to our tasks. We'd all settled down in 'Round One' to what we were doing and the way we were doing it so it didn't make sense to change roles.

Over the years we've fine-tuned the tools we use, upgrading and updating them so that we can be as effective as possible in removing pennywort. And, with thanks to volunteer Keith, here, in the foreground, is the latest addition he's made - a wire basket that clips onto our red poles.

Ideal for removing stray pieces of pennywort and not suffering from the damage that brambles can cause to our netting nets.

Meanwhile all of our brilliant volunteers remained committed to the task - and still looked like they were enjoying it!

Eventually we had done all we could for one day and it was time to call it a halt.

Back to base, farewells, and just the job - not ours, and thanks to whoever does it - of craning out three Hippo bags-full of pennywort, brambles and other bankside vegetation. (just look how clean the deck of WORKBOAT looks!)

It should then have been an easy task of cruising back down to Heybridge Basin to moor the two boats up and offload the tools. It didn't quite work like that! But that's another story!

Thanks to our loyal volunteers. Our next regular work party is on SUNDAY, 6th February.

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Weedbusting in the Long Pond, the Langford Cut and near Hoe Mill

9th January 2022

Especially compared with the previous day, today?s work party started with some fine, blue-sky, weather - and continued that way throughout the day. Which was a bonus for our two teams setting off early to bring the two work boats for use at the Long Pond.

Well, that was the plan! And for our Hoe Mill pair, with the EWL Raider having been ready for action when they arrived (thanks, EWL), all seemed good. A pleasant trip downstream.

Until they got to Ricketts Lock. A bit of a struggle getting the top gates open but they managed it and moved the Raider into the lock. But when 'emptied' could they get the bottom gates open? NO! There was no way that Raider was going to get out of the lock and on its way to Beeleigh (and judging by the amount of water flowing over the bottom gates at Beeleigh Lock nor would they have got through Beeleigh Lock either). A quick discussion with 'mission control' at Beeleigh and it was agreed that the best plan of action was to return to Hoe Mill.

Well, that was the plan. However, the amount of water flowing over the top gates was still an issue.

As before, the water level above the top gates was so great that they couldn't be opened. Maybe they would have to wait a day or two for the level to drop! Maybe they thought of Popeye and should send out for cans of spinach! Maybe some body-builders would turn up. No! Ingenuity won the day and through some clever 'water management' they managed to get the top gates open (what a relief) and head back to Hoe Mill.

Workers not shirkers, though, rather than justifiably feel that they'd done enough for one day and go home, they ventured further upstream to work on pennywort above Hoe Mill. The weather helped.

And, never ones to miss opportunities, they were soon 'on task', doing what we were there to do - though not intentionally at that location today - removing pennywort.

Meanwhile Buster, our jointly-owned work boat, had been prepared and driven up from Heybridge by two more early-risers.

Arriving early there was just one interested soul there to great us.

It was a good day for birds. A Kingfisher had been spotted on the way up to Beeleigh and successful Kingfisher-spotting continued through the session.

A revision of plans due to the lack of one of the two work boats that had been anticipated. In order to ensure that our workforce was most effective a team of three would work in the Langford Cut, two volunteers would work on the Long Pond from the bank and three would work on the water from Buster.

Fully equipped the 'bank team' set off.

Having ferried the Langford Cut team across to the far side the Buster crew soon got to work.

Plenty of Pennywort to be collected and it wasn't long before they were offloading their first 'cargo'.

And it seemed not long after that they were arriving with yet another boatload.

Which was quickly offloaded with the help of the Langford Cut crew who had dealt with one side of the Cut.

Efforts have been made before to describe the horrors of working in the Langford Cut. The water is only accessible by pushing through a barrier of brambles, the edge is undefined and there is little room to work. It continues to amaze us that our volunteers are willing to work there - but they are!

With no coracle out on the water to help us get the distant pennywort our long red poles came in handy.

In fact, we probably did one of our most efficient pennywort-removals in this part of the Cut for a very long time. Helped by the fact that previous work we had done there had significantly reduced the amount of pennywort needing to be removed.

Just a small amount of tidying up was possible on the ferry trip back to base.

And then good to see our bank party had arrived back

It was an ideal time to take a break for some refreshments.

Nice to relax in the sun and enjoy each other's company. And if you've recently received a gift of two picnic chairs why not use them?!

All too soon it was back to do more of the same.

More work for the crew on Buster, again pulling impressive amounts of pennywort on board.

The other side of the Langford Cut to be dealt with. Did we mention that there's not a lot of room to work there?!

And that it's a pretty grim place to be?!

Finally, for everyone, it was time to end the session. Another hard-working day for all of our volunteers. Again, spending time doing this valuable work goes above the call of duty and is much appreciated. Thank you.

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