Chelmer Canal Trust, formerly the Friends of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation

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Coates' Cuttings

The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter May 2003 Issue 22
Registered Charity No 1086112.



In This Issue

Chelmsford Rivers' Clean Up
Notice Board
Spring Over the Water
Nature Notes
Other Waterways Clippings
Leonardo's Lock Gates
Bill Spall 1934 - 2003
Upcoming Events along the Canal
A Gravel Pit in the Baddow Meads
Future Development of the River Stour
Alien Weed Attacks the Long Pond
C&B Navigation Update
A Review of Progress on the Navigation
Springfield Rally in June?
Dragons at Paper Mill Lock
CCT Calendar, phone numbers etc

We welcome members photos, articles & contributions to Coats Cutting. Please email them to ian before 30th June for the July edition or mail to 16 Roots Lane, Wickham Bishops, Essex, CM8 3LS.

Chelmsford Rivers' Clean Up - Saturday April 12th

The spring-clean of Chelmsford's rivers and canal was favoured by a glorious sunny day. Eileen Lawless, from Chelmsford Borough Council's Environmental Health Department, marshalled the volunteers into teams on the Wharf Road car park and issued everyone with the tools for the job - the main requirement being a large black sack! This year, in addition to lots of public- spirited individuals, there were representatives from the voluntary, public and private sectors: all unified by a common purpose - to clear the rubbish from the banks, surface, and bottom of Chelmsford's waterways.

The murky depths of the rivers' bottom were scoured by members of the Chelmsford 'Adventures in Diving'group, led by John Ballard. What an impressive sight they all were in their neoprene suits, masks, goggles, flippers and compression tanks. They put on a bravura performance in the town centre, much to the delight of passing shoppers who also were able to relax to the special music laid on to mark the event by the Meadow's general manager, Malcolm Tilsed.

An impressive array of old trolleys, metal pipes, push chairs, bikes, road signs and other junk was retrieved which was transferred by the Council's Leisure Services special vans to waiting skips. At one point in the proceedings a police car, helicopter and ambulance made an impromptu visit, and one wondered whether something more sinister had been discovered. Perhaps it was just a show of public service solidarity.

Volunteers from the Inland Waterways Group, the Chelmer Canal Trust and the Great Baddow Environmental Group cleared the banks and water margins. They were assisted by boat crews from the Chelmsford Sea Cadets and the Environment Agency who searched for and cleaned up the floating rubbish.

All were helped by workers from the borough and county councils (plus at least one councillor) and by volunteers from the private sector: MacDonald's, and the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company.

In next to no time there were lines of bulging, black sacks stretching along the bank between Springfield Lock, the town centre, and Victoria Road: a sure sign that successful progress was being made. In one spot a clandestine 'den'was discovered amongst the undergrowth - clearing away its old armchairs and empties took some time.

Metal drink cans were removed from the hanging bank-side flower boxes. Much to the approval of the resident ducks as it freed up one of their favourite nesting sites

The Sea Cadets also found time to provide all the helpers with coffee, tea, and hot bacon rolls, thereby ensuring that nobody had an excuse for flagging. Many thanks to them!

Eileen Lawless was impressed by the large numbers of the general public who came, 'a lot more than last year, probably because of the good press coverage on the event', and also confirmed that most of the supermarket trolleys recovered were old ones.

The Clean Up was a splendid recreational community project for over one hundred volunteers. The many youngsters who came were able to put their diving and boating experience to good use.After last year's spectacular haul of rubbish this year's was more modest. A cause for celebration - we are obviously making a difference!

Dudley Courtman,
Chairman of the Chelmer Canal Trust

Notice Board

Langford Cut

The Essex and Suffolk Water Company have informed us that they will not be able to resite the pipe, which is blocking Langford Cut as we had been given to understand they would. On closer inspection it would appear that the pipe is gravity fed and would require the construction of a sump and the installation of pumps in order to lower it to a suitable navigation depth.

The Trust has recently inspected the site together with the committee of the Inland Waterways Restoration Committee who were of the opinion that the works required would cost in the region of '100,000. This could well mean that we shall have to revisit the idea of dredging the lower Blackwater.

The Inland Waterways Restoration Committee

The Trust hosted a meeting of the national Restoration Committee of the Inland Waterways Association at Heybridge Basin at The Old Ship on Saturday 26th April. The committee members had traveled from all parts of the country and were treated on their arrival to a spectacular 'sail past'by Maldon's fleet of Thames sailing barges which happened to be leaving port on the tide bound for the open sea.

The warm welcome from the pub staff, and the salty atmosphere, no doubt helped our visitors in their deliberations on national restoration policy matters. After the meeting our trustees joined the group for a discursive and appetizing lunch.

Talks continued on the canal bank at Beeleigh where the Trust's Langford Cut proposal - restoring the Cut to provide a link between the Museum of Power and the Navigation - was explained. The day was rounded up with a visit to Chelmsford to examine the Chelmer Waterside project and the proposal to link the Navigation at Springfield to Chelmsford's town centre.

The day was both enjoyable and instructive for all concerned. It especially enabled the Trust to establish closer working links with a national body and to benefit from the experienced advice of their committee members.

Boat Trips at Sandford Mill Lock

Day trips on Blackwater Rose continue this year, but from Sandford Mill Lock, from Sunday 1st June and every 1st Sunday after. Blackwater Boats hire fleet is based at Sandford Mill Lock and they continue to hire out 2 / 4 berth narrowboats (from around '220 Friday to Monday or mid week break). An excellent way of exploring the canal, good value for money and even if you have never helmed a boat, they will teach you the ropes. They sometimes have late availability (we started with a Blackwater hire boat and ended up buying our own narrowboat, we enjoyed it so much - Ed). Call Ron or Judith on 01206 853282

Planning Permissions involving the Trust in the Conservation Area

Thomas Bates is appealing to the High Court against Maldon District Council's refusal of planning permission for housing on the former chalet site at Hall Road. Heybridge

Permission to convert two former stables into holiday chalets on the former site of Hoe mill at Ulting was refused.

The Newsletter

Unfortunately Judith Abbott has had to give up the editorship of the newsletter after seven years of faithful and dedicated service. The pressure of all her other commitments finally overwhelmed her. She is warmly thanked for her conscientiousness, skill and hard work in editing the newsletter. It has been through her guiding hand that Coates' Cuttings has become an extremely attractive and interesting publication that is highly regarded countywide.

We urgently need a new editor. So if you would like to practice your computer skills in a good cause now is your chance. Material would be sent by email for you to lick into shape and to forward to the printers. Ian Petchey, our new trustee, has kindly agreed to take over temporarily so both he and Judith can tell you more about what's involved. Any offers of help to Ian Petchey

Grant for landing stages and steps

The Trust has been awarded a grant of '4592 by the Essex Environment Trust for landing stages and steps at Hoe Mill lock so that canoeists can avoid crossing the busy road. At Ricketts lock the grant would enable landing stages to be provided above and below the lock. The Trustees carried out a site inspection at both places on Saturday 26th April and will be consulting with the Navigation Company on the specification, siting and construction of the proposed improvements.

Unveiling Ceremony, Information Board, Sandford Lock, Wednesday 21st May at 3pm

Our President, the Lord Petre, in the presence of guests from the Navigation Company, the Essex Environment Trust, and Chelmsford Borough Council, will unveil the new information board at Sandford. Ron Abbott of Blackwater Boats has kindly offered to host the event and to provide a boat trip on the Blackwater Rose to Barnes Mill afterwards.

Spring Over the Water

Over the water
There are a thousand midges
Miniscular flies
Dancing today,
Swirling, turning
In the sun
When, only yesterday
There was scarcely one.

They form a moving cloud
That briefly occupies the scene
Then before one's eyes
Evaporates-where have they gone?

Tomorrow they are scheduled to reappear
In even greater numbers than before
Magically, an ever growing swarm
To cavort and mate and celebrate
Another day so still and warm.

Don McCort

Nature Notes


These voracious escapees have decimated the local moorhen, coot and vole populations on the navigation over the last few years. As the birds seem to be slowly coming back it may be that the mink have been captured or moved on. It would be good to have a record of any new sightings. Please let us know!

What a whooper?

A large number of swans, geese and duck graze on the water meadows between Hoe Mill and Ricketts Lock. At this time of the year several goslings can be spotted playing at the water's edge. Most of the birds are very shy and will quickly retreat when faced by walkers and boaters. However, during mid-April an unusual sighting was made of a lone whooper swan swimming side by side with the native mutes. The whooper (Cygnus cygnus) is noted for having a straight neck (less curvaceous than the mute) with a bright yellow base to a black bill, which forms a clear point (the mute swan has an orange bill with a black knob at its base). Whoopers are winter visitors and fly thousands of miles to their summer breeding grounds in Iceland. It would be nice to think that the Navigation whooper had a rest in Scotland on the way! It may even decide to stay put on the canal.


The March edition of the Essex Chronicle carried a report on poisoning fears for River Blackwater otters. Tests on their spraints have revealed possible links with the recent spillage of Trybutylin (formerly used as an anti-foulant on the hulls of boats -now banned) between Coggeshall and Beeleigh. About 4500 sizable fish died and the otter is the next link in the food chain. Toxic levels could build up and wipe them out. The evidence so far is disturbing as toxin levels in the Blackwater spraints were found to be over 100times more concentrated than those in spraints tested on the river Stour.

Otters were present at Beeleigh up until the 1960's when the local otter hounds could often be spotted from the towpath

Alien Weeds

As you will be aware the Trust has been carrying out a high profile campaign to the dangers posed by the pennywort. Coverage by the local press has been excellent. We have offered to assist the Environment Agency in their clearance work by reporting any new infestations on the canal. So when you are out walking or boating please let us know if come across new areas that have been recently colonised.

Personal observations

Many of you who visit the waterway regularly on foot, by boat or through fishing, will be sure to see or hear something special: a kingfisher, a coypu, mink, a rare flower or birdcall. Jot down the details and let the editor know. It will help to give a picture of nature's diversity in the conservation area and to add to the interest of these notes for all members.

Some Other Waterway Clippings

The route of the new 20 mile long waterway linking the Great Ouse at Bedford with the Grand Union Canal at Milton Keynes has recently announced by British Waterways. It has been estimated to cost '150 million, with completion planned for 2010.

When a lock along the River Trent was recently drained for essential repairs, five tons of fish were caught and removed!

A narrowboat owner has been fined '50 for dangerous overtaking on the Grand Union Canal!!

The Heritage Lottery Fund has given first stage approval for a grant of '4.5 million towards the 21 mile, '9.5mil Droitwich canal Restoration.

Leonardo's Lock Gates

A recent article in The Times described new historical research on Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting of the Mona Lisa. Forever on the look out for a human interest story the newspaper highlighted the fact that the research showed that the reason for the Mona Lisa's serene expression was that she was pregnant.

Leonardo was a genius: as well as being an artist he made advances in anatomy, hydrodynamics, optics, aeronautics and mechanics: you name any modern innovation and he had a hand in it. We know that he was fascinated by water and water pressure because he designed diving bells. So it should come as no surprise to learn that he invented the first watertight, hinged, lock gate. His angled gates, built in 1497, were shut by water pressure onto mitred joints. It seems hardly credible that the new lock gates currently being installed at Hoe Mill have been made to Leonardo's specifications.

One would have thought that the age-old practice of building timber gates would have been superseded by metal by now. However, whereas some metal gates can last upwards of 30years, twice as long as wooden ones, there can be drawbacks; they can be more difficult to manage and more expensive to repair - once bent they stay bent - whilst wood usually gives a little and springs back into shape. The advantages of wood are proven and wooden lock gates are still used countrywide.

Wooden Boards at Hoe Mill Hold the Water Back

The new gates for Hoe Mill were made during this winter using English oak and elm by Navigation Company craftsmen working in a marquee on the quayside at Heybridge Basin - modern workmen obviously insist on their creature comforts!

Lock gates are in fact large waterproof doors which have to be constructed strongly in order to resist immense water pressures. To avoid leakages they have to be built precisely, and to be fitted tightly to the masonry of the lock walls and to one another. Each gate is unique, no two are alike. The whole structure has to be carefully hinged and pivoted so that it can be opened and shut safely by a single person. The Chelmer and Blackwater gates are counter-balanced by long lock beams, or arms, which also act as long levers. The fulcrum for the lever is provided by a metal ball and socket joint fitted to the heelpost of each gate.

Hoe Mill Lock Under Restoration. Note the cut-out in the lock chamber brickwork ready for a new escape ladder to be installed. The darker shade of the wall around the cut-out is all new brickwork. Around 20% of the wall has had to be re-bricked. New gates are under wraps on top left side of bank.

It is customary for lock gates to be made on site, beside the lock for which they are intended, as, once completed, they are heavy objects to move around. If made on Company premises at Paper Mill or the Basin they have to be craned onto the steel workboat Julie and taken to their destination by water.

In the past the Company was able to buy green oak and elm quite close to home but these days they have to search further afield - and pay higher prices! So precious is the oak that all possible savings are made by reusing much of the timber from the old gates: on parts for new gates, or on landing stages, steps, oak posts, and clapper gates. Conservation of resources is the order of the day and the massive bulks of timber from old lock gates can be seen carefully stored on the bank upstream of Hoe Mill lock

The refurbishment of the lock at Hoe Mill has been taking place over the last few weeks. The lock side resembles a modern building site with Portakabins, skips, pumps, pipes, generators, JCB's, dumper trucks, safety fencing, and hard hats all round. The 19th century methods employed by former Company stalwarts like George King and Harry Gowers are fast becoming a distant memory. One hopes that their lifetime skills have been passed on.

Lock gate construction is a fascinating sight and many people would welcome a chance to see carpentry and joinery on such a major scale. Such is the attraction to the public that British Waterways open their workshops in Hertfordshire . One wonders whether the Navigation Company would consider setting aside a viewing area in their marquee when they next make a set of gates at Heybridge Basin?

By drawing attention to the Mona Lisa's pregnancy inspired serenity The Times reminded us that it was Leonardo who 'gave birth'to lock gate design 500years ago. What a remarkable achievement! We must take a much closer look at his self-portrait to see if there is a hint of a self- satisfied grin.

Dudley Courtman

Bill Spall 1934- 2003. Company Secretary
Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company

I first met Bill in 1984 when he started working for the Navigation Company at Paper Mill. On my frequent visits there over the ensuing years I spent many an enjoyable hour chatting to him in the 'Company Office'- the former bothy as it was in those days - and on the canal when he was on one of his fishing and boating trips and I was out canoeing. I was always invited to have a cup of tea. We got on so well together. He always had time for a chat and a laugh, usually at his own expense.

Fortune smiled on him in finding him a job that included two of his favourite pastimes: boating and fishing. I've no doubt that his detailed knowledge and experience of both helped him considerably in the day to day management of the Navigation Company. His former experience with the Ipswich engineering company, Ransom Rapiers, plus his membership of the Institute of Engineers, gave him the ideal qualifications for the general secretary's post of the Company that he held for 14 years. He retired, with reluctance, some four years ago but still kept close links with his beloved canal, both as a director and as an active boat owner. He and his wife June could be spotted aboard their narrow boat, Campion at Paper Mill on most weekends during the summer months.

Fate was not so kind to him however, over the matter of his health, and in his latter years he had to endure many hours of hospital and surgery visits. He seemed quietly resigned to the inevitable frustrations to his life and always said how marvellous the doctors and nursing stall who treated him, especially those at the London Hospital at Whitechapel. Bill admired all the 'characters', as he liked to call them, in life and appreciated the special differences between people that make us all unique. Despite the fact that he had so much to bear in recent years he coped with it all with great courage and cheerfulness.

June, his wife, has shared all of his interests and has supported him immeasurably in his difficult times. They were inseparable and our kindest thoughts and deepest sympathies are with her and her family at their very sad loss. Bill will be fondly remembered and respected by all of his working colleagues and friends.

Dudley Courtman

Some Upcoming Events along the Chelmer & Blackwater Canal

Saturday 31st May & Sunday 1st June Museum of Power Summer Show. Craft stall and demonstrations, vintage vehicle, charity stalls, model train rids, musical entertainment both afternoons ,children's attractions and refreshments. Chelmsford Morris Men and displays of vintage tractors and stationary engines on Sunday. 10min walk northwards from Beeleigh Weir Lock, along the small road leading from golf course. The Museum will be open with engines turning. 10:00am to 5:00 pm. Admission: Adults '3.50, Concessions '2.50, Under 16's free
Saturday / Sunday T.B.A. Springfield Boat Rally. To celebrate the opening of the new marina at Springfield. Date to be announced depending on completion of the new lifting bridge. All boats welcome. Organised by Chelmer Canal Trust. See page 26 for further details.
Saturday 14th June Heybridge Basin Regatta. Original fishing smack sailing race, plus rowing, fun in the mud, stalls etc. Boat owners moor at Heybridge Basin. A good fun event, bring a camera.
Sunday 22nd June Auto, Bike, Boat and Vintage machinery Jumble - Museum of Power. Admission: Adults '1.50, Concessions '1.00, Under 16's free. Refreshments available and the Museum will be open. 10min walk northwards from Beeleigh weir lock.
Sunday 22nd June Sponsored Walk & Treasure Hunt along the canal. Starting at 10am from Chelmsford along the canal path to the Ship Public House at Heybridge Basin. Walk 14 miles or just 5. Contact Bev on 01621 852229 if interested in taking part.
Sunday 6th July Dragon Boats at Paper Mill. Teams will be racing powerful and impressive dragon boats / canoes along the canal to raise money for the Anthony Nolan trust. The C&BN will be turning a blind eye to the 4mph speed limit!.... plenty of bank side activities too. Further information on page 27. Tel 01371 811205 if you wish to participate.
Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th July Little Engine Rally & Model Show - Museum of Power. Models inside the Museum and in the yard, including Meccano'and Manod',vantage vehicle, model train rides, refreshments, stalls and attractions for all the family. 10min walk northwards from Beeleigh weir lock. 10:00am to 5:00 pm. Admission: Adults '2.50, Concessions '2.00, Under 16's free
Sunday 20th July 2003 Boat Rally and B-B-Q. Rushes lock (between Paper mill and Hoe mill). Boats can either moor overnight, or arrive for the day. Bring own food / drinks, BBQ provided. Organised by Chelmer Canal Trust.
Saturday 13th September 2003 Round the Island Race, sponsored row. Start and finish at Heybridge Basin (Mid day event). Boat owners moor at Heybridge Basin. A good fun event competitors dress up in costume. Some take it very seriously, others not!!
19th October Museum of Power Olde Tyme Rally with Maldon District Vintage Tractor and Engine Club. Vintage Tracrors, stationary engines, steam rollers, vehicles, train rides and refreshments.
13th&14th December A Bit Of A Do - Museum of Power. Festive Cheer. Charity stalls, last minute gifts, musical entertainment, refreshments, vintage steam rollers and a tractor and engine display. Free admission!

A Gravel Pit in the Baddow Meads

By John Marriage

After a considerable delay the Essex County Council has quietly issued a planning permission for the extraction of sand and gravel on part of the Baddow Meads, despite strong objection from Chelmsford Borough Council, the Chelmer Canal Trust and many other bodies, together with local residents. When the application was submitted it was purported that the main reason for the scheme was to create an agricultural reservoir to provide irrigation for nearby fruit bushes and also to satisfy an urgent need for local materials for use in the then impending improvements to the Chelmsford to Southend road - now finished and in use!

In my opinion the need for a reservoir is, at the most, questionable as one already one exists on the farm. If one is really required there is, of course, the derelict filter beds nearby owned by Chelmsford Borough Council who could probably make them available should there really be a need.

The planning permission makes 43 conditions. The majority deal with matters arising out of the potential extraction of sand and gravel. There are some vague requirements for after use, the details of which seem to form part of a separate document.

The land is shown in the Draft Chelmsford Borough Plan as included within a potential Country Park and is within the Chelmer and Blackwater Conservation Area, whose aim is to preserve the natural landscape and its environmental integrity: it was part of the Trust's submission that such a scheme would not be in keeping with the above allocations. In addition the Trust felt that the Chelmer Valley had already suffered from far too many gravel workings, all of which diminish the quality of the linear valley landscape and have destroyed large areas of natural water meadow and decreased their ability to act as a natural flood basin.

The land is not included within any of the areas of the county earmarked for future gravel workings and, indeed, in the last review considerable reserves remained. Given the above facts, I feel that the decision is totally incomprehensible. At a time when the County Council is fighting to retain various functions one cannot help but wonder, that despite their protestations to the contrary, they are out of touch with the local scene.

It also seems an unfortunate fact that little attempt is being made by the authorities to look at the Conservation area as a whole, although considerable sums of money are being pumped into the restoration of the canal itself by various bodies, including the Trust. At present only the Trust and the Chelmer Valley Association seem to have an overview of the whole valley. There is probably a strong case for an official Conservation Area Advisory Committee being set up.

Older people will remember the Meads as they were some 50 years or so ago when the whole area was unfenced from the bypass to Sandford Mill, the different ownerships marked only by boundary posts, creating a wide, open natural vista. In those days the land was given over to hay and in springtime the whole area assumed a wonderful golden hue, the result of thousands of flowering buttercups, which gradually faded as the grass engulfed them. Later, during the year the grass was cut for hay and the whole area turned over to grazing. In those halcyon days the public had free access to the whole area and it was, in effect, an unofficial public open space. The more recent introduction a cash crops over part of the land has reduced the natural appearance and character of the Meads though recently I was reminded of their former glory when the current crop of oilseed rape came into bloom.

Future Development of the River Stour

The Environment Agency recently announced its views on the future development of the Stour navigation, on the Essex and Suffolk border. The decision follows a public consultation in 2002.

The decision is to support development of the river for use by light craft, ie, use by canoes, small sailing craft and rowing boats only (not motor driven boats). The Agency envisages that such development would include improvements to canoe portage to improve passage around sluices and weirs. Other improvements might include slipway facilities to improve access to the river.

The Agency also agreed to a further study into the possible options for future development of the river for use by steam or electrically powered craft and it will explore how this might be progressed in liaison with the organisations interested in this aspect.

Navigation on the Stour runs from Brundon Mill near Sudbury to Cattawade near Manningtree on the tidal Stour estuary, and for much of its length the river navigation forms the county boundary between Suffolk and Essex.

The navigation was established by Act of Parliament in 1705 and was used by commercial barge traffic for many years. As with the C&BN and many other waterways the commercial traffic declined with the coming of the railways and commercial traffic ended in the 1950s.

The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) have stated that it is disappointed in the Agency's decision and has long-lobbied for full restoration of the river navigation back to its original condition and has supported The River Stour Trust in this work. The Stour Trust will also continue to press for restoration for all suitable craft.

Salient points taken from IWA web site

Alien Weed Attacks the Long Pond

(Dudley Courtman, Chairman of the Chelmer Canal Trust, writes about its campaign to rid the 14 miles of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation, between Chelmsford and Heybridge Basin, of the invasive waterweed,Floating pennywort)

There will not be much boating on the Long Pond in 2003 because it is completely blocked in several places by dense weed.

The Long Pond is the name given to the last two and half miles of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation between Beeleigh Weir and the sea lock at Heybridge Basin. If you stand on the Maldon bypass bridge, or on the footbridge over the canal at Tesco's store, and look up and downstream you will see a carpet of green. The American Floating pennywort is thriving everywhere and it appears to be still growing, even in the winter!

Two years ago the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company made a superhuman effort to keep the channel clear by physically removing this foreign weed from the canal and placing it on the banks. The clearance was successful but short-lived because the following year the super weed reappeared and is now busy colonising larger and larger areas.

What Floating pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides) loves is a quiet haven away from the currents of a main river. Originally from North America the pennywort thrives in the warm, tranquil, nutritious water of the shallow Long Pond, where there is no competition from other plants and there are plenty of soft banks to colonise. It has a longer growing period than our native plants and soon overwhelms them, spreading itself naturally through adventitious rooting. Small pieces that break off are carried by the current or the wind to another site where they quickly establish themselves.

In a recent commemorative lecture to the Royal Society, its President, Lord May of Oxford, said that the dangers caused by the invasion of alien plant species, sold through garden centres in the UK, far out weigh those posed by the possible hybrids from GM crops. Amongst those he cited, apart from pennywort, were Australian swamp stonecrop (Crassula helmsii), Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum), Parrot's feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum), water hyacinth (Eichhomia crassipes) and water fern (Azolla filiculoides). The Australian swamp stonecrop, an invasive species introduced to this country in the 1920's, has choked more than 20,000 ponds, preventing the growth of native plants, and interfering with the breeding of frogs and newts. Water fern, like the pennywort, is frequently found on our canal. Even now, in March, it can be seen as a red carpet on a nearby pond in Heybridge. Pennywort is now choking the Long Pond to such a degree that parts of it are unnavigable, and will soon become indistinguishable from the surrounding green fields.

With no water visible, this stretch of the canal will be a danger to the unwary walker and young children. Already over the last few years, there have been some unexplained drownings and several instances where children and animals have mistakenly tried 'to walk on water'. It becomes an even greater hazard at night.

How do these super weeds find their way to the Essex waterways? Plants and animals can cross international boundaries quite easily, they don't need a passport. Australia takes the threat of foreign plant imports very seriously, and zealous customs officials have parted many a tourist from his packed lunch. Despite this stringency the pennywort has still invaded their rivers! Foreign plants are introduced into the country for a variety of reasons: some are used for a specific purpose, such as cord grass to consolidate salt marshes, and many others, like the pennywort, are sold by garden centres for ornamental use. It's when these alien species escape into the wild that serious problems arise. Once a foreign species becomes established it is almost impossible to eradicate. Hence the problem in the Long Pond. Here the super -charged plant is out of control. In its peak growing period in late summer it can double its biomass every three days!

Various means have been tried nationally to control the spread of fresh-water pennywort: mechanical, chemical, biological and legislative.

Mechanical removal is the most effective, but also expensive, because you have to completely remove the plant (roots and all) and not allow a single piece to break off: a very tall order. Initial attempts in 1998 to remove the weed from the Chelmsford Rivers only made matters worse, and resulted in its spread along the whole 14 miles of the navigation. More recently, under the guidance of the Centre for Aquatic Plant Management at Reading, a handpicking programme was started in Chelmsford by the Environment Agency. First indications are that this method, although labour intensive, is quite effective. If the removal of the weed is a success then it is hoped to move gradually downstream. Unfortunately at the present rate of progress it will be too late to help the Long Pond.

Chemical control is a possibility but it has to be carefully monitored not only because of the effect on water quality which may be extracted for drinking but also for the possible adverse effects on the native flora and fauna The quest is still on for the best herbicide to apply in this situation. Some progress has been made with glyphosate, a herbicide applied to the emergent leaves of the plant when it is growing well. Care has to be taken not to contaminate the water, and not to spray too much wed at one time to avoid deoxygenating the water and killing fish. Specialist contractors with the appropriate qualifications are required to undertake this work, which also makes it quite expensive.

Biological control would involve the introduction of natural biological controlling agents like an environmentally friendly beetle or caterpillar, but none to date has been identified in Britain. However, an Argentinial weevil has been observed to feed only on pennywort in South America, and this may offer a long term solution. Development of successful biological control agents can take as long as 10 years. Bank side cows grazing on the canal's water meadows, however, find the pennywort irresistible and have been seen wading into mid -stream to munch the succulent plant Sadly, their predilection for pennywort cant be turned to any advantage because the weed fills them with air and not much else!

Only a legislative ban on invasive plant species could prevent the sale of these exotic plants in garden centres, but just as important is the need for information programmes to persuade people not to flush the contents of their fish tanks down the toilet or to throw garden-pond plants into a nearby ditch or waterway. The Ornamental Aquatic Trades Association has adopted a voluntary ban on the sale of a number of alien invasive species, and has also produced a poster encouraging composting of excess aquatic plants.

Such measures are preventative, but to be effective they need to be combined with a major government-sponsored eradication campaign. Defra, the Environment Agency (EA) and English Nature (EN) are all potential providers and facilitators of front line troops and one would want them to lead the way. When one considers the vast sums that Defra has committed to the promotion of national biodiversity action plans for endangered species, and the Capital Modernisation Fund recently made available by the Treasury to English Nature's for its 'Nature for People'initiative, one would hope that some funds could be found for the protection of an endangered natural habitat. Surely any biodiversity and conservation strategy for England should have a corner in it for the eradication of alien species? It is indeed ironic, that the logo used by Defra for its Biodiversity Newsletter portrays a water vole. On our precious waterway, thanks to the dreaded pennywort, there soon will not be any water space left for the voles 'to plop'into.

The Chelmer Canal Trust, as a guardian of the public interest in the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Conservation Area, has been aware of the danger of pennywort since 1997. The Trust has, not only actively involved itself in clearance programmes, but has also rigorously campaigned through the appropriate national and local channels for its eradication, and will continue to do so. It has been an uphill task trying to persuade the various agencies that unless immediate action is taken the problem will get only get worse and worse. The invasion of our rivers and ponds by alien plants is, as Lord May tells us, an extremely serious threat to the whole environment. Remedial action against the pennywort is an urgent priority. Thanks to the spread of rampant pennywort The Long Pond is rapidly becoming an ecological disaster area and help cannot come soon enough.

Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation Update

Paper Mill Tea Shop.

The Tea Shop continues to be open seven days a week from 10am until 5.30pm. It is very popular, due as much to their hardworking and friendly staff and delicious home made. Toilet facilities and fish bait vending machine on site.


The Victoria (a purpose built wide beam cruising barge licensed to carry 48 passengers) is looking very good after her spring service with some nice fresh paint and a refurbished interior. She is already booked-up for numerous private charters right through the season, though many times are still available. She will be doing 1 hour public trips on each bank holiday and the Sunday prior. Her 2 hour public trips to Ulting Church will start 25th July and run every Friday thereafter to the end of September - '6 for adults; '4 for children/concessions. Tel 01245 225520 for further details.

Paper Mill Boat Hire.

Dinghies (with oars or electric motor) and a 4 person day-cruiser are available for hire from Paper Mill.

Lock closures.

The upper gates at Barns Mill Lock were damaged during winter flooding and need replacing. This work is scheduled for a short period of time in June. Notices will be posted in advance. Hoe Mill lock should reopen towards the end of May.

Canal Repairs and Improvements.

Nearly a million pound of repairs and improvements to the canal is budgeted between now and 2005.

A Review of Progress on the Navigation

By John Marriage
Soon after the Friends of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation (now the Chelmer Canal Trust) was formed in 1996 it submitted to the Conservation Area Partnership (the umbrella funding group for repairs to the navigation) a memorandum setting out various improvements which it considered should be carried out in order to take account of the canal's increasing role for recreation. Some of the proposals were greeted with something approaching horror by both conservationists, who wanted to maintain absolutely the purity of the 18th century work, and by the Proprietors who were concerned about the possible expense. However, all parties eventually agreed that most of the Friends' suggestions should be incorporated within the programme of restoration and improvements.

The following is the list of the submitted recommendations and it is interesting to see how many have been adopted with or without amendment. Others still remain to be implemented.

  1. Safety rails should befitted to all lock gates for the benefit of lock operators

  2. Landing stages should be built at above the head and below the tail of every lock. They should be at least 20 feet long and located on the towpath side. They would be of considerable benefit to operators of motorboats locking through the locks and by portaging canoes.

  3. More bollards should be installed at the approaches to the locks. These are required for boats waiting to pass through locks, and would be particularly beneficial when another, craft is already using the lock.

  4. Concrete steps should be built on the towpath side at the tail of each lock

  5. It is suggested that interpretative boards should be installed at Springfield Basin, Paper Mill Lock, Beeleigh and Heybridge Basin. They should provide a description of the waterway, indicate places of local interest, a map, and provide details of how boat and angling licences may be obtained.

  6. In the longer term metal escape ladders should be installed in each lock and could be filled concurrently with any major repair to the chamber. They should be cut into the chamber wall so as to maintain the effective width of each lock There should be one on each side. However, care should be taken to ensure that the historical integrity of the lock is not damaged by these additions.

  7. Warning signs should be installed at the approaches to every weir, and, where the channel divides, a direction sign pointing out the navigation route should be provided.

  8. The original hand crane required under the enabling Act should be returned to the public wharf area at Springfield Basin as a decorative feature.

  9. Proper boat launching facilities should be provided within the Springfield Basin area, replicating those at Paper Mill Lock One possibility might be the upgrading of the present Council owned slip on the River Chelmer- just below Kings Head Meadow sluices.
Since the submission of the above suggestions, the trust has taken a leading role in the erection of interpretative boards, a feature greatly appreciated by the visiting public, and hopes to be able to organise (and pay for) the construction of landing stages and steps at various locks.

Other more general recommendations made by the Friends were a call for improved screening of the Chelmsford A12 bypass, better dredging and weed clearance, and the continued preservation of Susan - the last surviving working canal barge. Sadly, however, another suggestion - that of providing new moorings at Little Baddow, conversion of the existing house into a cafe and the creation of a public picnic area, with toilets - cannot now be implemented, as the premises have become a private house.

Search the Web? Then look up the Chelmer Canal Trust web site at
See back issues of Coats Cuttings, map of canal, history of canal etc.

Springfield Rally - Coming soon!

Those of you who have been associated with the Trust for a while will know that we are always keen to mark significant events in the history of the navigation by organising boat rallies. The majority of these have been in Springfield Basin. Although it takes a little while to get to for some boat owners, it is of vital importance that boats do go there and remind Chelmsford that it has a port!

The entrance to the new marina still blocked with earth This particular rally is to mark the opening of Chelmsford's first marina, Marina One. This should herald the return boats berthing in the Springfield pond for the first time since the days of the working barges.
If you own any sort of boat capable of reaching Springfield Basin we would love you to attend the rally. The only problem is that there have been some administrative issues, which have delayed the replacement of the causeway across the entrance, with the new lifting bridge. (Another first for the Chelmer?)

The new bridge ready to go in but awaiting approvalUnfortunately, this means that for now the final opening of the marina is at the mercy of local government red tape, and what looked realistic at the start of the year, no longer seems achievable. So although we probably won't be holding the rally on the 7th and 8th June, we do intend to arrange it as soon as we know the marina can open.

The idea is that boats will assemble in the basin on a Saturday ready for a procession of boats down to the new marina for the opening mid afternoon, followed by a barbecue and other events.
In view of the uncertainty over the date, we would encourage you to register your interest by e-mailing , or filling in and returning the registration form (one enclosed with this newsletter) with your e-mail address and/or phone number so that we can keep you up to date with our plans.

Pictures show the entrance to the new marina still blocked with earth and the new bridge ready to go in but awaiting approval.


A day with a difference is planned for Sunday 6th July as companies and organisations from all over Essex, Hertfordshire & London will be heading to the banks of the Chelmer Canal to take part in a spectacular Dragon Boat Race.

Paper Mill Lock will be hosting the race and the fundraising event is being organised by The Anthony Nolan Trust. The sport has become extremely popular in England. It is exhilarating and tremendous fun as the teams paddle the elegant 30 foot boats as fast as they can, to the beat of their drummer.

Supporters and spectators are welcome to come along and watch the beautiful dragon boats belting along the river. There will be plenty going on at the same time to keep the younger members of the family happily occupied and there will be a Barbeque, Entertainment, Beer tent, tea & refreshments for everybody.

For further information on the Dragon Boat Race and /or the work of The Anthony Nolan Trust, please contact Bronwen on Tel: 01371 811205 or mobile 07909 907240.

The racing starts at 10.30 am and will go on all day with a Final competition and prize giving at around 5.30 PM.

Rolling Calendar:

Closure dates for submission of articles for the newsletter:
31st December for the January edition
30th March for the April edition
30th June for the July edition.
30th September for the October edition

Please note that if articles for inclusion are not received by the dates listed above they will be held over for the next publication.

New Members
Terry Peters and Carol Wright from Rayleigh
Maeve and Jock Kay from Chelmsford
Barry Golds from Hornchurch
Coates Quay Residents Association from Chelmsford
Chelmer Valley Association from Little Baddow

The Chelmer Canal Trust welcomes you all.

The Chelmer Canal Trust may not agree with opinions expressed in this newsletter. Nothing printed may be construed as policy or an official announcement unless stated otherwise and accepted no liability for any matter in the newsletter

Some useful phone numbers:

Chelmer Canal Trust - 01621 892231
Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company - 01245 222025
Ron and Judith, Blackwater Boats - 01206-853282
Environment Agency - 01376-57209

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