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

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Coates' Cuttings

The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter May 2004 Issue 26
Registered Charity No 1086112.



In This Issue

John Marriage 1928-2004 - Dudley Courtman
Feeder Stream Information Board - Dudley Courtman
Volunteer Work Party Update - Ian Petchey
The next stage in weed removal
Chelmsford Rivers Clean-Up Day - Dudley Courtman
High costs sink narrowboats
Book review - Nick Ridgway
A new kind of Gift Aid
Ulting Church; the Towpath View - Don McCort
Diary Dates
Cruise on the 'Balmoral'
'Blackwater' Rose Trips
Mink - To Cull or Not to Cull - Dudley Courtman

We welcome members' photos, articles & contributions to Coates' Cuttings. Please e-mail them to Mike Lewis before 30th June for the August 2004 issue or post them to 16 Roots Lane, Wickham Bishops, Essex, CM8 3LS.

John Marriage 1928-2004

Trustee and Founder Member of the Chelmer Canal Trust

John's sudden death just before Christmas came as a profound shock to everyone. The news is still hard to grasp. He had just had a successful knee operation and was convalescing at home when he suffered a heart attack

John was essentially a canoeist first and foremost. Having explored all the East Anglian rivers as a boy they became the foundation of a lifetime interest.

With some friends in 1946, he founded Chelmsford Boating Club (later known as the Chelmsford Canoe Club) and nurtured it through its formative years. The Club had many headquarters, initially on the River Can in the Kings Head Meadow, then in Waterhouse Lane next to the town rubbish tip, followed by Moulsham Mill, and others, before settling on its present location opposite the Meadows Shopping Centre. You can imagine all the protracted negotiations needed to arrange these moves: it was the sort of thing that John excelled in. His calmness, clear thinking, natural charm and persuasiveness won him many supporters.

He liked telling the story of the Club's early days and how he built his first canoe from the fuel tank of redundant World War II Meteor jet fighter. There is a photograph of him in one of his books paddling this craft, emerging from beneath the archway between the Navigation Feeder Ditch and the Horse Pond in Springfield Road. (A public information board, largely prepared by John, has just been unveiled on this site)

In 1951, when the Club was located at Moulsham Mill, John (always with an eye for maximum publicity) issued a canoe challenge in the Essex Chronicle to any double crew to beat the then Chelmsford Club record time from Barnes Mill to the sea lock at Heybridge Basin. The club would loan all the equipment, even in advance, so that beginners could practice! Several crews took up the challenge and John dutifully followed them all the way along the towpath on his bike with his stop watch (as a member of one the crews, I remember the day vividly - we had to paddle back afterwards!)

John always saw the larger picture and from this small beginning he started an annual canoe race from Chelmsford to Heybridge Basin which was to last for many years. It was through John's initiative that Chelmsford Canoe Club became the first club in the country to hold long distance canoe races. LD races, as they were called, soon expanded and they became a national and international sport. In 2002 John was able to commemorate 50 years of the 'Chelmer Long Distance Races'by holding a race over the original course. At the awards ceremony at the Basin, which was marred, like the race, by strong winds and heavy rain, he seemed pleased to be able to remind all competitors and officials that: 'It was just the same 50 years ago!'implying that a little rough weather didn't, and wouldn't, deter him!

In 1968, when John turned his restoring enthusiasm to the derelict River Stour, he again called in the canoeists to help with the publicity by organising a race from Sudbury to Nayland. Once more it was to be 'a beginning'. He was intent on getting the river and its neglected state into the public gaze. So what better than to have a canoe race along part of its overgrown course? Many canoes got stuck in the clumps of tall bull rushes and the race turned into a bit of a lottery. When the canoeists did arrive eventually at the Anchor pub in Nayland they were cross-examined by John who wanted to know where the weed was at its thickest and how far it stretched. He seemed unconcerned that out of a sizable entry only a few managed to complete the course! It was another of John's small beginnings: we now know how much the River Stour Trust has accomplished since. In honour of his memory the research room at their new educational centre is to be dedicated to him.

In 1973 John started a campaign to save 'Susan', the last surviving wooden freight barge on the canal. It was tied up at Little Baddow Mill and was in danger of sinking. John had a way of asking for help that was difficult to ignore. You felt almost as if you were a traitor if you refused - nothing could be more important: our precious heritage was at stake and what were you going to do about it? Quite a large number of volunteers answered his call. Another small beginning which saw the eventual forming of the Chelmer Lighter Preservation Society. In 2003, some thirty years on, John organised the Susan's 50th Birthday party celebrations.

In 1995 the then directors of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company, sensing that something different was needed to strengthen the Company's financial position, decided to invite likely supporters to form a 'Friends'organisation - the idea being that such a group might be able to attract extra funding for major maintenance projects.

At the subsequent meeting aboard the 'Victoria', John's grasp of the situation was immediate and instructive. Renowned for saying things that others merely thought, he proposed that the best way forward was to disband the Company and set up a charitable trust in its place. Only a man of his experience, vision and confidence could have made such a suggestion. It was not an outcome that any of the directors could have envisaged or indeed would accept. But it spoke volumes for what John could bring to such discussions and to the strength of character required to put new ideas forward, however unpalatable to some. In hindsight, as the story of the Company's financial problems unfolded, one can appreciate the wisdom of his proposal.

John, still paddling his canoe in the 21st century.
Despite his many other commitments, John became a founder member of the 'Friends of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation'and was a fundamental influence in its survival through its early years when it was searching for a clear role. He was a major supporter in changing the 'Friends'into a charitable trust in 2001. John served the 'Friends'and the Chelmer Canal Trust so conscientiously; looking after all of the publicity; investigating and responding to all planning matters in the Conservation Area; and promoting many canal improvements like lock ladders, handrails, information boards and landing stages. When he reviewed in Coates Cuttings March 2003 the list of canal improvements that the Trust had recommended in 1996 he found to his great pleasure that nearly all of them had been achieved. This spoke volumes for his personal involvement, perseverance, skill and dogged determination.

At his last meeting with the trustees John, an inveterate campaigner, tried to persuade us that, if we really wanted the Springfield Cut linked to the river Chelmer in Chelmsford, we should demonstrate by portaging boats, together with the Canoe Club and the Sea Cadets, along the proposed route beside the Essex Record Office. The idea was that this would attract maximum publicity. Sounds familiar? Sometimes he made you feel a little uneasy with his ideas but that, of course, is the very essence of a radical thinker. He would have talked us into it eventually!

We all owe to him an immense debt of gratitude for his selfless commitment to a heartfelt cause. He will be an inestimable loss to the Trust. We can't help but be inspired by his example and we will all hear him at our elbow from time to time urging us on, especially if we decide to demonstrate along the route of the proposed new cut in Chelmsford!

I know that I speak for all the members of all the organisations founded and supported by John in extending our deepest sympathies to his wife Marion, and his son Richard and family, at the tragic loss of their loved one.

Dudley Courtman

Unveiling the Feeder Stream Information Board

On the 29th April, The Mayor of Chelmsford, Councillor John Hunnable, assisted by Lord Lieutenant of Essex, the Lord Petre, unveiled a new information board in central Chelmsford. It marks the site where water is led from the River Chelmer to Springfield Basin, the head of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation.

This small culverted stream, dating from 1797, is the official start of the Navigation which contributed greatly to the industrial development of Chelmsford in the 19th Century. The board displays a map of the navigation, some local photographs and historical notes of interest. The purpose is to enrich the public's understanding and appreciation of the local area and the canal.

Despite a rainy afternoon the Mayor was well supported by the Mayoress, the Deputy Mayor, and Councillor Freda Mountain, together with senior officers of Chelmsford Borough Council, including Martin Easteal, the Chief Executive, and Chelmer Canal Trust trustees.

The board was designed by John Marriage and other Trust members and was funded by a grant from Chelmsford Borough Council's Jubilee Fund.

After the ceremony the unveiling party was received by Mark Freeland, the manager of the Waterfront Place, where refreshments were served.

Admiring the newly unveiled board. Admiring the newly unveiled board.

Dudley Courtman

Volunteer Work Party Update

by Ian Petchey

Throughout the winter, on the 1st Saturday of the month, the Chelmer Canal Trust have continued to organise work parties along the Chelmer Canal to remove the alien Pennywort weed floating on the surface. On average each work party has attracted around 20 volunteers per session. The meeting locations started off at Sandford Lock, then moved downstream to Boreham Bridge near Little Baddow lock as the canal was gradually freed from the alien weed.

The canal is now predominantly weed free from Chelmsford to Paper Mill. Fine picking has been done down to Cuton Lock.

Further work parties are planned during spring and summer, continuing with the 'first Saturday of each month' schedule. Hopefully by the beginning of May the canal will be weed free from Chelmsford to beyond Hoe Mill.

Back in August 2003, when we organised the first weed removal work party at Sandford, even the most optimistic opinions would unlikely have forecast that by April we would have cleared down to Paper Mill with only a volunteer work force. This achievement must also have been a contributing factor in the successful grant applications for mechanical weed clearance of the weed at Heybridge. There is still work to be done, but a big 'thank you' must go to all the volunteers who have worked so hard during the last few months.

Here are some brief reports and pictures of the work as it has progressed during this year.

Saturday 3rd January 2004.

15 volunteers participated on the day. This photo shows fine picking of the pennywort remnants from the rafted canoes. The collected weed is placed in a net hung between the two canoes.
11 o'clock and time for a well deserved cup of hot tea or coffee. In 6 months time the requirements will be for ice cold drinks!!! and the cool bags will be working to keep the contents cool, instead of currently struggling to keep the drinks hot!!

Saturday 7th February.

Good progress was made with 21 volunteers participating on the day. Around 1 mile, between Cuton Lock and Stonhams Lock, was virtually cleared of large clumps of Pennywort weed. We could not reach two clumps on the far side of the canal, and there remain a few clumps in front of Stonhams lock, but we will remove these on the 6th March. Remnant clearing between Sandford lock and Cuton with canoes was also further undertaken. We noted that the pennywort weed had been considerably weakened with frost and the amount of clumps reduced, probably helped by the fast flowing current over the previous few weeks.

Raking out the weed. 7th February

Saturday 6th March

Good progress was made with around 15 volunteers. We cleared around a mile stretch between Stonhams Lock and Little Baddow Lock. The canal is now 'large clump free' from Springfield basin down to Little Baddow Lock. It's encouraging to think that there is a possibility that by May the whole canal could be largely free of the Pennywort weed. But the weed will grow again from June onwards, so we need to continue with work parties with fine picking, otherwise it will simply grow back again from the small remaining remnants.
Freeing the weed from amongst undergrowth on the other side of the tow path. The freed floating weed was removed by other volunteers from the tow path side, as it drifted towards the bank.

Saturday 3rd April

We had around 35 volunteers in total, split between bulk weed clearance between Little Baddow Lock and Paper Mill Lock, and canoeists fine-picking between Sandford Mill Lock and Cuton lock. By the end of April, with the help of BTCV volunteers, the canal should be clear of all significant clumps of pennywort weed between Springfield and Rushes lock.

Canoeists working ''
'and relaxing
As well as the regular '1st Saturday of the month' work parties, special ones have also been organised, including one on Sunday 1st February alongside the ICS building at Heybridge. Despite the driving rain and cold temperature, around 20 volunteers removed all the main clumps of weed between Wave Bridge and the cemetery. The before and after photos taken from the bridge show what a difference a few volunteer hours can make!!!


Thanks, from canal users!

We would like to express our personal gratitude firstly to Ian Petchey for his amazing efforts and achievements in finding funding and ways to deal with the dreaded Pennywort, making the canal usable again.

Ian, thank you, we admire and applaud your ability and feel sure we can echo this from everyone involved. We are all in your debt, well done!

Secondly, to our fellow volunteers (Ian's team) for without their back-breaking hard work possibility would not become reality.

Our thanks to you all.

Steve Mynard and June Meads.

The next stage in weed removal.

During the past year, weed picking by hand has been astonishingly successful but extremely hard work and, inevitably, limited in its scope. So how are we going to combat the really severe weed infestation of the lower stretches of the canal - from Hoe Mill to Heybridge?

Our trustees have been working hard to raise funds for mechanical means of clearing the weed. (Perhaps working even harder than our volunteer weed pickers - money is just as hard to grab as weed!)

Now, the Trust, working in partnership with the Chelmer River Users Group, has just been awarded grants of '20000 from the Essex Environment Trust and '10000 from the Environment Agency towards the cost of mechanical removal, which is now enabled to begin. The '20000 grant is by courtesy of the Essex landfill operators, namely Lafarge Aggregates, Cory Environmental, RMC Environmental Services, Edwards Waste Management, Bucbricks Co., Waste Recycling Environmental (WREN): all of whom contribute funds to the Essex Environment Trust.

The main part of the work will be undertaken by the Environment Agency, using their own equipment. It started on 7th April and bulk clearance between Beeleigh and Heybridge Basin is already almost complete. Peter Spurrier, who is managing the project for Essex County Council, organised a demonstration of the work in progress on 2pm on Wednesday 21st April, which acted as a formal launch of the project. It took place at the Tesco footbridge over the canal at Maldon and was attended by most of the project partners and local council representatives.

At the Project Launch:
- left to right:
Hugh Turner (C&BN),
Miriam Lewis (Heybridge PC),
Dudley Courtman (CCT),
Peter Spurrier (Essex CC),
Ian Bliss (Environment Agency)
The technology and skill on display was first class; the boat with a weed catcher on its front gathered and delivered to an extending crane that deposited weed in a cordoned-off heap on the bank. (See below and the cover picture.)

Weed boat and excavator

The total cost of the project is estimated at '68,000 over three years and further sources of funding are being explored.

After the worst infested area has been tackled by mechanical removal, it will be followed up by a programme of hand picking to keep the weed under control. If it is undertaken professionally, the continuing hand picking programme will be more expensive than the initial mechanical bulk removal - which means the need for voluntary efforts will probably continue. So the hard work is not over yet - will it ever be? Well, perhaps so. Intensive work, over several years, on the stretch of river between Chelmsford town centre and Sandford Lock does seem to have eradicated the weed permanently there (fingers crossed!).

The Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company, one of the partners in the scheme, will be assisting with the mechanical removal and monitoring programme. They have agreed they are responsible for preventing any further outbreaks of this weed once the problem has been reduced to manageable levels.

Chelmsford Rivers Clean-Up Day, Saturday 27th March

Chelmer Canal Trust members joined groups from the Inland Waterways Association, Rotaract, the Environment Agency, Chelmsford Borough and Parish Council officers and councillors, and staff from McDonald's, in a clean up of the Town's river borders and banks. At 9am on the Wharf Road Car Park (free to volunteers!) some eighty 'litter pickers'were given protective gloves, sacks and litter pickers and urged 'to go forth and fill'by Eileen Lawless, Chelmsford's Environmental Health Officer. The local press photographers were on hand to catch all the action.

The river banks opposite the Essex Record Office bore witness to earlier activity by a team from the Environment Agency in the form of very dirty and weeded super market trolleys. The number pulled out this year, together with other detritus filled two skips. Many looked as if they had been in the water a long time which suggested that the previous year's successful prosecution against the trolley owners was having an affect.

The two places that collect most of the litter are the river margins and the downwind edges of the long stay car park. Most of the rubbish in the river margins are things that float and which have probably have had quite a long journey: metal cans and plastic bottles; plastic bags are everywhere. One does find the occasional unusual object thrown into the undergrowth, or in the river. This year it was a wooden chair! There were also quite a number of metal tray racks. It makes you wonder if that's on the bank what's on the bottom of the river. This year we were not able to answer that question to our satisfaction because the usual diving team had to cancel at the last minute.

In 2004, 'the consumer age', there are many more items 'to get rid of.'Previous generations couldn't afford to throw things away whereas now marketing policies actively encourage it. When the pile on the bottom of the river gets higher and the river shallower, boats so aground, or are damaged, the river cannot carry flood water effectively and thousands of pounds has to spent on dredging it. One good sign is that over the last few years much more is being done nationally to promote recycling schemes. Once the public become really aware of what rubbish consists of and how it can be re-used it is less likely to find its way into our rivers.

For us 'litter-pickers'it was satisfying to see the fruits of our labours: for what had been a depressing spectacle of litter-strewn banks was in no time transformed into to a pleasant scene. It is surprising how much a dedicated team of workers can achieve in a short time.

As in previous years refreshments were kindly provided and served by the Sea Cadets from their headquarters and the St John Ambulance Service was in attendance.

This was another excellent example of active partnership between the local community and public bodies. The day achieved a lot of benefits for everyone -the organisers are to be congratulated. Residents and visitors to Chelmsford all have attractive and pleasant river walks to enjoy again.

Dudley Courtman

High costs sink narrowboats

Most readers will know that Ron and Judith Abbott have been offering narrow boat holidays on the Chelmer and Blackwater under the banner of Blackwater Boats from Sandford Lock for the last ten years. They have faced a number of difficulties in the last few years, stemming from factors entirely outside their control. These include; the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001; a number of serious flooding events; periods of canal maintenance and lock restoration, mostly during the spring and summer months - the busiest periods for holiday bookings. Finally the collapse of the Navigation Company into administration has made the future very uncertain and has also resulted in a doubling of navigation and licence charges. Reluctantly, they have decided that they cannot survive this situation and their holiday narrowboats are now being offered for sale.

As they say; 'It's a sad time for us and for many disappointed customers who will no longer be able to holiday on the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. This particular navigation has often been referred to as 'Essex Secret Waterway', now it may remain a secret from many would be boaters who will be unable to experience the rivers Chelmer and Blackwater aboard Blackwater Boats traditional narrowboats.'

The only silver lining to this sad story is that they will continue to operate the 'Blackwater Rose', offering short cruise trips. Details of their programme for the current year appear on page 21.

Book review -

'The ups and downs of a Lock Keeper' by Jake Kavanagh

If you get it right, then no-one notices. However, if you get it wrong''..

What is it about such simple things as locks, bridges and weirs that cause both experienced and inexperienced boaters to flounder? This question is what Jake sets out to illustrate in a highly amusing way in his book, recently reissued.

Jake, born into a boating family, lived by the Thames at Marlow for many years. After a number of jobs he eventually joined the Thames Water Authority as a Lock Keeper, working around Windsor. He is well-known as a boating cartoonist and his own illustrative work is liberally sprinkled among the many amusing anecdotes in this book. Jake draws upon his experiences as a Lock Keeper and shares some of the many stories that the boater has unwittingly placed at his bollards. These are the sort of tales recounted after a hard day's locking while relaxing at one of the many places of refreshment that seem to proliferate along waterways. Among many other things I particularly liked the definition of the term, 'S.P.L.A.S.H.E.R.'- a Surprised Person Leaving A Ship Hurriedly and Entering the River!

If you like that you'll love the rest. This book, all 103 pages of A5, is a light-hearted and highly amusing read, and a 'must'for any boater's bookshelf.

'The ups and downs of a Lock Keeper'is reprinted by Adlard Coles Nautical and may be found in good bookshops priced at '6.99.

Nick Ridgway

A new kind of Gift Aid

The Inland Revenue helps charity supporters.

Readers who have to submit a self-assessment tax return to the Inland Revenue will have recently received the necessary bundle of forms for the year ended 5 April 2004. You may have noticed that it includes a new simple way of giving money to charities. The result of self-assessment is usually the discovery that one has either underpaid or overpaid tax during the year under review. If you have underpaid, you get a bill from the tax-man. If you have overpaid, you are entitled to a refund.

Now, for the first time, you have the option of donating some or all of your refund to a charity of your choice. It is quite simple - just nominate the charity of your choice in Question 19A on the Tax Return form. The only tricky point is that you have to enter the charity's 'unique code'.

No problem! The Chelmer Canal Trust's code is: DAL30YG

Even if you are not sure whether you will be entitled to a refund or not, you can complete Question 19A and, if you are due for a refund, the tax-man will take care of it. The actual value to the charity is 28% more than your refund amount, because the donation is tax-free. In principle, this is exactly the same process as Gift Aid (which already applies to our annual subscription to the Trust - as long as we have signed up for it).

Ulting Church; the Towpath View

Completely unexpected
Just around the bend
Of the wide still water
As if temporarily beached,
Or moored up for the night,
On ground flatter and
No higher than the brimming stream
Is a church.
Marooned, lost, forgotten,
Erected in this rural idyll
Part water, reed, tree and mead
Set against a summer sky.
Perfect, a vision
The lost ark
Set down here
For us to cherish and admire.
A lost old master.
This simple church 
With nave and chancel
And modest wooden spire
Its masonry gathered from on hand
Flint, chert and pudding stone
Radiant under bright red tiles
Glistening in the setting sun.
But who has worshipped here
Behind these historic windows and narrow door
That almost grants access to the passing stream
That must lap often
At its buried sill?
And who decided to site it here,
To then abandon it and disappear?
Those who would hold it safe
Knowing this was indeed a sacred place
Knowing the river would keep its bounds
Not daring to transgress this holy ground.

Don McCort

Diary Dates

First Saturday of each month: Weed Work Parties.
For details, contact Ian Petchey (01375 650014)

Thursday July 8th CCT AGM at Ulting and Langford Village Hall, including a talk by Claire Cadman from the Essex Biodiversity Partnership on "The Threats to Canal Bankside Plants and Animals"

Sunday July 18th Rushes Lock. Picnic Barbecue and Boat Rally ? July (subject to confirmation) Springfield Marina opening and Boat Rally.

Tues 19th October Ulting and Langford Village Hall; talk on "The Flowering Plants along the Navigation" by Phil Luke from Essex Wildlife Trust.

For more details, unless otherwise stated, contact Dudley Courtman (01621 892231)

Wanted - 4 volunteers to enter Raft Race event.

Over the last few years the IWA have organised a sponsored raft race on the River Chelmer in Chelmsford. This year's event is to be held in July. If the Trust had 4 volunteers to make the raft and participate in the event we could also look into the possibilities of having a 'Chelmer Canal Trust Stand' alongside the river bank, to promote the Trust, with a view to recruiting a few more members. The Trust would likely be able to give some assistance with obtaining materials etc. Last years event had 9 teams participating and was sponsored by Higgins Homes, with the winners receiving '100 and second '50. A pre-requisite is that you must be able to swim... you will likely need to!!!!!

If we had 8 volunteers we could enter two teams!!!

If you (and a few friends - sons / daughters?) are interested give Ian Petchey a call on 01375 650014 (ev & w/e), or email Ian

Cruise on the "Balmoral" from Maldon to London
(Tower Bridge)

On Friday July 2nd the pleasure ship 'Balmoral'will depart Maldon Quay at 12-45 and will cruise down the Blackwater around the Essex coast into the Thames, to dock at Tower Bridge at approx 2130hrs. She is a twin diesel-engined vessel, 203ft overall, beam 32ft, and 736 tons. Registered to carry up to 800 passengers, she was built by Thorneycroft s at Southampton in 1949.

She is owned by the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society and is operated by Waverley Excursions Ltd. Over the last two winters she has had a major overhaul, with her old Newbury 'Sirron'diesel-engine being replaced with two new Danish 'Grenaa'diesel engines which are very much quieter and smooth running. She also had extensive work done to her bars, dining saloon, promenade deck, and all facilities

Bookings for the cruise can be made by phone to 0845-1304647 or by post to Waverly Excursions, Waverley Terminal, and Glasgow, G3 8HA.

Costs '35, '31concessions, and children half price.

Editor's note. We understand that the quoted prices include return by coach from tower bridge to Maldon. Remember to state your needs when booking.



Sundays June 6th 11-5pm Hourly
July 4th 11-5pm Hourly
August 1st 11-5pm Hourly
August 8th 11-5pm Hourly
August 15th 11-5pm Hourly
August 22nd 11-5pm Hourly
August 29th 11-5pm Hourly
Sept 5th 11-5pm Hourly
October 3rd 11-5pm Hourly
Mondays May 31st 12 noon - 4pm Hourly
August 30th 12 noon - 4pm Hourly
Pre-booking required
May 22nd/23rd 12 noon - 4pm hourly
All trips subject to river and weather conditions (We advise that you check we are operating)

Boat Trips normally start from Sandford Lock, Brook End Road (Signs normally posted on Chelmer Village Way)

Contact details:-
Ron Abbott Blackwater Boats
Tel No: 01206 853282
Mobile: 07802 514400
Or visit our website for further information and pre-booking information.

Mink - To Cull or Not to Cull

We have had many sightings of mink on the Chelmer over the past few years, and some reports of the distressing sights of their ferocious attacks on water birds, fish and voles. They will virtually attack anything vulnerable and are a ruthless and deadly predator. The American mink (Mustela vison) was first introduced to the UK in 1929 for breeding in fur farms. With the onset of the Second World War many were let loose or abandoned to the countryside where they soon established themselves. Since then there have been several escapes from farms and some deliberate releases by the Animal Liberation Front. Although mink farming is now banned there are thought to be 100,000 wild mink in the UK.

The water vole population of the UK has declined from nine million to 800,000 over the last twenty years. There is much evidence to suggest that the mink has greatly contributed to this decline. The mink has affected the breeding populations of ground nesting birds; whole colonies of sea birds have been wiped out. There is a major threat to the rare corncrake in Scotland, one of our rarest species, and to the little grebe. Our own little grebes (dabchicks) are hanging on at Little Baddow and Ulting but only just; these tiny diving duck can often be seen in the tidal Chelmer from the seawall adjacent to Tesco supermarket.

All invasive species, like the pennywort, come with a huge removal bill around their necks. In the mink's case it is thought to be in excess of '3 to '10 million, and complete elimination could take 50 years. Coypu in East Anglia (once present on the Chelmer) caused millions of pounds worth of damage to crops and drainage systems so it made financial sense to invest large sums to eradicate them. The minks' impact is entirely environmental - how do you put a price on saving water birds, fish and voles?

Some mink culling trials carried out in Norfolk led to a dramatic improvement in vole populations. Although culling would seem to be justified there are counter arguments: some groups say that thriving populations of water voles do exist alongside and within known mink territories; it was thought that mink led the decline in otter populations in Britain but now it is believed that the otter is actually helping to control mink, so rather than undertake a costly eradication programme a more positive approach would be to invest in the re-introduction of the otter. There are also concerns over the methods of culling; mink hunting is thought to be a cruel sport causing needless trauma and pain to mink and stress to other animals. The Environment Agency recommends the use of properly designed traps.

Conventional trapping is expensive as it requires the purchase of traps, permission for access from land owners and the need to inspect traps daily - with the attendant manpower costs. One can appreciate the problem involved in removing mink from a long waterway. Mink are elusive; a national strategy would require the co-operation of thousands of land owners who would have to give permission to hundreds of trappers

A possible solution has been found by scientists working for the Game Conservancy Trust who have designed a special raft to attract mink and record their presence. The monitoring device is made of a 4ft by 2ft polystyrene float sandwiched between two sheets of plywood. A central block is removed and a basket inserted, filled with flower-mounting foam and covered with sand and clay. The foam acts as a wick, soaking up the water to keep the clay moist; the pad is then covered with a wooden tunnel and the platform moored a few feet from the bank. The mink a very curious predator is naturally drawn to the platform and its tunnel, where the clay records its footprints; a central pad surrounded by five, evenly spaced toes (those of an otter are much larger and irregular). If mink are present then the clay can be swapped for a humane trap. Dr Jonathan Reynolds of the Trust says the floating trap is cost effective and that eradicating mink on a single river is achievable. There's a solution waiting for the Chelmer and Blackwater conservationists then if culling is thought to be desirable.

Details of the raft's construction are on the Game Conservancy Trust's website:

Dudley Courtman

Closure dates for submission of articles for the newsletter:

30th June for the August issue
31st September for the November issue

Please send any contributions to Mike Lewis
or post to 16 Roots Lane, Wickham Bishops, Essex, CM8 3LS

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

Welcome to new members:

Phil Luke from Maldon
Barry and Anne Williams from Hatfield Peverel
Roland Bright from Brentwood
Terry Anderson from Chelmsford
Neil Frost from Edmonton
Helen Hardwicke from Little Baddow Conservation Society
Jeff Merryweather from Heybridge
Leonie Ramondt and Moroah Smiley from Chelmsford

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 572095

No articles may be copied or reprinted without the author's consent. 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 no liability can be accepted for any matter in the newsletter

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