February 2015 Work Parties

Created on 19/03/2015

It is not unusual for February to throw all sorts of weather at us here in the UK. It can be wet, cold and even icy or dry and sunny, tricking us into thinking it may also be warm! This year February brought a lot of cold and wet weather to IWA’s work parties. One group even had to break through the ice on the canal in the fog! No one would blame volunteers if they decided to miss one of their regular work parties when faced with this miserable weather, but this was not the case as many still turned out in force, and heavy-duty wet-weather gear, to support the work parties going on round the country. Read on to see what they achieved.

Volunteers Met with Fog and Ice at Stoke-on-Trent Work Party

Photo (top): Volunteers load up the truck with rubbish pulled from the bed of the Trent & Mersey Canal (photo by Andy Price)

Thick fog and an iced-over canal did not deter people from turning out to support IWA North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Branch’s annual Stoke-on-Trent Canal Cleanup on Saturday 8th February.

This year volunteers focused their efforts on the Middleport area of the Trent & Mersey Canal, between Tunstall Bypass Bridge and the edge of Boundary Park. From this stretch, just over two miles long, twenty-five bags of litter were collected from along the towpath. A number of more curious finds were also made, including forty blue plastic bottle tops without any bottles, a string of sausage and a floating bag of potatoes!

The Canal itself was also given a good clear out, with submerged rubbish pulled from dumping hotspots such as beneath the bridges.  Unbroken ice on the canal gave a new dimension to even the most experienced of grapplers, with it taking a few throws of the grappling hook just to break through the ice. A number of bikes, scrap metal, car parts, fencing panels, insulation material, and a mattress were all pulled from the canal bed, filling two trucks.

Of the various bicycles that were pulled out, Alan Christian of the Prince’s Regeneration Trust hopes that one of them will be able to be recycled for use in his “Blenderbike” project, which will give the public an opportunity to blend their own smoothies using pedal power at local events.

The volunteers were very happy with the difference made and grateful to Canal & River Trust, Trent & Mersey Canal Society, Burslem Port Trust and the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, all of whom supported the event.

IWA Birmingham, Black Country & Worcestershire Branch Work Party

On 11th February, IWA Birmingham, Black Country & Worcestershire Branch held a successful work party. Eleven volunteers, and a well-behaved dog, spent just over two hours litter picking about three miles of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal towpath between Falling Sands and Stourport. The team collected over twelve bags of rubbish all destined for the nearby Council refuse depot. Volunteers were keen to get involved and came from as far afield as Malvern and Quinton.

IWA West Country Branch Volunteers Make the Most of Training Opportunities

 IWA West Country Branch volunteers building a dead hedge for local wildlife at Bathpool, (photo by Mike Slade)Photo: IWA West Country Branch volunteers building a dead hedge for local wildlife at Bathpool, (photo by Mike Slade)

Volunteers with IWA West Country Branch spent Valentine’s Day showing their appreciation of the waterways and environment. Ten volunteers were on the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal Towpath at Lyndale Avenue on 14th February cutting back vegetation to improve towpath access and help maintain a healthy hedge. In the group were four new volunteers who were working with the Branch for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

More and more of the regular volunteers are taking up training opportunities with Canal & River Trust. They are working on everything from operating strimmers and work boats to developing hedge laying skills.
It was on 28th February, at the Branch’s second work party of the month, when four volunteers had a go at hedge laying during a taster course. They hope to have a full day's training later in the year, so that the Branch can carry out a hedge laying project in the autumn. Whilst the training group learnt how to manage living hedgerows, the rest of the eleven volunteers at the late-February work party turned their hands to building a dead hedge, which will be a haven for local wildlife.

All of the training and opportunities to try new activities is helping to build a variety of skills across the volunteer group so they can undertake a whole host of tasks along the Canal. The volunteers also enjoy learning new and interesting skills that can be useful elsewhere.

Progress at Red Bull Flight for Cheshire Locks Work Party

IWA North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Branch volunteer groupPhoto: IWA North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Branch volunteer group

Despite cold and persistent rain on 19th February, six volunteers turned out to help at IWA North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Branch’s Cheshire Locks work party on the Trent & Mersey Canal. What was even more surprising was that two of these were new faces who had not let the miserable weather put them off their first venture into volunteering with the group!

The volunteers got to work on cutting back overgrown vegetation and revealing hidden setts and copings, and made good progress. They also took the opportunity to clear out rubbish from an interesting wall feature and to cut back brambles and trim the hedge a little.

At the end of the day, volunteers were wet and muddy but satisfied with having made a real difference to this very popular area. Praise and thanks was received from several dog-walkers and the one intrepid boater moving that day.

Lower Peak Forest Canal Work Party

On 21st March, IWA Manchester Branch volunteers arrived on the Lower Peak Forest Canal for the Branch’s monthly work party. The weather was cold and wet, but this did not deter the group who quickly got ready to start work at Bridge 1. The aim was to get to the junction with the Ashton Canal by lunchtime, having litter picked the route along the way. Working hard, the volunteers had filled twelve litterbags by the time they reached the picnic area opposite the museum and filled a further ten at this spot before heading home for the day.

First Burslem Port Work Party Attracts Plenty of Help

IWA North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Branch started up a new monthly work party at Burslem Port on the 24th February. Four volunteers arrived ready to see what the new opportunity had to offer and they were soon joined by a further five young people who were out on a community payback scheme and offered their help litter picking. Numbers grew again later when two volunteers from a Canal & River Trust volunteer group based at Etruria, who the Branch had met at Middleport Pottery a couple of weeks earlier, joined the team mid-morning.

With a healthy number of volunteers, it was possible to split into two groups, with the payback team and their supervisor litter picking near to the wharf and the rest of the group clearing trees and vegetation at the junction with the Trent & Mersey Canal. The group used an assortment of hand tools and soon the site was looking very different, it certainly needed the work having not been seen to since 2010. Unfortunately, strong gusts of winds meant that it was difficult to keep the fire going so most of the cuttings were stacked up for burning another day.

On crossing the canal via Newport Lane Bridge at the end of the day, the group were happy that to see that it was clear what a difference had been made. The church tower in Burslem was visible from the towpath once more and, whilst there is still a lot to do, the site was already looking better.

IWA Chester & Merseyside Branch Complete Vegetation Project

IWA Chester & Merseyside Branch’s work party on 28th February was a good close to the month, with eleven volunteers helping. The Branch finally completed the clearance of overhanging vegetation along a stretch of the Shropshire Union Canal that they had begun in Chester in December 2014, which included the rediscovery of the lost offside bank copingstones at Union Terrace (Chester Cow Lane Bridge). Throughout the project, the volunteers were especially careful to leave a selection of suitable areas for wildlife habitat.

Busy Winter on the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation

Volunteers hard at work at Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation Work PartyPhoto: Volunteers hard at work at Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation Work Party

Essex Waterways Ltd. has happily hosted a number of WRG activities on the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation over the winter. This has included several weekend work parties, with Essex WRG and IWA Chelmsford Branch, as well as a WRG Canal Camp in February.  Across the events, volunteers carried out vegetation management work, which has been greatly appreciated by the growing number of towpath users. The work has also enabled Essex County Council to carry out informal surfacing between Barnes Lock and Sandford and will assist with future access for Essex Waterways Ltd.'s Avant cutter.

IWA Northampton Branch Uncovers Buried Mile Post

Northampton Arm Milepost 3 buried at the side of the towpathPhoto: Northampton Arm Milepost 3 buried at the side of the towpath

IWA Northampton Branch was exceptionally busy in February, holding four work parties. Two of these were special events, focused on reinstating one of the historic mile markers on the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union Canal. The marker, which had become buried over the years, was in need of digging out and re-setting, so that it could once again be seen.

After the first day of the milepost reinstatement project, the volunteers reached the 12” diameter plate of the post concreted in with broken bricks. It soon became clear that the volunteers would not manage to release the post without a more heavy-duty piece of equipment, so retired for the day to make further plans. A second day’s work and the right tool for the job, a jackhammer in this instance, ended in success as the post came out and was reinstated at a proper height, before being given a good lick of paint.

IWA Northampton Branch volunteer paints reinstated Mile Post 3, (photo by John Bannister)Photo: IWA Northampton Branch volunteer paints reinstated Mile Post 3, (photo by John Bannister)

If all this work wasn’t enough, the group also held two litter picks during the month. Across the two days, volunteers filled almost 100 bags with rubbish, a feat that certainly left the Arm looking much better and more pleasant for all users.

In addition to these work parties, in February, IWA Ipswich Branch continued to support the River Gipping Trust and IWA North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Branch worked on the Uttoxeter Canal with Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust and the Macclesfield Canal.

Interested in getting involved as a volunteer with IWA? Take a look at IWA’s information on volunteering or get in touch with Stefanie Preston.

Tags: IWA Work Parties