Keeping Our Waterways Alive in 2014
2014 has been a busy year and so much has been achieved. With the support of our members we’ve been able to directly improve the local waterways by increasing the number of work parties by 50% and spending nearly 15,000 volunteer hours improving the waterways through clean ups, lock painting and vegetation clearance. This includes a massive volunteer effort, which saw miles of canal cleared of the invasive Himalayan Balsam, which can cause navigation problems for boaters. On top of this, our Waterway Recovery Group (WRG) spent 40,000 volunteer hours bringing derelict waterways back to life by planning projects, rebuilding locks, repointing bridges, digging and clearing vegetation.
We successfully campaigned for the Government to adopt our alternative HS2 route alignment to protect the area around Fradley Junction and continued to highlight the importance of the transfer of Environment Agency (EA) navigations to Canal & River Trust (CRT) which has been backed by the All Party Parliamentary Waterways Group (APPWG). We’ve continued working with navigation authorities for mooring issues to be resolved, as well as campaigning to save a stretch of navigable river in Yorkshire from being cut off from the rest of the canal network.
The year started with storms and floods which had a significant impact on waterways across the country with strong streams, overflows and fallen trees creating chaotic conditions and in some cases, even boat sinkings.
We continued to work with waterway societies, CRT and others to identify issues with the HS2 high speed rail Phase 2 route with regards to navigable waterways, as well as those proposed for restoration, and submitted a national waterways response to its consultation, highlighting major issues for the Aire and Calder Navigation as well as the Chesterfield Canal restoration.
EA staff cuts were announced, underlining the importance of IWA’s continuing campaign to have EA’s navigation duties transferred to CRT, in order to preserve waterway services and maintenance.
In response to the increasing demand for the use of towpaths as cycle routes, we pooled our collective knowledge and issued some advice to encourage safe use of the towpaths in the form of a ‘Cycling Code’, to benefit everyone using the towpath.
At the London Boat Show, IWA received a special award for attending the Show for the 60 consecutive years since it was launched. This award recognised the efforts of our event volunteers who run a stand to provide information on inland boating and recruit new members.
To round off the month, IWA’s Waterway Recovery Group announced plans to purchase a new excavator, to assist its volunteers with waterway restoration work as well as allowing other waterway societies to undertake projects without the costs involved in commercial plant hire.
Photo: John Fevyer, IWA (left) receives a special 60th Anniversary Award from Peter Gordon, Chairman National Boat Shows (right) (photo courtesy OnEdition)
In February flooding continued with the EA issuing a record number of severe flood warnings. Despite the poor weather, volunteers still turned out across the country to take part in vegetation clearance, cleanups and restoration work. Forty large bags of rubbish were collected in a three mile clean-up of the canals in Stoke-on-Trent, organised by IWA North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Branch.
IWA met with the Waterways Minister Dan Rogerson MP, and got a good response to our campaign issues, particularly in relation to EA Navigations.
The campaign for HS2 continued with another consultation response submitted for HS2’s Phase 1 route between London and the Midlands.
In March the flooding subsided, and the Grand Western Canal and towpath was officially re-opened following the completion of structural repairs to a breached embankment at Halberton, caused by severe weather in November 2013.
IWA Warwickshire Branch had an enthusiastic response from the local community with over 80 volunteers turning out to clean up the Grand Union Canal. In the East Midlands, IWA Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Branch and Erewash Canals Preservation & Development Association rallied 55 volunteers to clear over five miles of the Erewash Canal. One of the items recovered was a motorbike that was of interest to the Police.
IWA’s Wild Over Waterways, which runs an educational programme of activities for children, received a generous donation of £800 from Toyota Manufacturing UK Charitable Trust, to support a new Building & Structures activity leaflet to add to the existing range of resources.
Sir Tony Baldry MP received the ‘Parliamentarian of the Year Award’ at IWA's Award Dinner for his long history of support for IWA and the inland waterways.
Progress was made to protect Fradley Junction from the preferred HS2 route when IWA, CRT, Hyder Consulting (UK) Ltd and HS2 got together and established that there was an improved prospect of a technically viable alternative route at Fradley Junction.
IWA North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Branch joined the partnership board of the Churnet Valley Living Landscape to deliver a wide range of projects including several projects on the Caldon Canal and the derelict Uttoxeter Canal.
Photo: Hopper filled with rubbish collected from Grand Union Canal, IWA Warwickshire Branch Work Party
April saw work parties clearing huge amounts of rubbish from the canals. Over 100 volunteers joined together to remove 40 tonnes of rubbish from Birmingham's Canals including trolleys, bicycles, tyres, three goal posts, a safe and a Lancashire boiler shovel! 61 volunteers turned up for IWA Milton Keynes Branch's annual two day clean-up of the Grand Union Canal, where the recovery of a security cash box resulted in a £100 reward for the Branch.
IWA Staff gave their own spare time and completed the 50 mile Acheman Challenge quadrathlon along the Grand Union Canal dressed as ducks. The challenge, which included running, cycling, canoeing and working a boat through seven locks, raised over £16,000 towards the new excavator for WRG.
The waterways of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park opened for the first time since the rivers were restored. On behalf of IWA, St Pancras Cruising Club organised an inaugural cruise of the entire park in which nearly forty boats took part.
Over 130 boats gathered and record numbers of people came out to enjoy another successful IWA Canalway Cavalcade over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend at Little Venice in London. In the same weekend, over thirty boats gathered in glorious sunshine for IWA Northampton Branch’s first ever Boat Gathering held in the historic Nurser’s canal dock at Braunston Marina. Later in the month, forty trail boats and thousands of visitors attended IWA's National Trailboat Festival, which was held on the land-locked Grand Western Canal at Tiverton to celebrate the Canal's 200th anniversary.
IWA joined forces with CRT to host a Restoration Workshop, to provide over 60 representatives from waterway groups with more support to assist in the development of their restoration projects.
Towards the end of May, IWA formally submitted its Petition to the House of Commons against the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill in a bid to minimise the impact HS2 would have on various canal navigations, their access and enjoyment by the public and their commercial interests.
IWA welcomed recommendations by CRT's Freight Advisory Group, particularly the establishment of the Aire & Calder Navigation, Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation and the Ouse to Selby as Priority Freight Routes.
Photo: Freight on Aire & Calder (photo by Tim Lewis)
The month kicked off with dedicated WRG restoration volunteer, George Rogers, being selected as one of thirty prestigious Volunteers’ Week Ambassadors to demonstrate the important, diverse roles volunteers play in our communities.
Thousands of people and over 120 craft assembled in the basin at Tower Wharf at IWA's National Campaign Festival in Chester, to support IWA Chester and Merseyside Branch's campaign to repair and reopen the River Lock leading onto the River Dee.
IWA and the Historic Narrow Boat Club launched a joint project to research winding holes on the inland waterways. The results have provided a greater understanding of the geographical spread of problems, and data to enable both organisations to lobby navigation authorities about the issue.
The month concluded with a gathering at Robert Aickman Lock on the Upper Avon Navigation, to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Robert Aickman, one of IWA's founders.
In July, IWA Lee & Stort and West Riding Branches hosted successful boat gatherings in Ware and Leeds respectively. IWA also celebrated the restoration of waterways in Warwickshire at Stratford River Festival, with a popular exhibition featuring historic restoration photographs and film footage.
IWA also launched a campaign to save part of the River Derwent in Yorkshire from becoming unnavigable. Elvington Lock (also known as Sutton Lock) was closed to navigation by EA back in February, which cut off part of the system from the national network and stranded a number of boats upstream. IWA has held negotiations with EA and has made progress on the issue.
IWA was invited to give evidence for the All Party Parliamentary Waterways Group inquiry into CRT. IWA welcomed the opportunity to celebrate the Trust's achievements over the past two years, and to highlight some of the issues IWA has been campaigning for, particularly the transfer of EA navigations.
There was a huge turnout for the 2014 Himalayan Balsam pulling project, which finished in August. 169 volunteers joined IWA Branches on 20 work parties to tackle the invasive species across ten waterways, giving over 900 hours of their time to remove the plant. Himalayan Balsam is a non-native invasive species, which can cause navigation problems for boaters and increase the need to dredge as well as damaging waterway ecosystems.
Progress was made towards restoration of the lock at Inglesham, which links the River Thames with the rest of the Cotswold Canals, following a fundraising appeal launched in 2010. WRG volunteers contributed 300 days over three weeks, to repair stop plank grooves, install stop planks and clear part of the lock chamber. 2015 will see the rest of the lock chamber cleared to allow for a full survey of the chamber to be undertaken by one of IWA’s Honorary Consultant Engineers.
To continue the focus on waterway restoration, a raffle was launched which has generated over £11,000 so far. The success of the raffle will directly benefit restoration projects so IWA and WRG would like to say a big thank you to everyone that has supported the raffle.
Despite variable weather, the IWA pageant held at Saul over the Bank Holiday weekend attracted around 2,500 visitors and encouraged boaters to explore the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal.
At the beginning of September good weather helped make the biannual Maesbury Festival a success. Jointly organized by members of IWA Shrewsbury & North Wales Branch and Friends of the Montgomery Canal, the festival celebrated the completion of another stretch of restoration on the Monty.
IWA’s big autumn clean-ups started in September. The first to get out the grappling hooks and take on the challenge of removing rubbish deposited on the bottom of waterways was IWA Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Branch. IWA Oxfordshire and North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Branches were busy with preparations for waterway festivals and IWA Manchester Branch and WRG North West were supporting a weeklong offside vegetation project.
IWA welcomed the report published by the All Party Parliamentary Waterways Group on progress made by CRT since it became a charity in 2012. The report recognised the achievements made by CRT in a relatively short amount of time but IWA particularly noted the focus on the transfer of EA waterways to CRT.
IWA and CRT met with members of the House of Commons HS2 Select Committee as they visited the Lichfield and Trent & Mersey canals, to consider the route changes sought to mitigate the impact of HS2 at these important waterway locations.
A weekend of activities to celebrate the reopening of the Caldon Canal took place towards the end of September at IWA’s National AGM. On Sunday 28th September, hundreds of visitors gathered at Top Lock in Cheddleton to watch the recreation of the ceremony, 40 years to the day in 1974, when the Caldon Canal was reopened to navigation.
Photo: Just some of the rubbish pulled out by Trent Lane Depot (photo by Alison Smedley)
The beginning of October marked success for one of IWA’s major campaigns. Three years of work came to fruition as the Government announced its adoption of IWA and CRT’s alternative proposals, which realigns the route of HS2 to avoid much of the popular and historic Fradley Junction to Woodend area of the Trent & Mersey Canal. Additionally the new route negates the need for a large worksite alongside the Coventry Canal between Streethay and Huddlesford.
WRG launched its Building Bridges Project, a joint initiative with CRT that aims to encourage volunteers from local organisations such as community groups or residents' associations, to undertake more technical restoration work along their local waterways.
October was a wet month for a lot of the work parties, but this did not keep the volunteers away with many breaking out the waterproofs and braving the weather. Both Manchester and Milton Keynes IWA Branches had over fifty volunteers attend their two-day events; and IWA South Yorkshire Branch had over thirty volunteers at its clean-up on the Sheffield & Tinsley Canal; with such help the navigations were really improved. This month also saw IWA North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Branch contribute to a Britain in Bloom gold medal win in Congleton.
Photo: Volunteers at the IWA work party on the Macclesfield Canal at Congleton
In November George Rogers won another award. The WRG volunteer received the Prime Minister’s Points of Light Award, which recognises outstanding volunteers who are making a change in their community and inspiring others. George also organised WRG’s Big Reunion Weekend, which took place in November. Over 100 volunteers descended on the Chesterfield Canal to carry out major vegetation clearance along the line of the Canal at Norbriggs, Renishaw and Spinkhill.
IWA’s series of big canal clean-ups came to an end in November. IWA Warwickshire Branch had over 80 volunteers at its clean-up on the Grand Union Canal, volunteers from across IWA’s London Region joined forces and descended onto the bed of the Regent’s Canal to clear away the rubbish whilst it was dewatered, and IWA Birmingham, Black Country & Worcestershire Branch held a two-day event in Bournville. In addition IWA Lichfield Branch held a week of work parties to relay the Trent & Mersey Canal towpath between Brindley Bank Aqueduct and the Rugeley Bypass Bridge.
As part of the campaign on winding holes, IWA posted a recommended specification for winding holes on its website to assist in future projects.
Photo: Rubbish collected from the Grand Union Canal on the IWA Warwickshire Branch clean-up
IWA Northampton Branch was presented with the 2014 Volunteer Organisation Recognition Award by CRT South East, for its work along the entire four-mile stretch of the Northampton Arm, Grand Union Canal, on which the Branch holds regular work parties.
Planned for 2015
2015 will be another busy year for IWA with much more work to do on HS2 including detailed discussions alongside CRT with HS2 Ltd, over the changes to HS2 in the Lichfield Canal and Trent & Mersey Canal areas, to make sure these provide workable solutions for all. We will also follow up any announcements from Government confirming the Phase 2 route from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, where there are potential major impacts on restorations and navigations.
Restoration work will continue with plenty of WRG Canal Camps, as well as branch work parties to improve navigations and all our other ongoing campaigns. We need your support to fund all these diverse and worthwhile activities that benefit our inland waterways. See IWA's Objectives for 2015.
Thank you for supporting IWA and the inland waterways in 2014.