Operation Starburst29 October 2013
Over the weekend of 19th and 20th October, over 100 volunteers took part in a large multi-site canal clean up on the canals of Greater Manchester.
The event was organised jointly by IWA Manchester Branch and Canal & River Trust Manchester & Pennines volunteering team. Waterway Recovery Group supported the event by supplying a minibus and driver and in arranging accommodation for those people travelling from further afield for the weekend.
The event followed on from last year’s successful 'Ashtac Reunion' event, when exactly 100 people turned out over two days. The name for this year’s event, Operation Starburst, was chosen to reflect the concept of working on different canals around a central meeting point, as well as continuing the theme from the even larger scale events that took place over forty years ago. Operation Ashton took place in 1968, and this was followed by Ashton Attack ('Ashtac') in 1972, which saw 1000 people working on the canals in this area. Those events contributed to the reopening of the Cheshire Ring waterways in 1974.
The 'Starburst' effect was created through volunteers working in five different locations based on a central meeting point of Portland Basin, at Dukinfield Junction, the junction of the Lower Peak Forest and the Ashton canals. Volunteers were ferried out from there to the five locations nearby. Local volunteers were able to join in direct at the site they wished to work at.
The five locations were Hyde (on the Lower Peak Forest Canal), Stalybridge (on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal), Clayton on the Ashton Canal, and Newton Heath and Failsworth on the Rochdale Canal. As well as pulling rubbish out of the canal, other tasks were carried out at the various locations, including towpath repairs, vegetation clearance, painting and removing invasive plants.
At Hyde, one of the main tasks for the weekend had been identified just a week earlier, when it was realised that the weed clogging up the channel was in fact Floating Pennywort. Two large patches of this invasive weed were removed from the canal south of Bridge 6 although further work will be required to contain the spread of this weed. Rubbish removed at this site included numerous bicycles, tyres, mangled shopping trolleys, a crutch, fence panels and road signs.
The roving bridge which takes the towpath from one side of the canal to the other was cleared of vegetation, weeds and much litter, and towpath repairs were also carried out south of Bridge 6.
At Failsworth the activity was centred on Lock 65, where vegetation was cleared, litter picked, rubbish pulled out of the canal and balance beams and lock furniture was painted.
Meanwhile just further down the Rochdale Canal at Newton Heath, a small team gathered on the Saturday morning and before long had cleared all the lock-side litter, vegetation and litter from the steps, and had pulled out one complete trolley and several bits of trolley from the canal at Lock 69.
Stalybridge town centre was a hive of activity, with 30 volunteers taking part over the weekend. At Lock 6W the balance beams, lock furniture and lock tail bridge were painted and the tunnel taking the towpath under the road had a new coat of white paint (which covered up the graffiti). Meanwhile at Lock 7W, the base of the historic crane was given a coat of black paint, a bench completely buried in the undergrowth was revealed, balance beams were painted, and vegetation was cut back on the towpath and access paths. On the Sunday grappling was carried out and in excess of 30 shopping trolleys were removed from the channel, along with 6 bicycles, numerous road cones and fencing panels, scaffold poles and a motorbike (it had been reported as stolen and police came to take it away).
At Clayton on the Ashton flight of 18 locks, the work was centred on Yew Tree Swing Bridge, where vegetation was cleared and litter picked, as well as a substantial amount of towpath repairs being carried out in both directions from the swing bridge.
Whilst many of the volunteers were local (including several who were new to volunteering on the canals), others came from all over the country, with the farthest journeys being from Brighton and Bognor Regis on the south coast.
The total number of black bags filled with rubbish from the five sites was 69, which along with two work boats full of rubbish demonstrate the amazing amount of activity which had taken place over the weekend.