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News from the restoration sites

Nov

23 2020

By Gill Davies

Volunteer Charlie Coxwell describes the process of desilting the canal at the Summit Level.

The canal alongside Dunsfold aerodrome on Dunsfold Park in Surrey had become very silted and in places the silt was above the water level. Historically, the canal had been seen as a convenient place to dump large concrete lumps and soil waste, and several large trees had fallen across the canal that needed to be removed safely.

The easiest way to clear such an area is usually via a long reach excavator, operating from the towpath. However, the canal is lined with many mature trees and the very limited working space prohibited such action. Hence the Trust purchased, from Land & Water Services Ltd, Pauline the 19-tonne dredger. Pauline was originally built in the 1960s and Land & Water had given her a considerable upgrade in 2003. Alongside the dredger the Trust bought two barges and a tugboat. 

When Pauline was launched into the summit section in February 2019, via a 250-tonne crane at Compasses Bridge, her first task was to dig her way to the Thriscutt Slipway and the winding hole at Dunsfold Road. As the canal was so silted there was no room for the spoil barges to be used for spoil removal, so the spoil was piled on the adjacent towpath according to environmental guidelines. In May 2019 we arrived at the slipway.

Once at the slipway volunteer Andy Evans spent much time working on the ‘business’ end of Pauline, improving her running and better adapting her to our use. Brian Morgan and myself set to sorting out the welfare cabin where the wooden interior showed signs of rot. We removed her ballast and worked on the internal rust from her steel hull. She was then given a repaint, the ballast replaced and her welfare cabin refurbished.

Clearance work started again in early January 2020, and yet again we were forced to use the towpath to pile spoil. With the aid of several Dredging Team members, Pauline was kept working for five days a week, throughout January, February and March. Teams worked in twos for safety – one drives, while the other waits for their turn – but also because after 45-60 minutes of concentrated work a break is needed.

As with many other working parties, Covid halted all work in late March 2020. On returning from lockdown the opportunity was taken to paint the external cabin and deck area. Now almost complete, cabin hatches have now been modified with a view of keeping the rain from entering! So far it looks as if we have been successful. 

We are hopeful that sufficient spoil has been removed to enable the spoil barges to be used alongside the dredger when dredging is again permitted to continue. Canal depth now mostly varies between 1 to 2 feet, so spoil removal barges will initially only be partly filled. It is anticipated that several passes will be required before full clearance is achieved. 

The barges will be emptied at the Thriscutt slipway, with the nutrient-rich spoil being placed somewhere on the business park subject to agreement with Dunsfold Park for future use in landscaping.


Nov

8 2020

By David Verrall

On 4th November I was at Loxwood taking wildlife photos.

I met a volunteer outside the Canal Centre. We saw a Kingfisher fly past, it landed in a bush on the opposite bank of the canal. Before I had a chance to take a photo it flew off.

I walked along the towpath towards Southland Lock. I met a group of walkers, they mentioned that they had just seen a Kingfisher.

I returned to the Canal Centre. Whilst chatting to another volunteer, we saw a Kingfisher land in a bush opposite us. I raised my camera to take a photo, but no luck as it flew off down the canal.

I walked to Baldwin’s Knob Lock and then returned to the Canal Centre. I offered to help two volunteers unload their cars. I put the camera away in my car and helped the volunteers unload. Just after we finished I watched a Kingfisher land in the bush on the far bank of the canal. It then dived into the water, caught a fish and flew off with it down the canal. It was a joy to watch but also frustrating for me as my camera was in the car.

Oh well, there is always another day to take a Kingfisher photo.

Here is a Kingfisher photo that I took a few years ago.

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Jan

31 2019

By Gill Davies

When the thermometer on the car dashboard flashed 0 deg C, I did question why I thought joining the Midweek Working Party (MWWP) for a day was a good idea. Who in their right mind would want to be working outside on a towpath in January?

Yet arriving at the Haybarn stretch in West Sussex my reservations began to thaw. The canal looked glorious in the watery winter sunshine, with the River Arun and the South Downs beyond framing the vivid blue skies in the background. Then there was the calm; with no road noise there was a tranquility and stillness rarely to be found in my busy life.

Armed with gloves, some loppers and saw I was set to work by team leader Margaret alongside the other 18 or so team members, tasked with clearing some of the undergrowth encroaching on the towpath, removing weeds from the hedgerow and cutting the hedge itself. It was physical work – the freezing temperature was soon forgotten - but taking my cue from the others around me I saw I could stop, stretch and simply admire the view when needed.  

The conversation flowed gently as members settled to their jobs, working alongside one another easily and confidently. The team had been working this stretch of several miles for some weeks, moving along the towpath from Lee Farm Bridge to Haybarn Swing Bridge.

For several of the members, the area is particularly familiar – they were among those to have planted the hedge we were now taming more than 10 years ago. Tony is one such MWWP member, who remembers the planting fondly and with a clear sense of satisfaction. He travels a fair distance to volunteer each week and is among the many MWWP regulars, some of whom have been spending their Wednesdays volunteering with the Trust for years. Just like Ian, who has been with the MWWP for 25 years, and is the longest serving. His interest in the Basingstoke Canal (where he drove a dredger) led him to the Wey & Arun Canal Trust. He’s now the lengthsman for Elmbridge as well as MWWP stalwart.

Then there’s Trish, who proudly states she was the 2,000th WACT member. After being presented with theatre tickets by Timothy West himself to mark the occasion she felt she had better start doing something else to help the Trust. That was back in September 2005 and she hasn’t stopped yet.

There are newcomers, too, of course. Paul joined the working party in June after being a WACT member for four or five years. When he retired as a civil engineer working for Thames Water he found he had time on his hands. Michael is another new recruit, also being a part of the group since the summer. He’s already completed a hedge-cutter course and is set to do another covering the safe use of pesticides in readiness for the battle with giant hogweed.

Whether the members are new or old, one common thread ran through my conversations with them. While they clearly get satisfaction from doing an important job maintaining the canal and its towpath and are keen to see the canal fully restored, the rewards of working as part of the MWWP team run deeper.

There is a sense of achievement after a day’s labour and obvious advantages from keeping fit and active in the fresh air – members say they always sleep well on a Wednesday evening and one says he has actually lost weight since retiring and volunteering – but the benefits aren’t all physical.

There’s the social side of working with others in a common aim. Downing tools for coffee and then lunch, the team gather to chat around the fire, and the fact the each comes from a different background matters not a jot. Former-aircraft electrician sits next to High Court Judge, ex-nurse next to ex-salesman.


Dec

21 2018

By David Verrall

I regularly volunteer at Loxwood Canal Centre. I usually arrive early to provide an opportunity to take wildlife photos.

Walking  towards Brewhurst Lock, I often see a Robin which seems to follow me, perhaps it is hoping that I am going to give it some food. Also Blue Tits in the trees between the towpath and car park. At the Lock I stop for a few minutes, on several occasions I have seen a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the trees.

During my visits in November and December I saw several different bird species on the opposite canal bank between Brewhurst Lock and Bridge. Birds seen included Goldfinches, Marsh Tits, Long Tailed Tits (see photo), Robins, Song Thrushes (see Photo), Nuthatch, Treecreeper and a Goldcrest.

Kingfishers are regularly seen. Most people only usually see a flash of Blue and Orange as it flies past just above the water.  On one day during December I saw a Kingfisher fly past me and over Brewhurst Lock. So I walked back towards the Canal Centre hoping to see it. But it saw me first and flew from a tree and landed on the top of some distant reeds. I slowly approached, taking photos. As I got nearer the Kingfisher again saw me and flew away. Just one of my photos was reasonably good enough to upload to the wildlife page on the Trust’s website. (see photo)

When I am volunteering in the Canal Centre I often look out of the windows or go outside to see what wildlife is around. During November I saw a Grey Heron land on the bank near the winding hole. For several minutes it stood motionless watching for fish. But it only managed to catch a very small one. I then watched it walk along the bank and the wharf before returning past the winding hole and flying off towards Brewhurst Lock. (see photo)

Last winter I saw a Fieldfare in the crab apple tree at the entrance to the car park. During December I was pleased to see it again in the same tree. (see photo)

More wildlife photos and information

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Nov

14 2018

By Gill Davies

Roger Beazer certainly gets around. On behalf of the Trust, he and the Mobile Display Vehicle (MDV) have clocked up 16 appearances across Surrey and West Sussex this year, spreading the word about the Trust’s work at everything from village fetes to festivals and farmers’ markets.

It’s a role he clearly relishes. “Every one of these events is important as we get to talk to people about what we’re doing,” he says.

He admits the public are often sceptical about the idea that the Trust can eventually restore the entire canal – ‘That’s impossible!’ they say. That is, until Roger takes them through the achievements so far, the ongoing projects and shows off the photos and maps of past work that adorn the walls of the MDV.

It’s clear he gets a lot of satisfaction from seeing their reactions change from disbelief to enthusiasm for the cause. “Most people then say how impressed they are,” Roger admits.

The MDV not only plays an important role in educating the public, but is a great way of recruiting volunteers. “We’ve probably already had 4-5 potential volunteers today,” says Roger, half-way through a grey November day at Guildford Farmers’ Market. “It’s all about spreading awareness. A number of inquiries will come to fruition. Many people have the impression that it’s all just manual physical work, but we make them aware of the varied range of opportunities that are available, such as hedgelaying, maintenance, boat crew, administration and yes, all the manual tasks. Anyone with particular skills such as bricklaying, engineering or design are always in demand.”   

Roger himself got involved after developing an interest in canals through various boating holidays and a passion for the social history that comes with them. After moving to Cranleigh the opportunity to get hands-on with the Wey & Arun Canal presented itself. Although he couldn’t commit to a regular working party, he signed up for Dave Evans’ third Saturday in the month group. While still enjoying the physical side of restoration, Roger - with his background in sales & marketing - decided to offer his services to manage the MDV when an appeal was made.

“If you’re interested in something it’s always good to be part of it. We like to think we’re doing our bit. We might not be around to see the canal fully restored but doing this will be like a legacy,” he says.

He is assisted at events by a small band of volunteers, but could do with more to extend the number of places the MDV gets to. The perks are good – free entry to a wide range of attractions including Wings & Wheels and the Surrey Hills Wood Fair, plus meeting a wide variety of people – and this year the sun shone for most of the events.

The MDV is easy to set up – it simply unfolds – but does need towing to events, and help here is always appreciated. The Trust has use of a vehicle specially for this, or you can use your own, and specialist training will be provided.

If you think you could help with manning the MDV or getting It to events in 2019 and want to find out more, please email Roger at rogerbeazer@aol.com.


Jul

25 2018

By David Verrall

In early June I visited Drungewick. I saw several different species of butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies. Between the bridge and lock I saw a beautiful Wren. It played hide and seek in the bushes before briefly appearing on a branch (see photo). On the other side of Drungewick Bridge near the slipway I watched a Jackdaw for several minutes. It then took off and flew straight towards me. I was able to take this head-on photo.

One morning in June at Brewhurst Lock, I saw quite a few white butterflies. When I got nearer, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were Marbled Whites. There were about a dozen fluttering around my feet. They were in pristine condition, so they must have emerged earlier that morning. (see photo). I also saw a Large Skipper and several Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown butterflies. Further on at Brewhurst Bridge, there were quite a few Banded demoiselles and Red-eyed damselflies.

In July at Bonfire Hanger, I saw some Comma and several Silver-washed Fritillary butterflies (see photo). Nearer to Gennets I saw an Emperor dragonfly oivipositing (egg laying). There were several other different species of dragonfly at Gennets Bridge Lock.

When I visited Devil’s Hole Lock in May, it was nice to see a Mallard Duck with several ducklings. A couple months later it was good to see Mum duck and three youngsters that were almost fully grown.

Towards the end of July, I walked down Harsfold Lane and then to Orfold and Lordings Locks. There were some nice Banded demoiselles at Orfold. At Lordings Lock, another pleasant surprise, when I saw my first ever Brown Hairstreak butterfly (see photo). As I arrived at the Lock, I saw a Green Woodpecker at the waterwheel. Unfortunately it also saw me and flew away before I had a chance to take a photo. I spent a while at Lordings watching the butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies. I also saw a Grey Wagtail on the Lock wall. I then walked to Haybarn, I saw several different butterflies and also a Treecreeper on the opposite bank of the canal.

More wildlife photos and information

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May

28 2018

By David Verrall

On 11th May I saw several different species of damselflies at Drungewick. There were large Reds, Azures, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed. I also a Mute Swan.

Further along the canal near Devil’s Hole Lock, I saw more Azures and Large Red damselflies. I also saw a dragonfly Exuvia. Dragonfly Nymphs climb from the water, often using the reeds. They then emerge and leave behind the Exuvia (see photo). I also a Mallard with her ducklings.

On 15th May I saw a male Beautiful Demoiselle at Brewhurst Lock.

On 17th May there were a large number Red-eyed damselflies at Brewhurst Bridge.

On 19th May I saw Large Red and Azure damselflies at Brewhurst (see photo)

On 26th May, I had a nice walk from Newbridge to Loves Bridge. There were a large number of Azure damselflies between Newbridge and Northlands Bridge. I also saw several Large Red damselflies and Banded demoiselles. Nearby on the river Arun, I saw a Mute Swan.

At Rowner Lock, I saw a male Common Blue butterfly (see photo). I was pleased to see a male Emperor dragonfly (see photo). There were also several Hairy dragonflies at Rowner. In the water below the lock, there were hundreds of tadpoles.

On my return walk, I saw several Speckled Wood butterflies. I found a Drinker moth caterpillar on the towpath (see photo). I also saw a flash of blue and orange as a Kingfisher flew past near Northlands Bridge.

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May

1 2018

By David Verrall

Spring is a little late this year due to the cold weather. But nature soon catches up.

On 17th April at Brewhurst Bridge, I saw two Treecreepers working their way up and around a tree (see photo). There were a few wildflowers, including Cowslips,  Lesser Celandine and Primroses between Brewhurst Lock and the Canal Centre.

Further along the canal, there were an abundance of Wood Anemones on the towpath near Gennets Bridge Lock. I saw two Grey Wagtails on the Lock wall. They flew off as I approached them. But I managed to take a photo of one of them in a tree next to the lock (see photo).

On 22nd April, I enjoyed a nice walk along the canal from Lordings to Haybarn. There were a few butterflies around. I was pleased to see a Large Red damselfly (see photo).

On 1st May I walked through Sidney Wood. I heard a Cuckoo and saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker. There were some nice wildflowers along the towpath. I saw several Orange Tip butterflies on the canal bank. (see photo).

More wildlife photos and information

 

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Feb

7 2018

By David Verrall

On Tuesday 6th February 2018, I visited the canal at Loxwood, hoping to take some wildlife photos in the winter sunshine. I was not disappointed. As I looked across the canal, two Kestrels landed in a tree. They then mated. Hopefully they will breed successfully and rear some young ones this year. (see photo).

A little while later a Kingfisher landed in a bush opposite Loxwood Canal Centre. The Kingfisher has been regularly seen here during the autumn and winter months. I was lucky enough to take several photos as it flew down to Brewhurst Lock, stopping several times on the opposite side of the canal. (see photo).

Between Brewhurst Lock and Brewhurst Bridge, I saw a flock of Redwings feeding on berries in a nearby tree. (see photo).

In the car park, a Fieldfare was feeding in the apple tree.

It has been a good start to the year with wildlife along the canal. A Green Woodpecker has occasionally been seen at Loxwood. On the 18th January, I managed to take a successful photo.

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Aug

18 2017

By David Verrall

On Sunday 13th August, I visited several of the canal sites in Surrey.

Construction work at Compasses Bridge has only recently been completed, so it was good to see several species of wildlife here. There were Common Darter (see photo), Southern Hawker & Brown Hawker dragonflies, Common Blue damselflies, Red Admiral & Small White butterflies.

At Tickners Heath, I saw a Common Blue (see photo) and several Speckled Wood butterflies. I was pleasantly surprised to see a Kingfisher and Grey Heron, unfortunately they flew away before I was able to take a photo.

At Gosden Aqueduct I saw a Male Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly (see photo).

At Hunt Nature Park, on Cranleigh Waters there was a Mute Swan. There were Banded Demoiselle damselflies on the water lilies. Several Speckled Wood butterflies were seen. On a visit to the Park two weeks earlier, there was a Mallard and six ducklings. Unfortunately I did not see them this time. I also saw a Common Frog.

More wildlife photos and information

 

 

 

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