Sunday, 27 April 2014

Southern Canals Association - Sack House Opening- Voles on the move

We went to a Southern Canals meeting on Sunday at Halberton on the Grand Western Canal in Devon. Southern Canals  Association brings together representatives  of all the canal restoration societies in the south and  meet at a different canal venue each year. A great opportunity to swap ideas and experiences with a visit to  the Grand Western where  we were able to see the scene of the huge breach that occurred in the winter of 2012.  Devon County Council who own the canal were quick to respond to the problem and put up £3million for the repairs that have now been done. It is a beautiful canal and we managed to avoid the rain on our walk. In the morning we had several talks including one from Jason Leach, restoration manager for Canal and River Trust. CRT are definitely more supportive to restoration than BW used to be.  An interesting day all round.

On Saturday Chris attended the official opening of the Sack House in Wantage.  Right on time the blustery April showers came, but they could not dampen the enthusiasm of the large crowd gathered for the ceremony.  The Wantage Silver Band played a selection of airs, all with a nautical theme, before the Mayor of Wantage, Fiona Roper, declared the Museum open. 
The Sack House is a fascinating survival from the very busy days of the canal.  It was on the edge of the wharf, and did what its name implies - it rented out sacks to farmers and others who needed to move their produce.  There was a very strict control of the sacks rented out, and woe betide a farmer who lost one; the charge for replacement was a punitive ten shillings. 
The building was due to be demolished as part of the redevelopment of the whole wharf site, but the Trust managed to persuade the developers to restore the building, and sell it to the Trust for a nominal amount.  Since then Brian Stovold and his team have done a tremendous job in completing the restoration, and fitting it out as a museum.

Voles! – we have been moving the voles from the site at Studley Grange and now we have to clear the vegetation to discourage any new ones taking up residence.  We have a digger in to do this job. Andrew Chapman has been leading the project with a lot of help from John Bower and his team.  Well done and many thanks to them for all their hard work so far. 

 Kath Hatton

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Focus on Swindon

As I write this, at the end of the Easter holiday, it seems to me that a lot of the last week's activity has continued to be about Swindon.  Our boat Dragonfly has taken a lot of people on a trip to see the canal, and of course the new Waitrose store.  Useful progress made there, we think.  We were also very pleased to hear that Richard Parry, the Chief Executive of Canal and River Trust, has followed up his visit to Wichelstowe and Swindon with a letter of support for the restoration of the canal, emphasising that Swindon will be at the hub of the network in which the Wilts & Berks links the River Thames, the Kennet and Avon Canal, and the Cotswold Canals.

During the week we had a useful meeting with officers from Swindon Borough Council, talking about their plans for the next phase of development in Middle and West Wichel, and our plans for the canal link between Wichelstowe and Westleaze.  In addition there are some other projects we want to move forward, so now we can move on to the next stage, of working up more detailed proposals.  

As some of you will have picked up on, there was quite a lot of publicity about the removal of fish stocks from the water at Kingshill, where we run our trip boat Dragonfly.  The Trust came in for some completely unjustified criticism for this - it had nothing to do with us, as the work was commissioned by Swindon Borough Council.  There was also some misunderstanding about the reason; the water used to be fished by an angling club, but the developments such as the new Waitrose store in the area meant that it was no longer possible for them to carry on.  The fish have been moved to a new lake, and the new stretch of canal, at Wichelstowe where the angling society which used to fish at Kingshill can start again.  We are pleased to have been able to negotiate a lease with the angling society, formalising the arrangement, and generating some income for the Trust.

I was delighted to see that the Trust was able to have a stand right outside Waitrose over the Easter weekend, manned by the Swindon branch plus the odd helper.  When I was there at times, there seemed to be a high level of interest among the public.  And if the Waitrose 'Community Matters Green Disc' scheme is to be taken as a guide, there is a lot of support for the canal - when I looked there were more green discs in our box than in the other two put together.  The general reaction seems to be the usual one:-  'I didn't know there was a canal in Swindon, it's a great idea.  When will it be finished?'  Its now our job to keep the momentum going!

Chris Coyle

Dear blog reader please accept  my apologies for the late  posting of this blog- entirley  my fault.

Ken Oliver

Sunday, 13 April 2014


Even if you don't recognise the title of this weeks blog it is  more than likely that you have done it!
Sitting watching the world go by  from the canal-side is something I would like to do more of  especially  in Swindon. So it was with great pleasure  that I joined Chris Coyle for an early  morning cup of tea  at Waitrose's new  canal-side cafe in Wichelstowe last Thursday  to  herald the opening of the supermarket. The Trust's trip boat Dragonfly  completed the scene and  it was interesting to hear the comments of the customers, many of who did not  realise  Swindon had  a canal - it was also gratifying to see the number of  green tokens  going into the  WBCT box at the checkout!. The whole scene will be viewed on Monday  by the Leader of the Council  and  senior Councillors with a special trip on Dragonfly.

On the Wichelstowe section of the canal  there is much activity at present  with a water vole trapping project to  allow future work in the area  for the next phase of development. The  trapped  voles  are being safely  shipped to  a 'vole hotel' in Devon  under the watchful eye of the UK's leading expert Derek Gow.  When  the next phase of construction is completed  the  local population of voles in Westleaze will be  allowed to repopulate the waterway.  The  canal is also having its  fish stock (  put  there by  the local Angling Society) moved to the new lakes at Wichelstowe- much activity above  and below the surface.

In Melksham  the  final work  is taking place on the new slipway  and we look forward to September when  the River Festival will  herald the future  for the town as part of the national waterways network.

The Economic Benefits Study  for the Melksham Link has just been published. You  can view the full report  on the Partnership web site  - in summary  huge  benefits  expected  for the town  and local community when the project is completed.

Finally to note the Dauntsey Lock   Visitor  Centre ( Peterborough Arms) project  is progressing. If you  subscribe to 'On the Button' you  will have just received further information about  the call for loan funding to secure purchase of the building and adjacent land  - summarising with a short section from this request from Chris Coyle :
'If you have not pledged a loan but would like to do so, please go to the following page on our website for more details and to download the form. I want to emphasise that if the transaction does not proceed your money will be returned to you:'

Ken Oliver

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Our membership is growing ...

I have just had an email stating that our membership is now 2378, which I believe is the highest that it has ever been. This is really good news. More members, more influence, more funding. This increase is due to all the hard work put in by our volunteers, running events, boat trips, giving talks, spreading the word with friends and on social media and websites. On a recent fact finding visit to the Wey & Arun Canal Trust that Chris and I made, they were just reaching their 3000th member. I don’t think we will make such dizzy heights yet, but perhaps we could aim for 2500 by the AGM?

 Our project at Studley Grange, Royal Wootton Bassett, is progressing. The healthy population of water voles there at the moment have to be trapped and translocated and work started on that last week. They will be taken off-site to a mink-free river and allowed to breed.  When the dredging and restoration of this section is complete we will be able to restock or allow them to recolonise naturally.  Derek Gow, a water vole expert, is surprised by our very good vole habitat on the Wilts & Berks while they are still struggling to increase their numbers in many other locations. We will just have to keep those mink away.

Don’t forget the opening of the new Waitrose store at Wichelstowe on the 10th. Our trip boat Dragonfly will be there on the day and on Easter Saturday and Easter Monday, Swindon branch will be manning a display at the store to tell everyone about the canal and our plans and hopefully recruit some new members.   The Trust will also benefit from the Green Disc scheme. 

Chatting to some boaters today at Semington whilst walking the dogs, I realised how important the new Melksham Link will be in spreading the word about the Wilts & Berks.  To be able to turn off the Kennet & Avon and head up to Melksham will be very popular. Boaters love a new challenge!
The AMEC report on the economic and tourism benefits for Melksham, that I promised in my last blog,  will be out later this week so watch this space for the headlines!

Kath Hatton