Clearing the Fens Branch, HSBC and BW
A notice appeared at work advertising a spot of voluntary canal clearing, pulling Pennywort out of the Fens Branch in Stourbridge. Would I like to take part? Is the Pope Catholic? A day out of the office working with BW on an obscure bit of the BCN - sounds like heaven. I got so enthusiastic I persuaded the whole team from work to join in and so we made it into a bit of a team bonding event.
Workers fron HSBC
BW were there in force, volunteer co-ordinator, ecologist, work experience and all sorts - it all turned into something of a bun fight. First of all we were shown some Crayfish traps which had been set in the Stourport Extension Canal arm. There had been set to test for American Crayfish (mini lobsters) and see what the balance was like with their smaller English cousins. There were hundreds of the little critters (American) and because they tend to dominate and carry disease they had to be destroyed. It looks like Stourbridge has surrendered to the Yanks.
Then it was the Pennywort, another invasive non native species. This stuff has come in from fishponds and creates a thick floating mat of vegetation which rapidly covers a canal.
We started off with grappling irons which we lobbed into the water on the towpath side and then hauled these great floating mats onto the bank. Of course, there were the near obligatory shopping trolleys and children's buggies to add to the pile of rubbish but a couple of hours of effort and a couple of hundred yards were clear, on one side.
Mr K arrived with lunch at 1.30, providing an impromptu street party in Cressett Avenue, and much needed refreshment for the troops. It turned out to be Mr M's birthday on Saturday so he was fitted out with hat and a cake.
Then the BW heavy artillery arrived, armed with long handled forks and a man in a dry suit who cut huge chunks off with a saw and propelled them in our general direction.
Finally we figured out a technique for the stuff on the far side of the canal. Hurl three grappling irons into it and then all pull at the same time. Slowly, huge pontoons of Pennywort came adrift and we could haul it back, saving as many Newts as we could from the roots.
This stuff is deceptive. It looks light but it is incredibly dense and heavy - no wonder BW want rid of it.
As for the canal itself, it was the length to the east of the Old Railway Bridge which has largely collapsed into the cut, thereby rendering it too shallow for navigation. So in spite of our efforts there is no way to get boats into this section just yet.
All in all an excellent day. We (Jeff came with me) were soaked and utterly filthy but had a great time. This is the future for BW. With budget cuts just around the corner they will enlist more and more local help to keep the canals clean. There may be no boat traffic in the area but the towpath is used by hundreds of people every day and as a water park the canal lives on.