Update from the BCA

Here is an update from Fiona Shipp, Canal Manager, at the BCA:

While some places might have gone quiet during lock down this certainly hasn’t been the case at the canal. We have seen large numbers of local people using the towpath for walking, cycling and jogging and hopefully appreciating the value of the canal as a wonderful local resource.

As restrictions have eased, the increased use has also now spread to the water with large numbers of people discovering the joy of water sports for the first time. This is fantastic, but alongside all the increased use has been the need to educate about being respectful of each other while sharing at times a very narrow space and also letting people know about license requirements. (Also don’t forget to buy your licences for putting any craft on the canal – just go to basingstoke-canal.co.uk)

The rangers have still been working albeit in smaller cells and restricted work, initially focusing down on essential work to keep the canal safe and the water where it should be and then as things have eased they have been able to carry out a wider range of tasks and get on with clearing trees and vegetation to maintain access on the towpath and prepare for boats to use the waterway again.

So how have volunteers helped with this already and what are our plans for the coming weeks and months;

  • The lengthsmen have been working throughout the lock down where they have been able to do so. Using their length inspection as their daily exercise and reporting back any issues allowing the rangers to deal with issues quickly.
  • We are now introducing some work for hand-picked and less vulnerable volunteers, working in physically distanced pairs to help prepare for our vegetation survey, which begins at the end of June. We need to clear access at over 600 points along the canal to allow a grapnel (looks like a small anchor on a rope) to be thrown and retrieved from the canal to identify the water based vegetation. These surveys take place every 4 years and allow us to monitor change and assess the state of the condition of the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Clearing the access will mean a more complete and accurate set of results. Alongside this there is also an opportunity to help with a canal length turbidity survey from a boat if you have some good boating skills and access to a boat and/or car and roof rack for carrying one of ours.
  • We hope to be able to restart volunteers using work boats in small numbers as the next task over the next couple of weeks. This will help us start to tackle the mountain of the invasive floating pennywort that is growing across the canal in Woking. This is a very visual example of what happens when we are not managing the canal as usual with our volunteers. This will also allow us to get the Patrol Boat out and start to clear any rubbish from the canal and also carry out checking of boat licenses to ensure all our new users are buying their licenses, as all this money helps to maintain the canal and is very much needed right now with our income levels heavily effected by Covid 19. We are also starting to form a small team of volunteers to go out on kayaks and canoes to also assist with license checking and some of our Lengthsmen are also helping with this from the towpath. If you have good kayak or canoe skills and your own boat and transport let us know if you would like to join as one of our official volunteer patrol or survey team while enjoying nice paddles on the canal.
  • The next stage which is still being planned at the moment, is restarting small work parties. There are several procedures we need to put in place for this so this is likely to be at least a month away as yet, but then we hope to crack on with the summer painting schedule down the lock flights. This will be in smaller numbers than usual as we still have to adhere to government guidelines. Over time as these hopefully relax we can then broader the range of volunteer tasks and increase the number of people able to attend.

We and the canal are really missing seeing our volunteers and we do hope we will be able to get them back in action as soon as possible, but it will be a slow process and very determined by current government restrictions.

Fiona Shipp – Canal Manager