WALKING and cruising the canals recently I have noticed some evidence that CaRT are beginning to tackle some of the vegetation issues that have been annoying many of us for so long.
For example, on the K&A they recently removed a large floating branch that had been tethered just above a lock, obstructing the passage out of it. Mind you, it had been there for two years to my knowledge. Some spot clearance has been done in several places, but seemingly almost at random.
On the Oxford/Grand Union just past Napton Junction there is a point where the canal is naturally narrow, but this is made far worse by the offside vegetation. Cruising past it the other day I noticed a CaRT lengthsman (asset checker, whatever they call them) on the towpath with his computer and called out to him that he should report the obstruction.
His reply was "We can't do anything about that—it doesn't belong to us." This used to be the case, certainly, but some years ago British Waterways obtained the power to cut offside vegetation, going on to private land if needed. It seems a shame that CaRT's own employees are unaware of this.
Cruising along the Grand Union/Oxford last week we saw a Fountains Forestry gang near bridge 103 actually at work mowing the towpath (which didn't really need it) and edge cutting (which did). As can be seen in the photos their approach seemed rather random—some plants were cut, others, especially those close to the water were not. In particular they seemed to be sparing the saplings of ash and willow growing at the water's edge—these are precisely the plants which will obscure and eventually block the canal in the future.
Talking to a contact in the hire boat industry I am told that they are extremely fed up with CaRT over the whole vegetation issue. They complain regularly with chapter and verse, but are fobbed off by constant buck passing; no-one seems to know who exactly is responsible and when someone is found to give a response they just blame the contractors.
I think there are some basic questions that need to be asked of CaRT over the whole question of vegetation control.
What exactly is the specification given to the contractor Fountains Forestry?
- How often and how long after a cut do CaRT staff check that Fountains have actually done the job they are paid to do?
- Since Fountains have a national contract why is vegetation cutting so inconsistent, with some canals (eg the Shroppie) being excellent and others (eg the South Oxford) being appalling?
- Is the towpath edge being deliberately neglected because of misplaced concern for wildlife? If so, whose idea was this and why is wildlife being prioritised over the safety of boaters and the amenity of towpath walkers? Some of the vegetation on the K&A is so high you can't even see the canal.
Perhaps the National Asset Strategy Manager or the Relationship Policy and Strategy Manager could find some time in their busy lives to answer these questions—or perhaps they could just pass the buck to the Integrated Delivery Team Manager.
Tunnel Safety (again)
Approaching Newbold Tunnel from the south the other day I came upon a hire boater holding his boat into the side. Thinking he was mooring, I went past him and he called out that he was waiting for boats coming the other way. I told him that you could pass in the tunnel and he said "I didn't know that".
On looking at the tunnel safety notice I realised that this was not all that surprising, since the information that there is 'two way working' is in very small print buried amongst a lot of other information, most of which is not urgent. Moreover, the notice is placed very close to the portal so that you can't read it until you are virtually in the tunnel.
Surely there should be a much more prominent and earlier warning of whether you can pass in the tunnel. Merely looking at the portal doesn't necessarily help—Snarestone on the Ashby looks wide enough for two boats, but actually isn't, probably because it is by no means straight.
Silly Notices (again)
On the Ashby I came across a notice I have not seen before (see picture). This seems very odd. This first point is surely a standard instruction for all canals, not just SSSIs, the second and third seem to be superfluous, since on a lot of the Ashby due to silt and vegetation the chance would be a fine thing to break either of these rules. The last is the real idiocy.
Apart from the fact that I suspect a lot of boaters wouldn't even know what 'grey water' is, it is impossible to comply with the rule, since few, if any, canal boats are equipped to intercept their shower and sink water before it goes into the canal. So what are we supposed to do? Bale out our showers with a bucket and throw it on the towpath? But that's in the SSSI as well.
Don't any of these Managers ever think what they are describing?