Voles halt canal restoration

Published: Thursday, 03 September 2009

A COUNCIL has stopped work on the restoration of the Chichester Canal, and is accused of 'overkill' in its protection of water voles.

The restoration of the Chichester Canal has a great deal of support, but West Sussex County Council, which owns the three-mile waterway, has been accused of being too rigid in its interpretation of the legal situation concerning the animals, Alan Tilbury reports.

The photographs shows a swing bridge over the Chichester Canal, but no soft banks.

Though supporters of water voles maintain they are declining, and are a protected species, around the line of the canal they are thriving. There is disagreement on how the situation should be handled.

Though millions of pounds will be needed to complete the restoration to bring the waterway into the centre of Chichester, volunteers have been working on improvements to the towpath and eroded banks.

But the scheme has been halted completely after water voles were discovered on the towpath side, though critics of the council's stance on voles maintain they can be fully provided for in a substantial wildlife 'corridor', on the opposite side to the towpath.

Rick Travis, a former chairman of the Ship Canal Trust, who was closely involved in the volunteer restoration work, before a halt was called by County Hall, believes the council is adopting an 'overkill' approach. His view, and that of the volunteers is that the 'off-side' should be left to nature, but there should be a compromise over the towpath itself, remarking:

"Deliberately providing habitat on the towpath side, as planned by the county council, seems counter-productive, and potentially quite cruel, because the animals might well be disturbed."

The towpath was used by a lot of walkers, many with dogs, which could disturb the animals, as would cyclists, it is claimed.

The volunteers are widening the towpath and repairing the eroded sections to make a firm edge, but the county council wanted a soft, muddy edge, and the volunteers were told to stop work on the bank itself.