The Shrivenham Canal Park and Ron Martin Memorial Slipway

One of the few lengths of Wilts & Berks Canal actually owned by the Trust can be found on the edge of Shrivenham on the east of Stainswick Lane at OS grid reference SU243883. Approximately 4 acres of land became available in 1996 and was purchased by the West Vale Branch on behalf of the Trust. At this time, the included 100 metre length of canal was totally in-filled, having been used by the village for many years as a local tip before being covered over and abandoned to very rough pasture.

Park site 1995  Across the park to the copse

The Branch made plans to dredge out the canal, using the spoil for landscaping a public park that would include footpaths, possibly a slipway and because the access road was narrow, car-parking.
Much detailed design work was carried out with some good support from local Cranfield University personnel in their spare time.
Plans were submitted to the Vale of White Horse District Council (VWHDC) and approved in 1997.

Original park plan

The canal being excavated


The VWHDC were very supportive and recognising the benefit to Shrivenham such a park would bring, donated both funding and labour to carry out several of the major tasks. These included reclaiming the canal section, profiling the park and laying the car park and access road. These works being completed by February 1998. Canal line excavated Car park under construction

The Branch applied to the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) for, and was awarded, a grant to build a slipway at the corner of the car-park. This would have two functions, one obviously, as a slipway for boats in the future, the other as a drain for surface water into the canal from the car park. The IWA provided the structural design for the slipway and asked that it be built in memory of Ron Martin, a hard working member of the IWA who had recently died.
They asked that a plaque be incorporated into the design and that we name the slip "The Ron Martin Memorial Slipway".

Slipway excavation Slipway foundation
During 1998, the slip was dug out by local Branch members and, assisted by members of Kent and East Sussex Canal Restoration Group (KESCRG), foundations were laid and concrete poured. The side walls were constructed by our Branch with good support from the Branches at Wootton Bassett and Foxham & Lyneham.
This was the first major bricklaying job carried out by the Branch, with everyone getting involved.
Slipway under construction Slipway & towpath under construction

The park footpaths were laid with membrane covered by scalpings using 100% branch effort. To minimise cost and maximise use of hired plant, the main paths were completed within one weekend, which was a huge but satisfying effort.
Members of KESCRG laid most of the towpath (approximately 60m) whilst laying the concrete at the slipway, with the remaining 40m completed later.
Also in 1998, the raised areas of the park were planted with over 1300 native shrubs and some small trees thanks to a kind donation from the Great Western Community Forest project. It is worth noting that the Branch was successful in retaining 60% of these as fully established plants after 4 years.

Completed slipway Copse after planting

In 1999, the Branch raised funds to have the access road and car park edged with posts to prevent unauthorised access to the grassed areas.  A wooden notice-board was erected at this time displaying details of how the park came into being and all those who helped. Unfortunately, the local vandals took issue with the notices and removed them breaking the perspex cover, although the board itself remained virtually unscathed.

After 20 years, the notice-board has deteriorated and become unstable, so is in the process of being replaced with a new version.

The car park edging The information board

In 2000, a new path was created from the park, going north beside Coppithorne Meadow (land associated with the adjacent cemetery but currently a wildlife reserve), to link in with an existing public footpath. A kissing gate that included a "RADAR" lock was installed to indicate the boundary of the park but still allow easy access for the disabled.

Footpath to the north under construction Path north
The Park 10 years later had matured with a dense copse and prolific growth both around the park and along the bed of the canal (it only retains water during winter months).

The maintenance of the Park had placed a heavy burden on Branch volunteers with large areas of grass to be mown, ditches to be kept clear, old trees on the boundary to be made safe and the footpaths to be kept accessible.
Fortunately this burden was reduced when Shrivenham Parish Council kindly included the mowing of the open grass area in their contract for grass cutting throughout the village.

The Branch has also had invaluable assistance from many 'corpoorate volunteers' working in the Park on all these essential tasks.

Copse after 10 years Volunteers clearing the canal
Never-the-less, over the years, the Branch has added more trees/shrubs, many donated by The Woodland Trust and managed the maintenance to encourage wildflowers, Local children have also planted specimen saplings and used the copse for a 'forest school'. The wildflower area & new tree planting One of the seasonal ponds

In 2019, The Trust initiated Project Heron, to improve the biodiversity potential at locations along the of the canal, the Shrivenham Park being a major site. Studies were undertaken of the flora & fauna in the Park and the surrounding areas and plans made to enhance the habitat.

The project aims are -

  • To increase number & type of habitats in order to attract species currently absent from the park but which have been recorded within 1km of the park, back into the park in sanctuary zones.
  • To implement a maintenance strategy which preserves and encourages biodiversity gains.
  • To provide information to visitors about biodiversity and habitat creation programmes.
  • To implement community engagement programmes where members of the public can participate in the
    creation and implementation of biodiversity projects.

The changes / additions proposed are -

  • Leaving areas of longer grass and adding wildflowers.
  • Species attraction planting.
  • Bird, bat boxes & bug “hotels”.
  • Habitat refuges within the copse.
  • Sanctuary zones.
  • Natural fencing.
  • Information panels & signage.
  • Seating.

Also re-watering the canal. The length through the Park only holds water after a wet winter and not enough to float a boat.
Ambitious plans are being made to pump water from Tuckmill Brook some 600m to the east.

Park enhancement plan Bird box from TWIGSBird box made by the local scouts
 Volunteers thinning the copse and building habitat piles

To date, Shrivenham Parish Council have modified the agreement with their grass-cutting contractor to leave long grass margins.
With the help of several corporate volunteer groups; 12 habitat piles have been made using thinnings from within the copse plus some natural fencing. The surfaced footpaths have been extended around the wildflower area.
Many bird boxes have been fitted, 6 made by the TWIGS, the community garden initiative in Swindon, together with 5 bat boxes, additionally, 9 bird boxes made by the Shrivenham & Watchfield Scouts have been fixed to treess around the park..

This is still very much work-in-progress.

Long grass border  Path creation

The park is very well used by villagers for relaxing in or just for walking the dog. Additionally it is included in the Shrivenham Circular Walk which is sign-posted throughout the village -

Entrance from Stainswick Lane Towpath entrance Into the Park from Stainswick Lane