Studley Grange Extension 2012-2018
The opening of a further 1.2 kilometres of restored canal on 4th July 2018 was the culmination of a long-planned project initiated with the then owners of the Studley Grange landfill site in the mid-1990s, Barge Waste Management. The landfill site was then bought by Biffa, who extended its life by several years.
In the meantime, the Canal Trust had plenty of work to do on the west of Bincknoll Lane, restoring Chaddington Lock, creating a large spill-weir and restoring the canal from east to west through Morningside Farm.
The first part of the Studley Grange project was to lease some land from Bincknoll Lane eastwards to the edge of the landfill site and to clear the canal line of trees and undergrowth while plans were drawn-up for re-creating the canal through the southern edge of the waste site, which presented many challenges. Firstly, the land would not be as stable as simply digging-out the canal from a farmer’s field. Secondly, the canal line was in a cutting. Thirdly, there was the danger of methane gas escaping from the buried waste – hence the many vents on the site itself and even on the south side of the restored canal. In 2006 the Canal Trust appointed the White, Young and Green consultancy to overcome these many obstacles, not to mention the protection of wildlife such as water voles known to favour the site.
In 2011, work started at Butterfly World between the Studley Grange site and Hay Lane with the long-term intention of restoring the canal on this short stretch – and the short-term aim of providing a suitable home for the water voles while Studley Grange was worked on. Unfortunately, after much tree clearance, work stopped in 2012 because of disagreements. Where would the water-voles live? Eventually, they were rounded up and sent on an extended holiday in Devon.
2012, after the work-party volunteers had been given special safety training among the hazards of a landfill site, trees and undergrowth were cleared on the canal line through Studley Grange – but bonfires were of course prohibited. Luckily, a kindly farmer allowed the scrub to be moved onto his land beyond the danger zone.
By 2015 the main contractors started work on digging the canal, but they encountered many difficulties, not least when heavy equipment got bogged down. A long wall of rock-filled gabions had been erected to stabilise the land on the north bank of the canal. It got so wet on-site that work was paused in the late Autumn. Costs had risen dramatically, and it wasn’t until late 2016 that work re-started. Dredging was finally completed in 2017 when the Trust volunteers were allowed to complete work on the towpath.
The work-parties installed eight interpretation boards along the length, along with wooden benches and leaning-posts. Some of them helped Wiltshire Wildlife Trust to fill the bank-sides with suitable plants. At last the Canal Trust members had an opportunity to see the almost-completed canal on the day of the 2017 AGM, escorted through what was still classed as a construction site. Others walked the length on Boxing Day 2017, kitted out in hi-viz tabards and marshalled into groups. The final task for the work-party was to erect dog-proof fencing along at least a quarter of a mile at the east end.
Finally on Independence Day 2018, a grand opening took place at the Bincknoll Lane end, followed by a reception at the not-yet-opened Peterborough Arms a few miles west at Dauntsey Lock. By this time, the waterside plants and trees had become established, and this stretch of canal is a now a haven for wildlife.
When the landfill site had been at peak activity, a public footpath across the canal line had been ‘temporarily stopped-up’. It is hoped that a replacement footpath will soon be provided at the east end, to provide a through route to the Garden Centre and on to Swindon.
MORE INFORMATION: Ken Oliver of the Wiltshire, Swindon and Oxfordshire Canal Partnership has a series of photos on the Studley Grange project and other subjects. Click here for the photo album. Ken has also prepared short audio and video clips that are accesible via QR codes on maps; click here for a video on the Studley Grange project.