Our local volunteers have been assisted by groups from several companies throughout the summer.
Two groups from Nationwide Building Society did much clearing of scrub around Steppingstone Lane Bridge. This was necessary so our building specialists could inspect the remains of the canal walls that lead into the bridge and then recommend how they may be rebuilt.
In the Canal Park, bases have been added to the two benches by the copse so that they will not become muddy and to provide a level space for a pushchair or wheelchair. The concrete mixing and laying being done by more company visitors from Tanium & Vodafone.
On the advice of ecologists, some trees on the south side of the north pond have been felled. This is to allow more light into the area to promote the growth of ground-cover and make it more suitable for newts. We have also constructed a hibernaculum for newts to overwinter, it looks like a heap of soil but includes carefully constructed cavities that we hope will be to the newts’ liking.
We have found that there is a serious water leak from the canal where the field drainage ditch passes under the canal in a syphonic culvert. This will need to be fixed before we can contemplate filling the canal with our solar-powered pump. An initial test pit has been dug, with a larger excavation of the area to follow.
Visitors will not have failed to notice the placing of large plastic pipes in the ditches, these are to extend existing paths onto the planned meadow area beside the canal. A third crossing is planned for the north-west corner of the park to provide another link to Coppidthorne Meadow.
Additionally, all the summer jobs have continued – keeping paths clear and hedges in check, mowing the meadow areas and adding wood chippings to the paths.
At Uffington Gorse wood, work has continued to clear the path beside the canal, this included cataloguing the fallen & blocking trees, applying for council permission, a felling license and seeking quotes on the removal of the timber. To minimise ground disturbance, we hope to use a specialist horse team to pull the logs from the canal to the entrance on Station Road.
Adjacent to Station Road, an excavation is underway to try to ascertain what might remain of the original bridge under the road. Much more work will be required here as the area and canal have been used as a tip site in the past and many tons of waste material have been dumped.
The preparation of a woodland management plan for the whole site also has progressed, with a grant secured from the Forestry Commission.
The Branch attended both the Shrivenham Fete and the Uffington White Horse Show over the August bank holiday weekend. Also in August, the Canal Park was a stopping point for the first WBCT Classic Car Run. Drivers followed the whole line of the canal from Semington to Abingdon, stopping at restoration sites along the route.
With the rapid change in weather from very wet to exceptionally dry, we have at last been able to complete laying stone chippings to and within our storage compound on the Shrivenham Canal Park. This enabled us to move in an additional shipping container, that was purchased some 6 months earlier. It was surplus to requirements at Shrivenham Primary School so the purchase was a win-win for both organisations.
The dry weather has resulted in the north pond being nearly dry, although this is to be expected as it is only fed by drainage from the adjoining land and run-off from Stainswick Lane. However, our solar-powered pump has maintained water in the Park section of the canal to the benefit of numerous tadpoles.
The meadow area has had an increasing number of wildflowers this spring including more pyramidal orchids.
Keeping the footpaths passable is an ongoing task at this time of year with the rapid growth of comfrey, cow parsley and bramble. We were fortunate to have had a large group of volunteers from Nationwide Building Society that cleared much of the path between Stainswick Lane and Station Road, further company groups are planned for the weeks ahead.
Visitors to the Park will have noticed that many of the murals around the compound have returned after winter storage & re-varnishing. Also a second litter and dog waste bin has been installed, the first was so popular that it regularly overflowed, necessitating constant attendance by the Parish Council's collector.
As well as the twice-weekly work groups at the Park, a team of volunteers has been continuing clearance operations at Uffington Gorse wood. The path beside the canal requiring continual cutting. Additionally, the motor tyres that had been dumped in the site have been removed and sent for recycling and information notices have been displayed at the 3 entrances. Plans are well in-hand for later this year to cut and remove the 23 broken trees that have fallen across the canal and towpath.
It has not all been hard graft! Early June, together with Swindon Branch, we held a most enjoyable skittles evening at Bourton Club, that also raised significant funds for much needed equipment.
In January we held a tree-planting day. It was to have been in December but the weather forced a postponement. 100 tree saplings were planted along the fence-line towards Tuckmill Brook, donated from the OVO I Dig Trees Scheme, administered by The Conservation Volunteers organisation. Despite another damp morning, a number of local stalwarts came and wealed spades.
In February, we received a further 50 saplings from the same scheme, these were planted around the Park.
The north pond, that was deepened in December, fully filled with all the recent rain.
Adjacent to the ditch to the south of the compound we continued digging out the new 'wetland' area but the excess of rain in March halted the works – too wet to operate the digger!
The length of the canal in the Park was satisfactorily filled by the rain but disappointingly the level dropped rather quickly, leading us to conclude that it was leaking into or around the culverts that pass under the canal at it's eastern end. An exploratory hole over the culverts confirmed our suspicions but because of the presence of great crested newts we will have to await dry weather and the licence from Natural England before we can fully excavate the problem area.
The Trust's fundraising team successfully gained a grant from the National Lottery Community Fund for the purchase of a used mobile welfare cabin. As well as providing volunteers' facilities at the Canal Park, it will be most useful when volunteers are working at Uffington Gorse. Moving it into our compound was problematic as it sunk into the soft ground. This and the extreme mud in the compound prompted us to start laying stone chippings to and around our storage containers. Even this could not be completed due to the sodden ground. We hope April will bring drier weather.
Plans are well underway to improve the whole site at Uffington Gorse; already a tree surgeon has carried out works to make a number of trees safe and hedges encroaching on the road have been trimmed back. We wait to see what spring brings, recently, deer have been seen as well as various birds.
Park visitors will be aware that the murals, that hung on the fence of our compound, have disappeared. They have been put into temporary storage for the winter and are to have waterproofing coats of varnish applied.
We have been busy with our veteran digger and have enlarged and deepened the north pond by the kissing gate to Coppidthorne Meadow. This, we hope, will retain water for longer and so improve its ecological benefit. We have also started to create a wetland area adjacent to the ditch next to the compound, hence the piles of mud. A licence from Natural England is still awaited before we can start digging in the canal bed to maintain year-round water in this section. This is likely to have to wait until next summer when the canal is again dry, at present it looks like a "proper" canal.
The purchase of a very long lease on the land known as Uffington Gorse was completed in December, after the Trust secured grants and generous donations from members of the Trust. Consultation on and planning of works has started, these will improve public access, the ecology and also restore the 200m of canal with towpath. The Trust has appointed a Project Manager, Claire Allen, to co-ordinate the work.
See our Uffington Gorse Wood project page for details.
At last, with the help of many company volunteers, the canal bank has been cleared from the Canal Park all the way to Tuckmill Brook.
We have also completed the installation of the solar-powered pump that will keep the length of canal in the park in water; although there is little to show at Tuckmill for the many hours spent on the installation. Water does flow, as shown in the photograph, but currently we are unable to fill the canal in the park as an ecological survey in the spring found a few great-crested newts (a protected species). Accordingly, we are awaiting a licence from Natural England before we can ready the canal for filling. This was no surprise as newts are quite common in this area and many more were found in the park pond.
Visitors to the Canal Park will not fail to notice that we have a new entrance sign and new information panels on the notice board by the car park and also at the Coppidthorne Meadow kissing-gate entrance. We have also installed a litter and dog waste bin by the car park, hoping to eliminate the problem of dog poo on the paths. What visitors will probably not notice is that we also have installed four bat boxes of various designs high up in trees.
All the normal grass cutting and maintenance issues have continued and the meadow area has had it's final cut, somewhat earlier than usual due to the hot, dry summer that turned all grass brown.
On the August bank holiday weekend, we had an information stand at the Shrivenham Fete that generated much interest, especially from residents of the many new houses built in the village.
Interest was also shown in the length of canal, together with the adjoining 9 acres of woodland, near Uffington (know as Uffington Gorse), that the Trust has recently leased; the very eastern limit of the West Vale area. This is likely to be our next major project, with further information in the next News update.
On the 22nd October we hosted the Canal Trust's AGM in the Shrivenham Memorial Hall. Excursions were arranged for attendees to view Uffington Gorse and also the recent developments at the Shrivenham Canal Park, including the new murals that were attached to the compound fence earlier that week. The murals were painted by students on the illustration course at the University of Gloucestershire and relate to the Park. We have a 30' narrowboat and panels depicting how wildlfe has taken over what was once the village dump, activities in the park, a celebration of 25 years since the park was opened and a reference to the locaion - the Vale of the White Horse.
Our volunteers have been active every Wednesday and Saturday for several months so, as mentioned previously, there are some noticeable changes in and around the Shrivenham Canal Park.
Members of the Trust will have seen on the front cover of the recent Dragonfly magazine our solar panels near Tuckmill Brook. These will power a pump that should keep the length of canal in the Park in water all year round; at present it is virtually dry. Much more work has to be completed before this is achieved but if all goes to plan, the next News Report should include a photo of flowing water.
In the Park, visitors will have noticed that five information boards have been installed describing the wildlife and flora that may be seen, they include birds, trees, bugs, wildflowers and aquatic life. A sixth is waiting to be installed for an area yet to be created. Also, following a donation of wood chippings, we have re-surfaced all the paths within the copse and put a mulch layer around all the the saplings planted at the turn of the year.
Of course maintenance of the paths has continued as grass and other vegitation has grown apace. We have been fortunate to have had visits of volunteer teams from five local companies. They have expended much effort, on rather hot days, on restoring the banks of the canal towards Tuckmill Brook and the canal channel is now quite visible. (See our volunteering page for details).
The meadow area has seen a good variety of wildflowers including a number pf pyramidal orchids; it's annual cut is now in progress.
The canal park is certainly showing signs of spring with trees in flower and daffodils, planted this winter, together with the celandines, brightening the borders of the copse.
It might appear that our volunteers have not achieved very much in the past 3 months apart from some work to, and notices appearing on, the "bus-stop" information board, plus the planting of a beech tree and an oak to commemorate the Queen's Jubilee. However, much has be going on off-site and in the preparation for the next stage to re-water the length of canal within the park.
Weather permitting, significant works should become apparent in the next 3 months!
Older news items are available in the West Vale News Archive.