Here you will see what the Branch has been doing recently and also during last year.

Older news items are available in the West Vale News Archive.

Spring 2024

With the wettest quarter on record, it is not surprising that our plans for both Shrivenham Canal Park and Uffington Gorse have slowed or been suspended. However, our hardy volunteers attended every Wednesday & Saturday work-party at Shrivenham Park and every Wednesday at Uffington.

At the Shrivenham Canal Park
Significant work was carried out at the eastern end of the canal length, the aim being to stop the canal leaking into the nearby drainage ditch via the culverts running under the canal. These culverts will need to be exposed by digging out the bed of the canal. This necessitated building dams across the canal to keep water out of the culvert area. Additionally, large plastic pipes were laid into and out of the canal to divert the ditch water whilst the culverts are closed. The extreme wet weather prevented further excavation.
The weather did not prevent the new path between the two recent ditch crossings being completed. Also, work commenced on the third new ditch crossing, in the NW corner of the Park, that will create a new access into Coppidthorne Meadow. We were fortunate to have the assistance of a team from Vodafone filling sandbags for the sides. Again the weather prevented this crossing being finished as the adjacent path and moved soil became just too waterlogged.

A special tree planting was held at the beginning of March to celebrate over 30 years of service to the Branch by our two longest-serving members; Alan Norris & Graham Banks. Despite being a damp Saturday over 40 people attended including Martin Holliss, the Chair of the board of Trustees, who described the contributions made by Alan & Graham to the assembled crowd, comprising Alan & Graham's families, villagers, the Chair of the Shrivenham Parish Council plus Mike Gibbin, the WBCT CEO and many Trust volunteers.

On the drier days, visitors to the Park enjoyed many clumps of snowdrops and daffodils.

 Installing pipes to divert the ditch water through the canal The new path in the meadow area   Constructing the crossing into Coppidthorne Meadow
 Continued construction of the crossing into Coppidthorne Meadow  Tree presentation to Alan & Graham  A rare sunny day March 2024

At Uffington Gorse
Much of the southern area of the wood became waterlogged, with main paths under water, so our volunteers cleared and extended the drainage channels. The situation was somewhat worsened by visitors throwing logs into the ditches. Hopefully a temporary ‘pallet crossing’ will alleviate the situation.

Despite the rain, the tip area towards Station Road and the towpath, were finally cleared of fallen trees. It now being possible to follow the length of the towpath without having to duck under or climb over branches. Inevitably, the canal water level was very high and the towpath exceedingly muddy.

A large clump of snowdrops that were growing on the tip area were successfully transplanted, after flowering, to other areas and the mild spring brought on rapid nettle growth.

 Towpath blocked by fallen trees Feb 2024  Towpath clear March 2024  A main path March 2024 A newly cleared drainage channel March 2024 


Winter 2023/24

Work continued in the Canal Park to make the new ditch crossings, started back in the Autumn. The first was completed, with the second well advanced. The large plastic pipes were built up with sandbags and then in-filled with soil and "topped" with old tree trunks removed from Uffington wood and finally, wood chippings.

With the loan of a larger excavator from WRG, the enlargement of the two ponds continued despite the continuing wet weather that made the site exceedingly muddy. This work had to be completed during the winter so as not to disturb any newts that might return in the spring. The North pond was completed in December.

Also in December we held another tree planting day, again a wet morning but with the help of three additional volunteers, 120 saplings were planted along the fence by the canal. Additionally three larger trees, donated by villagers, were planted in the Park.

Plans were made for the excavation of the leaky culvert under the canal that will require the temporary diversion of the associated drainage ditch. It is hoped work will commence in January.

At Uffington Gorse, after receiving the necessary permissions, regular work-parties made a start on clearing some of the smaller fallen trees blocking the towpath and tip area, making a new path from the canal to the Station Road entrance for the removal of the large tree trunks and also creating a work area adjacent to the road to site our mobile welfare unit.

 First new ditch crossing Nov 23  Dredging complete on North Pond Dec 23  South Pond being dredged Dec 23
 Tree planting Dec 23  Uffington Gorse - new path to canal Dec 23  Uffington Gorse - new work area by Station Rd. Dec 23


Autumn 2023

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.

 Nationwide BS team at SSLB  Tanium volunteers adding a concrete base to the bench Increasing sunlight on the north pond  A hibernaculum 
 Constructing a new path across the ditch  Clearing the path at Uffington Gorse  Excavations by the bridge at Uffington Gorse  WBCT Classic Car Run at the Park


Summer 2023

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.

 New storage container  North Pond June 2023  Meadow June 2023  Pyramidal Orchid June 2023
 Nationwide Volunteers May 2023  Additional waste bin  Temporary Notices at Uffington Gorse  Skittles evening with Swindon branch


Spring 2023

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.

 Tree planting January 2023 Full north pond March 2023   Wetland area continuing works March 2023
 Test hole to find the water leak  The Welfare Unit  Laying stone to the compound March 2023


Older news items are available in the West Vale News Archive.