The 2018 ‘summer’ restoration season finally got underway a couple of weeks late with a work party that will be long remembered by the volunteers present as one of the coldest they have experienced. The event on the scheduled date was a victim of blizzards caused by ‘the beast from the east’. Two weeks later the beast’s little brother treated us to torrential rain on Friday, and strong winds, snow showers and sub-zero temperatures on Saturday. Overnight snow, freezing temperatures and the ever-present wind together with frozen water supply and a digger breakdown meant that the Sunday work was abandoned.
Despite this tale of woe the major item of work on the agenda was completed and inroads made into preparatory work for towpath construction. First thing on Friday the Phase 1B channel, the focus of our attentions, was so full of water it looked to be almost navigable without the need for restoration. It took most of the day using four pumps to be able to see the bottom of the channel.
Work started immediately removing the clay dam that separates Phase 1A from Phase 1B. An integral part of this work was a search by our resident CRT ecologist for newts which had made their home under the plastic cover of the bund. Over the weekend a number were found and all were relocated to the recently completed newt ponds at Redwith.
The excavated clay was reused to build a similar structure at the end of the Phase 1B. For this a base of thick polythene sheet was laid and sandbags were used to define the outer edges of the bund.
The clay in the old bund was dug up using the long reach of the 8 tonner and was transported to the other end of the site where the 3 tonner shaped the new structure. By end of Saturday all of the clay had been moved and only finishing work remained. Alas the latter will have to wait until next time. Incidentally this consignment of clay is much travelled, having previously formed the bund at Redwith Bridge.
Saturday saw the start of the other major job which was readjustment of newt fences on the towpath. This is necessary to permit the start of towpath construction which is scheduled for next time. The volunteers working on this job got the full force of the wind and got even colder, if that was possible, than those working in the partial shelter of the channel.
On Sunday morning the site looked like a Christmas card scene and felt as if it had been re-located to the Arctic. There was no alternative but to pack up and go home. Even this presented its own problems. This must have been the only work party in the history of the Society where it has been necessary to use a hammer and chisel to clean the machines!
We had some welcome visitors on Saturday – the members of the local IWA branch who came to site after their AGM. We were only sorry that we could not have laid on some better weather.
To conclude a couple of bits of good news: CRT have confirmed that the water test of the Phase 1A channel was successful. The newt compensation measures site at Redwith are now complete and Natural England has issued a newt licence to CRT in respect the remaining section of channel to Crickheath. This clears the way for contractors to start work at Crickheath sometime in the summer – hopefully a better version of that season than experienced in this work party!.