The headline news is that the first major milestone on the Pryces to Crickheath length has been reached. The protracted discussions between CRT and Natural England about the newt licence were successfully concluded early on the morning of Friday 1st of May. This paved the way for the issue of the newt licence which, in turn, permitted volunteer access to the channel. The uncertainty over the newt licence had meant that, in effect, two separate work parties – contingent on the issue of the newt licence – had had to be organised prior to the event. So even with the eleventh hour and fifty-minute confirmation, all of the necessary materials and plant were on site ready to go. The main tasks over the weekend were installation of fences to exclude newts, and construction of a clay dam which had the dual purpose of preventing water ingress to the future working area and to act as a haul road giving access to the towpath, and building a newt habitat.
The volunteers divided into two groups on Friday morning. One when to the Weston Arm to finish off the painting jobs started during the last work party. In the afternoon they switched to filling a large number of sandbags. The second group assisted the CRT ecologists in a newt search of a large area of the offside bank. This involved hand search, strimming, and further hand search. This process was repeated many times over the weekend at the various work locations.
Saturday saw the start of the work on the clay bund. The whole area of channel bed which formed the site of the bund was searched for newts. Two large sheets of plastic sheet were when positioned and weighed down with the sandbags. Work then started on the long job of filling the area between the sandbags with many tonnes of clay. The latter was already in site, having been transported from Redwith Bridge last year. However before clay could be removed from the pile this too had to be searched. A 3 tonne excavator broke down the clay into small chunks and, after being searched, loaded it into the dumper. The clay was transported to the bund site where an 8 tonne excavator used it’s long reach to form the dam. Also on Saturday a newt fence was constructed around the pond adjacent to Pryces Bridge – the home to the majority of newts in the current section – and a newt grid on the towpath moved.
Work on the bund occupied all of Sunday with the dumper shuttling back and forth between the ever-diminishing clay pile and the site of the bund. By close of play the bund was finished bar final shaping. Three other jobs were tackled. The newt habitat on the Redwith to Pryces section was enhanced by the addition of a hibernation area and a log pile, and the whole area planted with native grasses. A further newt fence was erected across the channel to sub-divide the area and, finally, a group of volunteers constructed a new base for the mixer.
The final day of the work party saw the top and sides of the bund shaped using the 3 tonne excavator, and the plastic sheeting secured to cover the sides. The result is a dam which is large enough to permit the dumper to cross the channel. Whether it is waterproof only time will tell! The last act of the weekend was to install the remaining plastic newt fence to enclose the site. This was duly finished by midday to conclude a long awaited, and ultimately very productive, work party.
What happens next? The site has now been handed over to CRT who will shortly start the process of trapping and relocating the newts. This process could take up to 60 days meaning that it will be July before any construction work can start at Pryces Bridge. In the meantime the June work party will see a return to Ardleen. The plan is for towpath work on the length where we did hedge laying earlier in the year. This work party was a long time coming but work has finally started on the Pryces to Crickheath section. The next few weeks will see a flurry of activity both on and off site. Watch this space!