Every month of the year seems to be busy with an ever-changing variety of work that moves with the seasons; however January to me brings a strange sense of urgency. Back in December winter felt like it would be long and never ending, but with Christmas out of the way the rest of winter feels surprisingly short, which this year was particularly punctuated by the site of Daffodils in bloom on 1 January! Spring drawing closer and the days getting slowly longer is of course a very welcome feeling, but the urgency comes in that I do feel like I’m running out of time. The dormancy of winter is the perfect time for cutting back vegetation and pruning trees whilst causing the least damage and disturbance to wildlife. This work comes to quite an abrupt end with the first flourishes of spring, as it marks the start of the main bird nesting season when we have to be at our most careful not to disturb our native wildlife.
With this in mind if you’ve seen me out on the towpath this month it’s probably been with either a strimmer, hedge trimmer or even a chainsaw, beavering away to get everything done. I’m pleased to say that the cutback of bankside vegetation with the strimmer is now complete, including cutting back some very tough bramble along the perched embankment next to Stoke Lock to enable it to be checked for leaks. I’ve also only got one day’s work with my volunteers left cutting back low branches encroaching from the non-towpath side bank. Other tasks this month have involved spreading woodchip on muddy areas of towpath, moving mooring pins for boaters and servicing machinery for the other lengthsman; there really always is something to do.
Of course many of you who walk near Stoke Lock or boat along the navigation will have noticed I’m not the only one who has been working here this month. Our maintenance team have been busy changing the upper lock gates at Stoke as part of the ongoing maintenance of the property. This has meant damming up the lock and shutting it to boats for two weeks, but the result is that the new gates are now in and should be good for the next 20yrs+.
Finally I just wanted to mention that January was notable by its lack of weir operations (just to point out I’m not complaining about this and I hope I haven’t jinxed myself by saying it). With only around a dozen weir movements for the entire month this must be one of the most stable Januarys I’ve ever had. Work wise this has been fantastic, but in terms of water resources we could really do with some more rain to avoid having problems with navigation this summer, so let’s see what February brings…
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