I took a week’s leave at the beginning of September to spend some time with my oldest daughter before her first day of school. I can’t believe how quickly this has come around. Some of you, who have been following my diary for a long time, will remember me proudly announcing her birth!
“Then on the 13th of May my life changed for ever, as my wife gave birth to our beautiful little daughter Olivia Rose Cant born at 2:48 in the morning and weighing 6lbs 11oz.” June 2014
Of course with Olivia at school it was back to work for me, and straight back in at the deep end leading one of the guided walks that make up our annual events programme. This time it was our evening Owl & Bat walk down at Papercourt Meadow, where my colleague Chris and I took a group of 24 people out in the twilight in hope of spotting the resident Barn Owl. With a very bad weather forecast up until the day before we were very dubious whether anyone would turn up, let alone be lucky enough to see an owl. Thankfully as the evening approached the skies cleared and we were treated to a magnificent sunset. So after a quick session of dissecting owl pellets (the bits of indigestible food that an owl regurgitates) we set out through the mist in search of our Barn Owl, which kindly appeared and everyone got to see it which was fantastic. After dark we turned on the bat detectors and found Pipistrelles and Daubenton bats flying around Papercourt Cottage. We really couldn’t have been more fortunate and everyone had a great time, including us staff.
Events have continued to dominate my work load over the past few weeks as there was plenty to do for our biggest event of the year, the Wey River Festival. For me and my volunteers this meant things like removing low branches so that boats didn’t get caught up in the dark during the illuminated pageant, cleaning off work boats so that they looked their best, and even stringing up fairy lights to help add to the atmosphere. As with any event in September you do tend to take your chances with the weather and at 1045 on the day it started raining (the event opened at 1100) and it didn’t stop throughout the day. However nobody was going to be beaten by a bit of water and we still had a good number of visitors, which created a lovely party atmosphere. The spectacular procession of illuminated boats also went off without a hitch, lighting up the darkness on their way in to Guildford town centre and back to Dapdune. I’d just like to finish with a quote I overheard form one of the boaters, “If we minded getting wet we wouldn’t own a boat!”.
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Surrey County Council’s (SCC) introduction of parking charges at five registered commons (Newlands Corner, Chobham, Whitmoor, Rodborough and Wisley and Ockham) and at Norbury Park appears to be resulting in a significant reduction in the number of visitors to the sites. Some of the people who are staying away will undoubtedly be those who simply cannot afford the charges. Given that there is little in the way of public transport to the sites, the effect of this policy is to prevent people from exercising their rights of access to them.
The cost of the parking charge scheme, together with the reduction in cars using the car parks, also makes it increasingly unlikely that the scheme will ever produce a profit.
There was never any consultation about introducing charges at Newlands Corner, despite Councillor Goodman’s 2015 policy paper saying that there should be. There was a consultation exercise about introducing charges at the other sites. It is abundantly clear that very few members of the public knew about the consultation. Even so, over 1,200 people responded and nearly 1,000 said “No” to charges.
Within a matter days of the consultation closing, SCC’s Cabinet considered Cllr Goodman’s 2017 policy paper recommending the introduction of charging and setting out how this would be done. This was almost unseemly haste, was obviously pre-planned and totally ignored the outcome of the consultation.
From a position of “we have consulted”, Cllr Goodman has turned this around to say that, because less than a thousand people said “No” to charges, the consultation was not representative of the views of the people of Surrey. So, SCC has held a virtually-unpublicised consultation, received a result it didn’t want, ignored the result and is now belittling its own consultation.
A member of the public (unknown to us) is trying to put this right and show that the consultation was not unrepresentative of the Surrey public’s views on this matter. He has started a petition which you will find here: https://www.change.org/p/surrey-county-council-restore-public-access-to-surrey-commons
As the sun continues to beat down on the scorched grass I seem to be continually asked “so if the grass isn’t growing do you just get to put your feet up?” Well actually this summer
feels just as busy as any other, even without the mowing to keep on top of! Somehow the
plants that we’re less keen on still seem to be able to thrive in these desert-like temperatures, so I’ve still been out pulling Himalayan Balsam before it goes to seed and snipping off those pesky long brambles that threaten to jump out and scratch you as you navigate the towpath. The trees along the towpath have also been growing heavy with leaf and even fruit (I’m thinking of the Walnut Trees that give Walnut Tree Close its name) so these need some careful pruning to keep everywhere clear and open.
One of my biggest tasks recently has been to help organise our annual steam boating event Puffing-A-Wey, which sees the Steam Boat Association of Great Britain visiting Dapdune Wharf to show off their stunning array of craft. It was a great day, even if our visitor numbers were down slightly on previous years (presumably because people didn’t fancy climbing on board next to a hot boiler when it was already 30 o C outside). The day was finished off with a treat for our volunteers as we had arranged a boat ride and BBQ for them as a way of saying thank you for all their help throughout the year.
We did have a brief respite from the heatwave in the form of a weekend of wet and windy
weather. The rain did mean we had to tweak the weirs slightly to maintain correct levels,
although it doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference long term as the weirs are all
closed back in again. The wind however did seem to have more of an impact with a number of trees and branches being brought down by the strong gusts which get caught by the leaves at this time of year. Luckily I got a (mechanical) helping hand with some of the trees on my length in the form of our floating excavator “Hoe”. Operated by our maintenance team, they were due to come and give me a hand removing a very large rotten log from the river that had soaked up so much water that it was extremely heavy. However due to their good timing they not only removed the original log but also two fallen Alder trees and a pile of cuttings I’d left piled on the towpath. With very limited access on the property for vehicles or machinery I’m used to doing everything by hand, so this was a welcome treat that saved a lot of time and effort.
If you also take into account the litter picking, hedge cutting, and strimming fishing swims
and moorings it’s been a busy month, even without the mowing!
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The early May Bank holiday was the hottest since records began, which is the polar opposite of the month before when Easter weekend was a complete washout! Of course the sunshine has drawn people to the river, whether it be boating, cycling or just walking, which is fantastic as it makes all the hard work my volunteers and I do seem worthwhile. For instance the build up to a busy bank holiday means mowing locksides, strimming visitor moorings and finishing off the last of the lock painting to make sure the river looks its best. Alas the finishing of the lock painting wasn’t to be this year, as one hour before we finished painting Bowers Lock the heavens opened without warning delivering ten minutes of torrential rain before the sunshine returned. This meant that the white lines around the locks had run down the chamber walls, the gloss had rain drop craters all over and I actually mopped a layer of water and the white undercoat off the balance beams with a cloth! It just goes to show that no matter how well organised I am, working outdoors we have to work with the weather and the seasons, not against them.
It’s not just been me and my weekly volunteers who have been painting this month but also volunteers from Surrey Care Trust who base themselves on their work boat “Swingbridge2” and go up and down the navigation carrying out work for us and Guildford Borough Council. For most of May they have been moored up at Stoke Lock, from there they motored down to Bowers Lock each day and kindly painted the two bridges at the lock. They also did a fantastic job of filling in a very large area of erosion on the towpath just downstream of Stoke Lock. This was accomplished by sustainably harvesting coppice material locally and then creating a series of steps to restore the banks original profile.
Other jobs this month have included filling in pot holes in the track at Stoke Lock and fitting new rubber matting in my work boat. Of course not everything I do is physical; the other side of my role is to try and meet with you the public, in a bid to engage and enthuse about the work we do. On the late May Bank holiday the other Lengthsmen and I spent the day at Thames Lock chatting with the public. The gorgeous sunshine meant that everyone was in a good mood and were more than willing to stop and hear about what it takes to run and maintain a unique National Trust property like this. We also had our own lock model there which meant that passing children could learn how a lock works. Watch out for our other pop up events along the navigations this summer, where we will have themed stalls setup at different places.
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The Council is aware of the current unauthorised encampment on the car park at Sutherland Memorial Park.
We are doing all we can, as quickly as we can and would like to explain how the Council and other official agencies will work together on the necessary steps to remove the encampment from this Council owned land.
Unauthorised encampments are a matter of civil trespass between the landowner (in this case the Council) and the individual(s) illegally camped on the land.
The Council must follow a specific procedure when dealing with unauthorised encampments on its own land to ensure it acts within the legal framework to achieve an effective eviction.
An eviction could involve Council staff, Surrey Police and bailiffs and this requires careful co-ordination. A critical factor is ensuring that an eviction is carried out in a manner that is safe for everybody, including those on the site and the people living nearby.
It usually takes between 8 and 14 working days to complete the eviction process. This will depend on the circumstances of each individual case and the time taken to obtain a court hearing. In all cases, we visit the site regularly and make every effort to ensure that the site is kept tidy, rubbish is removed and any potential public health problems are avoided
Many of the unauthorised encampments within the borough are by groups of people who follow a nomadic way of life travelling the country, stopping off for a time and then moving on. These people are often referred to as Gypsies or Travellers. Gypsies and Travellers are protected from discrimination by the Race Relation Act 1976 and the Human Rights Act 1998, together with all groups who have a particular culture, language or values. It is not illegal to roam and people cannot be prevented from roaming.
Although, we are not legally obliged to remove individuals or groups who illegally camp on our land, we do try to move all individuals who have set up an unauthorised encampment as quickly as possible.
We will continue the operation of our services and facilities at the site as normal.
The travellers, who arrived at the park yesterday, were served with a formal notice today directing them to leave as soon as practically possible before 12pm Wednesday 7 March.
For any queries relating to rubbish collection or general questions about this encampment - please contact our Parks Business Support on 01483 444718 or Customer Services on 01483 505050. You can also email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
For any concerns regarding anti-social behaviour or criminal activity, please contact Surrey Police on their non-emergency number 101 or 999 in an emergency only.
In regards to weir operation, January felt decidedly like a continuation of December - very, very busy! The continuing weather patterns of wet/dry/wet/dry make the river levels extremely volatile, requiring continuous monitoring and weir adjustment. This has definitely been the busiest December & January for weirs that I can remember since I started 12 years ago. It has even been busier than the years that have seen major flood events, as in these situations once we have opened the weirs fully we just have to wait for the levels to subside which can mean hours, days or even weeks without having to operate the weirs. Of course we would rather be busy than have flooding occur, but weirs can be a somewhat relentless and seemingly thankless task so do think of us out in the night next time it rains.
When weir operations did calm down my volunteers and I managed to get out on the boat and do some work on the river, including removing saplings that are growing in the river bank between the towpath and the water. If left unchecked these would grow in to trees, something that wouldn’t have happened back in the day when horses pulled the barges as the ropes would have kept the vegetation down. Another boat-based task has been the continuation of the offside cutback, removing overhanging branches from the non-towpath side of the river to maintain the width of navigable channel. Of course this has to be done before nesting season so that we don’t disturb any birds, which now the days are getting longer is soon approaching.
Of course even us Lengthsmen don’t like going out in the pouring rain unless we have to, so I do always have some indoor wet weather jobs planned for the winter months. This has included re-organising where I store my tools and servicing the Lengthsman team’s mowers ready for the grass on the locksides to start growing again in the spring.
Other jobs this month have included clearing up the fallen branches and other damage caused by strong winds in the middle of January, shovelling the ash from my bonfire site and planting some more hedging plants at Stoke Lock. However, probably the strangest task was helping the Swan Sanctuary look for a Cygnet that had been reported as being unwell near the river. With little information on the bird’s location I thought my local knowledge might help so we spent an hour or so looking around in the dark late one Friday night to no avail. Thankfully we worked out that the person who had reported it was actually my Relief Weir Keeper Nick, so then he lead us straight to it and the Cygnet was successfully captured. The bird was a little underweight and surprisingly docile but with no injuries it should be just fine after a few days of good food and plenty of rest.
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The past few weeks may have seen the first cold snap of this winter but at least the weather has remained relatively dry and settled. This has meant that I have had to carry out very few weir movements and have been able to crack on with the winter work programme. Primarily this has meant starting to strim back all the vegetation on both sides of the towpath, allowing us to inspect our banks for damage whilst encouraging a diverse range of plant species by preventing the more dominant ones taking over. This is a very labour intensive and time consuming task but with limited access for heavy machinery it all has to be done with hand operated machines such as strimmers and hedge trimmers. So, if you see me making a lot of noise along the towpath, please be patient and wait for me to see you and stop working before you pass me.
In a bid to make the most of my volunteers help I’ve saved them from the arduous job of strimming and instead adapted my work programme so that many hands really can make light work. One of their tasks this month was to move two very large barges at Dapdune Wharf on to their winter moorings. This may sound easy but both boats were 70ft long and 12ft wide, and neither of them had motors! One of them is our historic wooden Wey barge Perseverance, which needed moving so she can be monitored over winter, and the other is a flat topped steel work boat known as a deck striker that I wanted to get ready to use as a work platform this winter. As you can imagine both boats were a bit of a handful but with all my volunteers on hand with ropes and poles we soon safely moved them in to position, so well done everyone.
A slightly less exciting job for my volunteers and me this month was raking up all the leaves at Bowers Lock. I’ve been waiting for the final flourish of leaf fall to finish before starting this task, as the half dozen or so very large Lime and London Plane trees on the lockside produce a phenomenal amount of leaves. I think even those of us who did this task last year were still surprised and the sheer volume of leaves a tree can produce. Other tasks this month have included felling dead trees before they fall down, clearing a fallen tree blocking the navigation on the Triggs length and working with the Wey Navigation Conservation Volunteers to clear scrub in our nature reserve near Shalford. All in all a busy and productive month!
As this will be the last diary notes I write before the New Year I would just like to take this
opportunity to say have a very Merry Christmas and I look forward to seeing you all along
the Stoke length in 2018.
Preventing doorstep crime
Doorstep crime can include rogue traders offering home improvement or gardening services, or bogus callers who claim to be the council, police, health carers or energy companies.
What should I look out for?
Tips to keep you safe
After the recent spate of burglaries in Burpham, here's some helpful advice from the Police:
You may remember last month that I mentioned Old Bucks weir near Bowers Lock had been dewatered for a structural survey. Well, with the work finished and the weir receiving a clean bill of health I decided it was time it had a bit of a spruce up. With the help of my
volunteers and some very good fortune with the weather we managed to paint all the hand rails along the weir, which should not only help protect the metal this winter but also make the area look a bit smarter.
With the weather good enough for painting then it’s no surprise that the grass has still been growing, meaning the locksides have still received their regular fortnightly trim. This month there was good reason for having the locksides looking prestine as the busy October half term week saw plenty of boats out on the waterway for what is traditionally the end of the boating season. The other reason for making everywhere look extra neat and tidy is that Bowers Lock is about to become famous! Filming has just taken place for the new BBC drama Good Omens starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen. So when it does finally make it on to our screens do keep your eyes peeled to see if you can spot the River Wey.
The weather wasn’t all good in October as we had the arrival of winter storm Brian which,
although didn’t seem to hit us too badly, it did manage to bring down a couple of trees along the Navigation, both of which completely blocked the waterway and were only a few
hundred metres apart. The trees weren’t on the Stoke length but as the Lengthsman team
work on a weekend rota system it was my turn to work with my colleagues to make the trees passable. Thankfully they proved relatively straightforward and we had the navigation back open by Sunday afternoon, allowing boats safe passage whilst we waited for the landowners who owned the trees to have them completely removed.
With the Autumn chill finally in the air at the end of October I decided to bite the bullet and
cut this year’s quota of Hazel from my small coppice area by the A25. By cutting a
percentage each year on rotation I can meet the aims of maintaining a screen to block the
view of the industrial buildings from the river, improve the habitat value of the site and also
create a usable amount of natural material. This year the hazel has been used to make
wooden stakes and binders which my volunteers used to weave a barrier to screen off the
bonfire area at Stoke Lock. All in all a very enjoyable task that proved productive and
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What is the Volunteer Host Service?The Volunteer Host Service provides emergency accommodation on a temporary basis for 16-21 year olds who are at risk of being homeless. The service relies on volunteers to offer a spare room to young people in need for one to three nights.
Host Volunteers provide a safe and secure environment for young people to stay when they’ve had to leave their family home for a number of different reasons. We’re looking for volunteers to welcome a young person to stay in their home for a couple of nights, which enables us to assess the young person’s family situation, resolve conflict and find appropriate longer term accommodation if necessary.
We’re working with the Surrey Families Homelessness Prevention Service to protect vulnerable young people and support families to stay together.
Who can be a Volunteer Host?If you have a spare room, aged 25 and over and think you could help make a difference to a young person in Surrey, you could be a Volunteer Host. We welcome anyone from a variety of backgrounds, experiences and circumstances, so whether you are single, married, in a civil partnership, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) or identify as being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT), you could help us provide temporary accommodation to young people in need.
Volunteer Hosts must:
Training and supportWe will support you every step of the way to make sure you’re confident with your role supporting Surrey’s young people. You will receive training and support including:
Please note: if you have a criminal record this does not mean that you cannot get involved but there would be a further assessment process to ensure that your application can be continued.
What to do nextIf you think you could help support young people in Surrey or would like more information please contact Debbie Searle, Host Service Manager on 07891 533051 or email email@example.com
JET Team Launched!
The Joint Enforcement Team – JET- is a collaboration between GBC’s established enforcement teams and Surrey Police. This new initiative aims to help combat low level crime and anti-social behaviour by providing a fast and effective response. The meeting will begin with a presentation from a member of the team on how this will work for the community to reduce residents’ concerns.
BCA Future Developments
The election of Officers, a normal part of the May AGM, was postponed this year. This allowed time for efforts to be made to form a sufficiently large group to carry on the work of the BCA. After the July meeting, a number of people have come forward with offers of help. A progress report will be given at this EGM with the expectation of Officers being elected to take the BCA forward to next year’s AGM.
I was off work for the first week of February… now this may seem a strange way to begin my monthly diary of the work I’ve been doing, but it does give me a good opportunity to explain what happens when I require time off from my 24/7 role. I don’t work standard office hours but work on a rota system to provide round the clock cover for weir operations and incidents such as fallen trees or stuck boats. This means that for me to book time off I need to do so well in advance so that the weirs are not left unattended and that there are still enough members of staff on duty to attend any emergencies. Typically whilst I was off we experienced heavy rain making river levels unstable and weir operations difficult, so thank you to everyone involved in covering me. Even my volunteers went above and beyond the call of duty, working away without me they gap-planted a hedge and continued my routine litter picks. So again a big thank you and well done.
By the time I got back to work the river conditions had settled down so I was able to finish the last of the winter work programme. This included removing some low hanging branches from the river and raking up the last of the leaves from Bowers lockside. We also finished back-filling the bank repairs that we started last month to re-instate some eroded parts of towpath. Those of you who regularly walk the towpath may have noticed that a few of the signs have gone missing along the Stoke Length. Don’t worry, they haven’t been stolen it’s just that I’ve taken them in for a repaint before the summer boating season.
Just when my thoughts had started to turn to spring, light evenings, and warmer weather, Doris came knocking! Of course I mean Storm Doris, which although wasn’t very wet was very windy. Although we carry out regular surveys of all the trees on our land, identify any potential problems and deal with them proactively, we can’t guarantee that strong winds won’t damage them and so we did still have a few to clear including over the weekend. I
suppose that just goes to show the importance of the Lengthsmans call out rota.
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In my last news bulletin I was talking about how stable the river had been due to low rainfall and how productive I had been because of it. This dry and settled weather continued in to January, but it did bring with it some sub-zero temperatures. This of course caused problems, such as Stoke canal freezing over from the lock upstream as far as Woking Road. This meant that to all intents and purposes my work punt was trapped for much of January, so any work had to be carried out from the towpath. My volunteers did however persevere and break through the 2” thick ice around the lock itself so that we could at least boat downstream as far as Bowers. Typically the rain decided to start at the same time as the maintenance team began work on replacing the lock gates at Bowers. This not only meant for unpleasant working conditions for them, but the volatile river levels also meant sleepless nights for me. Accurate water level control during lock repairs such as at Bowers are especially important as water can very easily overtop the stop planks and bring work to a standstill. That’s why I have to check the water levels throughout the day and night, and on one memorable night/morning in January I carried out weir movements at 00:15, 00:35, 03:00, 06:15 and 06:30. Forgive me if I looked a little tired on that day!
As you can see, weir control is a 24hr 365 day a year responsibility, so to get some sort of
break, I have a Relief Weir Keeper who looks after things on my days off. This month I have
a new RWK Nick Georges, as in early January my previous relief Stuart moved into a house (which better suited their growing family). Nick has now moved his boat Rosie on to the mooring and is settling in nicely, so if you do see him give him a warm welcome. At least this month has given him plenty of chance to see how the weirs work and get a sense of what’s involved.
Other jobs this month have involved coppicing Hazel sticks from by the A25 bridge, which
we then used to carry out some bank repairs on Stoke canal cut. Another task was
removing low hanging branches so that they don’t interfere with boat traffic next summer
We also carried out a very in depth litter pick from Stoke Lock to Dapdune Wharf. This was
both from the water and the towpath and created 12 black sacks of rubbish which Guildford Borough Council very kindly collected. All in all the Stoke length is looking very tidy, now all we need is Spring to arrive with some sunny weather so that we can really enjoy the river once again.
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Dear BCA Member
The results of Aldi's appeal against certain conditions imposed by GBC have been published today. All appeals have been allowed by the Planning Inspectorate.
This means that
You can download the report here.
We had intended that our November meeting would take the form of a Councillors' Forum, giving our ward and county councillors an opportunity to tell us about the work they have undertaken on Burpham's behalf over the past year. They were also going to give their views on issues likely to have an impact on the ward in the immediate future.
However, in the light of recent local developments, and the continuing post Brexit debate, we have decided to postpone this as we felt that there might be a danger of local affairs being swamped by national political debate - as an apolitical organisation we cannot become involved in such a contentious issue. The Councillors' Forum will now take place on 20th March, 2017.
The November meeting will go ahead and we are delighted to announce that the speaker will be Claire Nodder from the National Trust. She was House Manager at Clandon House when it was devastated by last year's fire and will be talking about the fire, the immediate aftermath and plans for the future.
You can download the flyer here.
We hope you will be able to join us for what promises to be a most interesting and informative presentation and will stay after to enjoy some seasonable drinks and nibbles.
Other news we will also cover includes:
All news is submitted by members of the BCA - get in touch here to contribute!