This time of year is always busy and, although the earlier dry (if not particularly warm at times) weather meant that the grass grew slightly more slowly than other years, there has still been plenty to do. Luckily in recent months I have had a few new volunteers start helping out on the Stoke length, so I’ve taken this opportunity to make sure that everyone is sufficiently trained in using the small machinery we have here on the property such as mowers, strimmers and outboard motors. Both new and existing volunteers have found this useful for jogging their memory of how tools should be used and, with everyone up to speed, it now means we can “blitz” a number of tasks in one area.
Another recent volunteer task has been chipping brash left over from when we were removing low hanging branches from the towpath earlier in the year. The chip produced was then spread on an area of towpath that gets particularly wet and muddy, so hopefully this will make the surface a bit more user friendly.
You may have noticed the towpath diversion at Bowers Lock, which is in place to enable the Environment Agency weirs to be refurbished. These weirs were originally put in as part of the River Wey Improvement Scheme in the 1930’s and the structure now requires major refurbishment. The new weirs will look very similar to the old ones, using the existing (but refurbished) winding gear from the old structure so that the aesthetics of the area aren’t changed. The capacity of the weir will also be the same so there will be no effect on how flood water is managed. This work is all being carried out by contractors and our involvement is minimal, although we have had a number of site meetings to make sure that water levels are correctly maintained during the works and that I can gain access to the temporary weirs for flood alleviation if necessary.
Other than mowing and strimming, recent tasks have included removing old barbed wire fences, replacing water level markers, edging flower beds, sweeping steps, changing jockey wheels on gates, clearing out sheds, cleaning lock gates, fixing mowers, clearing fallen trees…the list just goes on and on. However it’s this variety of work that really keeps my job interesting and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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On Friday 30th May we were very saddened to hear about the death of Mike Piper. He had been a dedicated local councillor for the Burpham Ward from 2015 to 2019: he worked hard and always did his best for our community. We'd like to pass on our condolences to his partner Penny and to family and friends.
If you would like to download the annual report, please click here
Surrey Fire and Rescue Service is consulting on proposed changes to services. You can have your say by visiting www.surrey-fire.gov.uk/psp or you can call 03456 009009 or text 07860 053465 to request a printed copy of the questionnaire. The closing date is 26th May 2019
Ok, so some of you may say I was asking for it when I said how dry January had been, but less than an hour after I finished writing last months it started raining! The heavy rain, accompanied by the fact that the river flow rates were down to start with, meant that the river levels became very volatile, rising quickly and dropping even faster. This made for a very intense period of weir operations which saw more adjustments to the weirs in one day than the whole month of January. Thankfully this pattern hasn’t continued or I really would have been cursing myself for tempting fate.
As the weather improved and the river stabilised I was able to get on and finish some winter jobs, which is really important as spring is definitely in the air and nesting season is round the corner which will see the end of tasks such as hedge cutting for the next few months. With the help of my volunteers we’ve finished the offside cutback of low branches from the non-towpath side of the river between Stoke and Bowers Lock, and we’ve hedge trimmed the towpath through Guildford town centre so that it doesn’t encroach on this busy walking and cycling route. We’ve also been raking leaves at Bowers Lock and cutting back the epicormic growth from around the bottom of the lime trees in preparation for mowing the grass (I can’t believe it’s that time again already!).
I’ve also spent a lot of time this month servicing and repairing the team’s machinery so that it’s all ready to go when everything starts growing. This is a job that we started to do in house a number of years ago to keep costs down but also to ensure that all the equipment was safe and working effectively. It means that I have got to know how everything works inside and out, which I find very interesting and adds another element of variety to my work programme.
Knowing from experience that the next few months are going to be very busy with vegetation cutting, lock painting etc. I have made time this month to get on top of the events planning for this summer. This has involved meeting with the Steam Boat Association of Great Britain about our annual steam boat event Puffing-A-Wey in June, and also a number of meetings, walks and research sessions about my WWII guided walk in the middle of September. Planned to happen on Heritage Open Days weekend, it will mark 80 years since the outbreak of WWII. The walk will follow the river and surrounding area looking at remnants of that period that can still be seen today whilst talking about role of the Navigations during the war. A big thank you to local historian David Rose, and Malcolm Watson from our volunteer research group, for all their help - it’s looking like a really interesting event.
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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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Happy New Year! I hope you all had a very enjoyable Christmas break. It was great to see so many people making the most of the dry weather between Christmas and New Year, taking the opportunity to burn off a few of those Mince Pies. I must say a big thank you to my Relief Weir keeper Nick Georges at this point for covering my water levels for much of the Christmas period. This meant that I got a chance to spend some quality time with my family, which isn’t always guaranteed as water levels seem to have no respect for the Christmas period. You may remember this being demonstrated by the major flooding event of Christmas 2013, but thankfully things were much quieter this year.
Looking back to December now seems like an age ago, but for me it was very much like November with the main focus being to continue cutting back low branches from the offside of the river with my volunteers and to spend the days by myself strimming back the dead vegetation on the towpath. The pattern of wet/dry/wet/dry weather kind of put paid to the strimming though as most of my days (and nights) were spent adjusting weirs. With the river rising and falling, and boat traffic being frequently suspended, I also thought the offside cutback would have to stop. However by some strange coincidence for each Tuesday when my volunteers were out helping the river was back to being calm and stable and we were able to continue working. This isn’t to say that it wasn’t raining on those days - it just hadn’t affected the river yet.
With weirs running it’s very difficult to get stuck in to any major projects so the rest of December was really made up of bits and pieces. Such as removing low branches on a tree over a telephone wire and tidying the workshop ready for machinery servicing in January. I’ve also had my annual performance review (I’m still here so it must have gone ok) and a very interesting meeting with John White who skippered the last ever commercial Wey Barge back in the 1960’s. This was in preparation for one of my 2019 guided walks and I must admit it was so easy to go off topic and just reminisce about what the Navigation must have been like back then, but also to realise how surprisingly little it’s changed in some ways. I suppose that what gives the Wey Navigation that real sense of character and makes it such a special place.
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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