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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