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:
What a glorious time for seeing the autumn colours. The relatively mild temperatures, sunny days and lack of wind have created ideal conditions to see nature’s spectacle of golden brown, yellow and red leaves. I think that this has been the most picturesque autumn since I have worked on the Wey Navigations and also the most prolonged so I do hope that you all get to come out and see it before the trees lose their leaves to the cold of winter. I always think of this burst of colour as a fond farewell before winter kicks in, but don’t worry as the river can be just as beautiful on a frosty winter’s morning.
With autumn definitely here the vegetation growth has finally slowed down, meaning that the locksides have only needed one mow this month, but unless we get a real cold snap I’m sure I’ll still be mowing into November. Out on the towpath however the vegetation is
already dying back so you may have noticed that I have done an extra wide cut with the ride on mower. This is in preparation for my annual winter cutback of all the bankside vegetation to prevent the build-up of dense vegetation and allow us to inspect the banks. As with most of the jobs on the Navigation I am limited with vehicle access which means I can’t use large machinery and have to rely on long days with the strimmer.
One of my major tasks in past weeks has been to remove some of the low branches that
were beginning to obstruct the towpath between the A320 and the A25. As this section has
been closed for most of the summer I haven’t been able to carry out my “little and often”
approach, meaning that I am now removing slightly larger branches than normal to make
sure the towpath is clear and open to all users. Thanks must go to my regular volunteers for their help with this as it has taken a lot of their time and effort, and hopefully you’ll agree it’s been well worth it.
Other tasks this month have involved updating records, ordering machinery spares for the
annual tool servicing and a major tidy up of my workshop. These are all jobs that I have
been unable to achieve over the hectic summer months so it’s been great to have a little
more time to prepare for the busy winter work programme of maintenance, cutting back
vegetation and of course the 24hr responsibility of water level control.
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It’s finally starting to feel like the vegetation growth is slowing down, a sure fire sign that autumn is coming. This has meant that I have had a chance to finally get on top of my workload after a very hectic summer. I have now finished hedge trimming the back of the towpath along my length and once again strimmed the towpath at 45 o to keep the path clear as the vegetation dies back.
I’ve also been along and strimmed out the fishing swims and visitor moorings for boats, which should be the last time it needs doing now before I start the heavy task of clearing all the river banks for the winter cutback in November. It’s been very fortunate that the towpath vegetation has slowed down, as I’ve needed the extra time to get everywhere ready for the River Festival at Dapdune Wharf which happened at the end of September. This meant completely clearing the river banks opposite the Wharf in Guildford for the 30 boats attending to moor up. I also needed to do some last minute tree work at Dapdune Wharf, carry out an extra litter pick to make sure everywhere was spotless and help put up signs to guide people at the event. It was well worth it in the end though as we had over 1000 visitors, who all really enjoyed themselves, helped partly by the perfect weather conditions. My role on the day was to help with the car parking along with other staff and volunteers, so well done to everyone involved as it was a great success but a very long day.
Another thing you may have noticed that happened in September was the re-opening of the towpath between the A320 Woking road and A25 Ladymead, after extensive repair works. The worked involved the installation of wooden posts and boards along with stone cages (known as Gabions) to help protect the bank from erosion, whilst allowing plant life to flourish. As part of the works the towpath was re-surfaced and the sheet piling and wooden bollards replaced at the visitor moorings next to B&Q. For those of you who have not yet seen the works do go for a walk down by the river, the engineering work is impressive but rest-assured by next summer you will barely notice it as the vegetation once again takes hold, just as intended.
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At the recent BCA Public Meeting, the community voted to help support the Save Newlands Corner campaign.
For more information on how you can register your thoughts, here's some key information:
August has felt like another hectic but productive month. With the grass finally slowing down after some prolonged dry weather I’ve had some time to get on with tasks other than mowing. One of these jobs was a day spent removing low branches from the towpath between Stoke Lock and Bowers Lock. Luckily I had some help from my regular volunteers, along with the assistance of one of my volunteer’s teenage grand children who happened to be over on holiday from France. The fact that both of them are over 6ft tall made the job of reaching high branches even easier, so thank you very much for giving up your holiday time to come out and help, I do hope you enjoyed yourselves.
Another task for this month was painting the Stoke punt, a 5m workboat which is my essential mode of transport for travelling my length and providing a stable work platform. Back in the spring this boat had sprung a leak so we had to pull it out of the water on a trailer, and since then I have been using a smaller punt that I borrowed from the maintenance team. After having my punt repaired by a mobile welder it seemed only right that it got a new paint job before going back in the water. So once again thank you to my volunteers for helping me with the mucky job of scraping and painting a metal work boat; she now looks a lot smarter and ready for action.
Speaking of action, August seems to have come with more than its fair share of call outs both on the Stoke length and the rest of the navigation. Firstly I’ve had two fallen trees to clear up in a hurry, one blocking the towpath at Byfleet and one completely blocking the navigation downstream of Stoke Lock. As well as this I have had to deal with two lifted lock gates, one at New Haw Lock and one at Unstead Lock. This happens when a boat going up through the lock gets stuck underneath the top gates, which then means the buoyancy of the boat lifts the gate out of its socket. This makes the lock inoperable so it is important that we reset the gates quickly so that boat traffic can continue, and in both of these cases we had them jacked back into position within 1hr of them being reported.
Other jobs this month have included hedge trimming on the towpath, clearing the river banks of vegetation in Guildford ready for mooring at the Wey River Festival on 24 September and re-surfacing the access track to Stoke Lock. This doesn’t include the time spent doing paperwork, fixing tools, meeting with contractors, oiling weirs, and assessing volunteer competencies on the use of boats. All in all a very busy month!
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After having a week away with the family at the beginning of July, the rest of the month was always going to be a game of playing catch up as the vegetation has been growing at full speed. Thankfully when I’m on leave our Mobile River Warden not only covers our 24hr weir responsibilities, but also steps into my work programme, meaning that my lock sides were nice and neat on my return which really took the pressure off.
As well as being on leave I’ve also had my First Aid refresher course and attended two half day plant identification courses to help brush up my skills. All of which involves me spending time away from my length, so this month I have really relied on the help of my volunteers to help me with mowing lock sides, strimming fishing swims and visitor moorings for boats, and carrying on with the hedge trimming of encroaching growth. Fingers crossed that with plenty of preparation work back in June and my volunteers hard work this month you’ll agree the Stoke Length is still a fantastic place for a walk, especially on these long summer evenings.
To top it all off we had my biggest event of the year in July, Puffing-A- Wey. This event saw 18 steam boats of all shapes and sizes spending the day either moored up at Dapdune Wharf or steaming past to Guildford town centre, all in a bid to create a fantastic atmosphere of coal smoke, steam and polished brass. It was a fantastic day for both visitors and steam boaters, so a big thank you to all the members of the Steam Boat Association of Great Britain, Astolat model railway and Guildford Model Engineering Society for making it such a great event. Next year we hope it will be even bigger and better!
One of the other jobs for me this month has been to carry out the Japanese Knotweed control programme along the whole Navigation from Godalming to Weybridge. To control this non-native invasive plant species we have to use small amounts of chemical herbicides to try and stop it spreading and posing a bigger problem. Thankfully this is working and we are gradually winning the fight, with some sites now clear for a number of years and others greatly reduced.
Of course not every job I do is as easy to plan for, which was highlighted when a large Alder tree suddenly fell across the Navigation at Walsham and completely stopped boat traffic. Thankfully we managed to make it passable very quickly, but as with all these trees when they’re in the water they are bigger than they first look! So thank you to those volunteers who stayed late and helped us winch it from the river, it was hard work but very satisfying.
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All news is submitted by members of the BCA - get in touch here to contribute!