The Grand Western Canal Country Park and Local Nature Reserve is managed by the Canal Ranger Service, comprising a Canal Manager, two Rangers and occasional seasonal staff. The Ranger Service is based in the Canal Basin in Tiverton, but they undertake work throughout the Country Park. Their work is led by the Grand Western Canal Management Plan.
They are ably assisted by a range of volunteers including the Volunteer Ranger Service who usually work one Sunday per month at the Canal; school and college work placements; and regular volunteers who help out once or twice a week. For more information on volunteering, please contact the Canal Ranger Service. The routine maintenance of the Country Park can be split into two ‘seasons’. From late spring to early autumn the main tasks are mowing and strimming along the towpath, car parks and picnic sites; and operating the weedcutting boat (which prevents weed from choking the Canal).
From late autumn to early spring the main emphasis is on tree and hedge management. Tree works include restoring a coppice regime in many woodland areas beside the Canal and cutting back branches that overhang the Canal.
In addition to these major tasks is a huge variety of other work undertaken by the Rangers, such as running events, leading volunteers and guiding educational visits by local primary schools and managing a range of contractors who undertake tasks such as dredging, towpath resurfacing, tree surgery and hedgecutting.
Over time the Canal tends to fill up with silt from decomposing plant matter and soil washed in from adjacent roads and farmland. Unless the Canal is periodically dredged, it would eventually silt-up, preventing boating and angling and leading to a deterioration in wildlife habitats.
Between 2002 and 2007, most of the Canal was dredged thanks to a substantial capital investment made by Devon County Council, Mid Devon District Council and the EU Interreg IIIb programme. The work has been phased over several years in order to reduce the immediate impact on wildlife, and current monitoring has shown an increase in the variety of water plants (on which the rest of the Canal food chain relies) as a result of the work. The future of boating and angling on the canal has also been secured for many years to come.
The Ranger Service has also been working with adjacent landowners to promote sustainable land use, in an effort to reduce soil eroding into the Canal in the future. Most of the offside boundary of the Country Park has been fenced to protect the banks from erosion by livestock and to create wildflower rich buffer strips that provide excellent habitats for a range of wildlife.
The Country Park contains nine miles of hedgerow that borders the towpath. After several decades of being annually trimmed with a tractor-mounted flail, the hedge has become quite gappy and sparse in many areas. As part of the Country Park’s Countryside Stewardship Scheme agreement, over three miles of hedgerow are being restored through a combination of hedgelaying and hedge planting.
Hedgelaying is a traditional form of hedge management which promotes thick regrowth from the base of the hedge and creates a bushy hedge which acts well as a stockproof barrier and provides great habitat for wildlife. Hedgelaying is particularly popular with the Canal’s Volunteer Ranger Service who spend many days on this rewarding activity each winter.
Why not volunteer or do your work experience placement with the Grand Western Canal Country Park Ranger Service. Come along, join in and get some fresh air and exercise whilst taking part in some practical habitat management.
The Ranger Service is always looking for conservation volunteers to assist with the day to day running of the Country Park. With eleven and a quarter miles of canal to look after there is plenty of work that volunteers/students can get involved in, including hedgelaying, coppicing, tree planting, pond maintenance and clearing scrub, or if that’s not your thing, how about helping out with litter picking, patrolling or wildlife surveys?
Volunteering needn’t take up too much of your time. When you volunteer is largely up to you. Some people volunteer on a regular basis each week or month. Others when they have a spare day. Volunteering takes place during traditional ‘office hours’, although there are opportunities to help out at weekends on one of our Volunteer Day events or become a volunteer warden as part of the Friends of the Grand Western Canal group.
For more information please contact the Ranger Service on 01884 254072 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.If you are interested in becoming a volunteer warden then please visit the Friends of the Grand Western Canal website to find out more.
- Canal breach
The Grand Western Canal and its towpath was officially re-opened on Wednesday 19 March following structural repairs to a breached embankment, caused by severe weather during the winter of 2012.
Members of the Canal’s Joint Advisory Committee, Devon County and Mid Devon District Councillors, members of Halberton parish council, Halberton residents, members of the Grand Western canal Friends Groups and staff and contractors involved in the works gathered at Swing Bridge, Halberton where the canal was officially re-opened by Chairman of Devon County Council, Councillor Bernard Hughes.
Chairman of Halberton Parish Council, Councillor Ken Browse (pictured) bought his narrowboat along to the occasion and this was the first boat to travel across the repaired embankment for this ‘maiden voyage’.
The Canal suffered a serious breach of its northern bank near Swing Bridge at Halberton in November 2012, after water spilled over the top of the embankment during torrential downpours and flooding.
It is estimated that more than 16 million litres of water (the equivalent of more than 100,000 bathtubs or 6.5 Olympic swimming pools) flowed through the 23-metre wide breach onto neighbouring farmland. Emergency services spent days pumping water away from the area to make the area safe.
Following the incident Devon County Council and its partners embarked on a major restoration plan to reinstate the failed section of the canal and to introduce measures to reduce the likelihood of a similar occurrence.
As well as repairing the breach, further works are being made to ensure the long term future of the whole canal. This has included inspections of all infrastructure along the canal, the installation of a water level monitoring and alarm system, as well as additional and improved stop boards.
A detailed hydrological survey of the canal and the surrounding catchments has been undertaken and this is informing the selection of new sluices and weirs that will be constructed in the next phase to enable better management of water levels during severe weather.
The embankment has been rebuilt within its existing footprint, but is slightly higher in order to provide protection against future overtopping at this location.
The canal has been lined over the length of the embankment with an impervious material. This material is covered and hidden and the repairs will eventually blend in with the existing canal.
Most of the material that was washed out during the breach has been strengthened and re-used in order to limit the amount of material that needed to be brought to site by road.
The speed of water flowing through the canal and discharging at the breach also caused significant erosion of the canal bed either side of the fault. This erosion has also been repaired.
Since the breach, half a mile of canal channel had to be closed between Greenway Bridge and Rock Bridge, with a half-mile long towpath diversion in place between Swing Bridge and Watton Bridge.
Chairman of Devon County Council, Councillor Bernard Hughes OBE said:
“As a life long member of the Inland Waterways Association and a long term member of the Waterway Recovery Group, the events surrounding the Canal during recent times have certainly struck a chord with me. The Grand Western Canal is a treasured part of Devon’s natural heritage and an important asset to the region. With several thousands of visitors every year, it’s plays an important economic role as well. My thanks go to the hard work of all the partners, the friends of the canal, the officers and members who all did so much during the severe weather which damaged this stretch of the canal and who have helped during its reconstruction, as well of course to South West Highways who carried out the work. I am delighted to see this part re-open and wish everyone all the very best for the forthcoming waterways festival and other events this year.”
“Congratulations must go to Devon County Council for their foresight in funding the reinstatement of the grand Western Canal. Other breaches have occurred in other parts of the Canal network and the difficult funding of repairs has meant long delays in reinstatement. Devon wasted no time at all, made a quick decision, which has given the Grand Western Canal a renewed lease of life for a few more hundred years. My thanks to everyone involved in this achievement.
Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Environment and Communities, said:
“This has been a major piece of restoration and is testament to all involved that it’s been completed as scheduled. It also finishes ahead of some important events in the canal’s calendar, namely the Grand Western 200 on the following Saturday and the IWA National Trailboat Festival in May. The canal is an important resource in Devon and one of our main tourist attractions and so I am very pleased to see the work come to an end.”
Councillor Des Hannon, County Councillor for Tiverton East, said:
“I won’t quickly forget the roar of water and the rumble in the ground when the embankment breached. It was a hugely dramatic event. Getting our canal back in full operation in time for a momentous 200th birthday at the end of May is a magnificent achievement. Thanks are due to everyone involved – not least Devon County Council for the investment.”
The scheme, was carried out by contractor South West Highways Ltd and has finished in time for the Canal’s 200th anniversary.
Ben Pyle, Managing Director for South West Highways, said:
“We are very proud of the part our people played both in the emergency response to the breach last year and the splendid restoration of this great local asset. The workforce were from Devon, which is fitting and represents the way our company operates. We won the job in stiff competition but were still able to contribute very positively throughout.”
- Towpath resurfacing
Since 2002, eight miles of towpath has been resurfaced using crushed stone from the quarry at Westleigh. This work has been focussed on previously muddy or uneven sections of footpath with the aim of improving conditions for wheelchair and mobility buggy users in particular.
- Offside buffer strips
Within the canal’s Countryside Stewardship Scheme Agreement 4km of offside bank have been fenced to create buffer strips. These strips on the offside protect the canal from silt and nutrient pollution and provide excellent habitats for wildlife. Read a case study of the project.
Between 2009 and 2012 a major project to clean and repair the canal’s 30 culverts took place. The culverts allow water from streams and ditches to flow under the canal but over time they tend to fill up with silt and debris. Specialist enclosed-access teams undertook this important work.