Lichfield & Hatherton Canals
Bunds, bricks and brambles were some of the keywords that summarised the work of volunteers in 2022 for Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust, but all with a smile on their faces and increased determination to get more of the canal in water. The year started with the successful completion of two environmental bunds on the Lichfield Canal: one along the majority of Falkland Road and a shorter one along Tamworth Road, both planted with hedging whips and interspersed with new trees. They have a dual purpose, not only providing new habitats for wildlife but also a barrier to prevent vehicle incursion. The vehicular barrier was necessary as a prerequisite for the land transfer by Staffordshire County Council and, as soon as that transfer is complete and planning permissions are granted, more work can continue at these locations.
Meanwhile, at the Tamworth Road section near old Lock 24, work continued to progress. The lock had been retired to allow the canal bed to be lowered sufficiently to pass under a lower Cricket Lane bridge, which will need to be built nearby. The new realigned towpath has been extended a further 50m, with an adjacent drystone wall, thanks to many hundreds of reclaimed bricks, and the canal dug out further away from the old lock cottage. An issue has arisen in that for every linear metre of canal that is created on the way to Cricket Lane, approximately 12m3 of soil is excavated and this needs to be removed before any more is dug out. You can, however, start to see what the finished canal will look like along that stretch of the route.
Along the route, maintenance is constantly taking place to prevent nature reclaiming the work already carried out, with regular work at Fosseway and Summerhill sections, plus new work at Muckley Corner by corporate groups and the Saturday morning Duke of Edinburgh volunteers seeking out and marking up the route.
Big news came in November 2022 with the announcement of a successful funding bid to create an ecology park and put a section of the canal in water at Darnford Moors. The European Regional Development Fund is providing £41,200 of the grant, with match funding of £75,000 from HS2’s Community & Environment Fund.
Bluetech Waterfront Solutions Ltd, which recently developed the new extension to the marina at Lichfield Cruising Club, has been commissioned to engage specialist contractors to put the canal channel in water, and become an aquatic habitat, by February 2023. In the meantime, LHCRT’s volunteers have been preparing the site, removing brambles that were so thick that they completely enveloped and hid all of the previous canal works. It took many volunteer hours before the outline of the canal was again visible. The sheet piling installed by a WRG canal camp in the 1990s has stood the test of time and has just needed some upgrade work. The rear of the sheet piles was exposed so that sealing tape could be applied to the interlocking clutch seams. Additional anchor piles and longer 3m rods were tied into the existing waling beam to provide additional support, before the area was backfilled up to towpath level.
On the opposite bank to the piling, the batter profile has been created with specialist tracked dumpers and excavators. Blessed with good weather one weekend, some 800 tons of soil was moved and a 115m section of the canal channel has been expertly reprofiled. A part of these works to create the ecology park has included the creation of a nature trail, adjacent to the former Lock 29, as well as a wildlife pond. The pond has been created by using the natural low flood plain area from the adjacent Darnford Brook, and will provide a very important all-year-round boost to the ecology of the wetland area.
The area will be handed over to a groundworks contractor in early 2023, who will create the non-permeable canal bed. Watch this space!
A 2022 Christmas bonus came in the form of the annual Big Give Christmas Challenge, which aimed to raise £37,500, approximately half the cost of a new lift-bridge needed to maintain a right of way across the canal route by Tamworth Road. A promotional video starred many well-known canal enthusiasts, including Robbie Cumming, canal poet laureate Roy McFarlane, Waterways World’s feature writer Andy Tidy and LHCRT’s vice-president David Suchet. The appeal didn’t quite reach the ambitious target but, with Gift Aid, over £37,500 will have been raised, which is amazing.
Events in 2022 were back in force after the previous years’ Covid-enforced shutdown, with the return of the ever-popular Eric and Doreen’s All-day Easter Coffee Morning. Doreen Wood sadly passed away in November, but will be remembered very fondly by so many people.
In August, the second LHCRT Brownhills Canal Festival was held, proving to be even more popular than the first one the trust had organised, and with a huge amount of gratitude from locals as it meant the W&E gets some more prominent use. Many other smaller events were held, all of which helped the fundraising income of the trust.
A little bear called Huddlesford became the trust’s mascot and helped out by promoting the work of LHCRT; the hashtag #HuddlesfordsMission was very popular on Twitter.
By the end of December 2022, more than 16,700 volunteer hours had been given, roughly 50/50 on-site and behind the scenes, and trust membership totalled 2,410. Another great year for LHCRT, with 2023 looking to be even better.