Log In Subscribe

Wilts & Berks Canal

Wilts & Berks Canal

Management changes in the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust have proceeded apace. The appointment of a new CEO, Mike Gibbin, has led to the establishment of a marketing function, headed by James Farmer who has focused on the ‘why’ – why the trust is trying to restore a canal and for whom. As a result, W&BCT now has some brief but eye-catching documents to present to the three local authorities along the route, illustrating the benefits of canal restoration. Coincidentally, two of the three councils have changed their political shade, and this has led to a marked increase of interest in and support for what the trust is doing. They don’t have any money, of course, but having the support in place has meant that the trust now has a much greater input into the draft local plans, meaning more meaningful protection to the canal route in Swindon and Wiltshire. In Oxfordshire there is great interest in a possible ‘Towpath Challenge’ which has the potential to restore towpaths in areas to which there is no access at present.
A less welcome change is the marked drop-off in grant funding, experienced by many charities since Covid, the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis. An appeal to the trust’s membership led to a welcome surge in donations but activities that do not have funds already allocated have still had to be cut back.

Melksham: the seemingly everlasting background work on the proposed Melksham Link seems, after ten years, to be bearing fruit, helped by support from Melksham Town Council and Wiltshire Council. The last of the objections from EA has been dealt with and it seems likely that an application for planning permission will at last go ahead during 2024. One part of the application, a proposal to install an Archimedes Screw to generate electricity, has attracted local support.

Pewsham: much visible progress has been made restoring the complex of locks, dry dock and carpenter’s workshop at this site near Chippenham, thanks to the receipt of various grants from local bodies. This fits nicely with last year’s land acquisition nearby at Naish Hill and the setting up of a bee route that is an example of biodiversity in action.

Dauntsey Lock: the trust’s popular pub, the Peterborough Arms, now has new tenants and is still going strong despite the road closure nearby. Repairs to that should begin this year. Royal Wootton Bassett: thanks to a very large legacy, not only has the trust acquired a work boat with an HIAB but it should be about to purchase a steel trip-boat similar to Dragonfly but slightly smaller which will be able to offer public trips from the site at Templars Firs. Swindon: there is much improved access to council officers; 2024 should see much-needed bank repairs at Rushey Platt, where the canal is owned by the council. As part of this, the trust’s work party will get its first welfare unit, following those installed by two of the trust’s other branches. Hopefully there will be a resumption of restoration work at Mouldon Hill and possibly Moredon. 

More significantly, there have been several positive meetings with senior borough councillors; work starts this year on joining two sections of canal in Wichelstowe, leading to a three- or four-fold increase in the length of navigable waterway on which the trust’s trip-boat Dragonfly is operated. Swindon also hosts the trust’s visitor centre, which offers second-hand books for sale and now has some lovely video displays of the canal line taken from drones.
Continuing eastwards, work continues at the canal park at Shrivenham with the aim of rewatering that stretch. At the recently purchased Uffington Gorse, the trust is developing a woodland management plan to make this piece of woodland safe (using horses to drag out the trees that will need to be felled) to make it more enjoyable for visitors and, of course, restore the canal that runs along one side of it. Further east still, the purchase of a short stretch of canal by West Challow has opened the door to restoration of a relatively long stretch of canal. Lastly, the possible SESRO reservoir west of Abingdon poses both threats and opportunities; nothing can be progressed until a decision is made, so the trust is taking a neutral stance on the issue.

April 2024


Top picture: The Wilts & Berts Canal at Studley Grange


WBCT work party Derry Hill July 2021 hi res (c) Justin Guy


WWRT Foxham (c) Doug Small