County Council invest in battling weeds at the Grand Western Canal

Canal Ranger Craig Saunderson and Cllrs Hannon, Croad and RadfordCanal Ranger Craig Saunderson and Cllrs Hannon, Croad and Radford

Posted on: 29 September 2015

Devon County Council has invested over £60,000 in a new boat to help rangers deal with the increasing problem of weed growth in the Grand Western Canal.

The canal and country park, which is managed by the County Council, is surrounded by farmland, which means the water is nutrient rich and excessive amounts of water plants and algae grow.

Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member responsible for the Grand Western Canal, explains:

“Removing weeds is an essential part of maintaining the canal as they suppress the growth of less dominant plants, and can also lead to the depletion of oxygen levels in the water in the early hours of the morning which, in extreme cases, can cause large numbers of fish deaths as we experienced in July 2013.

“As well as being unsightly, the weeds could also damage the canal’s ability to generate income through leases, permit sales and parking.  If we do not take action to control the weeds, angling and boating would be severely restricted, and this would impact on recreational users and canal-based businesses which provide boat hire and moorings.”

In recent years the problems caused by weed growth in the canal have increased significantly due to appearance of ‘Water Soldier’, an invasive weed that looks and grows much like a spider plant.

Rangers believe the plant was introduced about eight years ago in the section of canal between Burlescombe and Sampford Peverell, and since then has spread along a total of six miles of the eleven mile long canal.

The only way to control the weed it to physically remove it during the summer months when it floats up from the canal bed to the surface.

Cllr Roger Croad continued:

“Although the canal suffers from several other invasive plans, none are proving as problematic as Water Solider.

“Canal Rangers have been operating the existing weed harvesting boat five days a week since April, but they are still struggling to keep on top of it.

“The huge amount of resources required to control this weed alone is a good example of why the contents of unwanted garden ponds and aquariums should never be emptied into watercourses, and also why boaters and anglers should make every effort to clean their equipment so invasive plants and animals are not transferred between ponds, lakes, canals and rivers.

“The Grand Western Canal is the jewel in the crown of Mid-Devon, and having bought it  back to life after the catastrophic over topping in 2012 we must work hard to maintain it for residents and tourists to enjoy. This new boat will make the ranger’s work much more productive as it can clear weeds at four times the rate of their old boat. It is also much cheaper to run and maintain, which is excellent.

“Hopefully those who enjoy the canal, including the anglers whose fishing has been affected by the weed growth and the boaters who have had to clear weeds tangled around their propellers, will notice a big improvement.”

The ranger’s current weed harvesting boat, which has been used for over 15 years, has become increasingly unreliable and expensive to maintain.

The new boat has an excavator-type arm for attachments such as a T-cutter for chopping through weeds, a rake for collecting floating and cut weeds and a dredging bucket for small-scale spot-dredging work.

It also has a trailing v-shaped knife system that is pulled along behind the boat to cleanly cut weeds just above the bed of the canal.

The new weed clearing boat, which is called Whirligig, will work alongside the old weed harvesting boat for as long as that one is economic to maintain.

Cllr Ray Radford, Devon County Council’s local member for Willand and Uffculme , Mid Devon District Council’s member for Halberton and Chair of the Grand Western Canal Joint Advisory Committee, said:

“This is an excellent piece of kit, the Canal Ranger and his staff have been fighting a losing battle for years to keep the weed under control with the old weed boat. I have seen it working and very impressed. My thanks go to Devon County for this investment and their commitment to preserve our wonderful green status country park. The soldier weed was introduced, unwittingly, about eight years ago, now we have a sporting chance to keep it and other weeds under control for the benefit of all canal users.”

Cllr Des Hannon, Devon County Council’s local member for Tiverton East said:

“Our magnificent orange weed-eating machine is a fantastic investment. Invasive weed needs to be controlled to  keep the water clear for boaters, anglers and everyone who prefers a canal to a swamp. This boat’s quieter, safer and far more cost effective than the old one. It allows us to clear water at least four times faster. An unspoilt canal like ours will never be completely free of weed, but with this beast we can keep the balance right for everyone.”

2 comments on “County Council invest in battling weeds at the Grand Western Canal

  1. Martin English says:

    As someone who spent many weekends in the 1980’s restoring abandoned and neglected canals, I am proud of the standard of the Great Western, and delighted that the problem of weed growth has been tackled so assertively by the County. The message about transferring invasive species needs to be known more widely. Perhaps BBC Spotlight might be encouraged to do a feature on the new boat and this “growing” problem. Without regular use and maintenance, it would not take many years for our less well known waterways to revert to the linear fly-tipping sites that we inherited from the 1960s.

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