Having cruised or walked hundreds of miles of canals, what struck me on my K & A trip was that it was unlike the main network, but very like the restored sections of the Wilts & Berks Canal.
Most canals that never closed are lined with concrete or sheet-piled banks. Sheet piling’s great for secure mooring; you can make sure the boat doesn’t react to every passing vessel. It’s less good for the wildlife.
Most of the K & A’s banks are of earth, and they provide a great habitat for water voles, even though they make life difficult for mooring.
One problem of earth banks is that when boaters use spikes to tether their boats, these can de-stabilise the earth and cause the banks to wash into the water. I found several instances of this on the K & A, and wonder whether it’s possible to install mooring rings at the more popular locations, while retaining the earth banks? This might lessen the need to repair the banks. At Foxhangers, I noticed that a compound had been built containing a kit for repairing the banks in a wildlife-friendly manner during the Autumn.
The Wilts & Berks Canal is becoming renowned as a home for water voles. On our work-party at Templar’s Firs in Royal Wootton Bassett this Wednesday, I was amazed to see just how many people with high-powered cameras had chosen to visit, having been told on the internet that we have a ‘hot spot’. They were looking for water voles, and it seems that they weren’t disappointed. Our water voles seem to have become used to being observed – and they just get on with life.
We cut back the weed that threatens to choke the canal, and the water voles choose their moment to come out, select a water-lily leaf, take it to the bank and munch away seemingly oblivious to us. They’re rather like the robins that wait for the gardener to disturb a worm and then go for it. We also see moorhens and ducks taking advantage of the water-lily leaf harvest.
Foxhangers showed another way that the restored K & A is helping the environment. Pumps take water from the bottom of the Caen Hill flight back to the top, saving the need to create additional reservoirs – and these pumps are partly powered by solar panels in a field next to the towpath. On the towpath there’s an illuminated sign familiar to us from our years in Germany: the sign shows the energy generated, and just what fossil-fuel energy has been replaced.
Here’s the text from the information board …
… and here are the other illuminated messages shown on the sign:
That’s something to celebrate!