Monty Canal restoration

Monday 16th July 2018

30 people joined the Canal & River Trust to take a rare behind-the-scenes look at a £4 million project to restore a section of the Montgomery Canal on the Shropshire Welsh border, near Oswestry.

They enjoyed special guided walks to the new Aston Locks Nature Reserve, which is being created next to the canal to provide a protected home for birds, wildlife such as damselflies, dragonflies, otters and water voles, and rare aquatic plants like Floating Water Plantain Luronium natans.

Trust project manager David Hennessey and ecologists Stuart Moodie and Sara Hill explained the complex works and showed how the plants and animals were being transferred into the new nature reserve from the
main line of the canal. The whole project is being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Shropshire Wildlife Trust’s Freshwater First Programme funded by European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), supported by the Montgomery Canal Partnership, and delivered by the Canal & River Trust, which
cares for the Montgomery Canal and 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales. Known for its outstanding natural beauty, wildlife and heritage, the Montgomery Canal runs for 35 miles between England and Wales. The canal is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest on both sides of the border. The whole length in Wales is also recognised as a Special Area of Conservation, confirmation that it is one of the most important wildlife sites in Europe.
Funding for the restoration programme was announced a year ago and since then good progress has been made towards upgrading nearly five miles of towpath, restoring 1¼ miles of the canal to navigation from Maesbury to Crickheath and creating a dedicated turning point for narrowboats, known as a ‘winding hole’.
This will enable boats to return to the area for the first time since 1936 when the canal was closed. Only around half of the canal is currently navigable but, with the help of Shropshire Union Canal Society volunteers, this latest major phase should be completed by 2020.

Canal & River Trust project manager David Hennessey explained: “The Montgomery is a special canal and its restoration has required a special solution. The absence of boat movements over the last 80 years has
allowed the man-made channel to become colonised by a wide range of rare flora and fauna. By creating a new three hectare wildlife habitat, we will be able to protect and conserve these species for generations to come, while enabling boats to return by excavating the main channel into a navigation again.”
The reserve features two new giant ponds which are being constructed next to the canal main line. Specialist environmental coir matting has been laid along the pond banks, protecting the banks from erosion and
enabling vegetation to establish more easily. Each pond is being connected to the canal with an inlet and outlet channel, allowing fish and aquatic mammals to travel betwee n the two water spaces. Due to the
natural topography of the land and the high water table, the ponds have not been lined but rest on a natural bed of peat.
Trust ecologist Stuart Moodie explained: “One pond is now constructed and the second pond should be finished in the next few months. They will inevitably take a few years to become established but ultimately we expect them to become self-sustaining, biodiverse eco-communities - a wonderful resource for the local
community.
“We are working closely with Natural England monitoring the success of the reserves and hopefully in the
next three to five years, they will allow us to double boat movements along this section of the Montgomery Canal from 2,500 to 5,000 per year.”
Sara Hill, the Trust’s local ecologist, said that rare floating water plantain and grass wrack pondweed plants,
which had been propagated specially for the project at Chester Zoo, had recently been trans-planted into the
reserve.
“We are impressed how quickly the coir matting has enabled the plants to become established, despite the heatwave. We have spotted many fish and the area is already buzzing with dragonflies and damselflies. As soon as the main construction phase is completed, we will be adding a network of footpaths around the reserve so the public can enjoy the wonderful wildlife too. We are expecting to be able to open the reserve to the public from next summer,” she added.

The Canal & River Trust works with 15 partner organisations which make up the Montgomery Canal Partnership. The Partnership aims to restore the canal fully within the next decade as a haven for people and nature

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