Greens and Grounds

Reinstate the canal - and what else?

Clearly, reinstating the canal involves a wide range of civil engineering activities, dedication of time and energy by the army of volunteers, enormous fund-raising, dealing with infuriating bureaucracy and inevitable frustrations as all the other stakeholders in our community (eg roads, railways, housing developments) understandably pose obstacles in our pursuit of canal restoration.

The developments so far regarding reinstating the canal itself are manifest. What’s been less obvious is the work of other volunteers whose expertise and ambitions are quietly pursuing a secondary, but nonetheless vital objective of LHCRT, which is to create “a green corridor” along the entire 14 mile length of the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals. Set that in the context of Britain losing so much of its natural heritage to “development”, we not only have an opportunity, but also an obligation to redress the balance. The route of any canal is an ecological miracle: it supports its own peculiar vegetation and microclimate and hence  insects, and therefore birdlife and mammals  and so on; that a canal, simply by its existence, creates a corridor needs to be not only acknowledged but it must also be fundamentally built in to the plans for canal restoration.

So far in LHCRT’s existence, there has been a slightly two-pronged approach: the “green” team has ensured that planting has taken place to encourage biodiversity and to improve the route visually; the “grounds” team has concentrated on ensuring that subsequent canal reinstatement has a clear run and has boundaries defined. But, the intentions of the “grounds” team have always taken as implicit that its activities not only respect but also enhance the ecology and biodiversity of LHCRT’s property.

Very valuably, we have seen over the winter of 2015-6 a coming together of “green and “grounds”. So, work is going on by “green and grounds” every Saturday and on occasional Sundays and other days at 6 sites:

At Tamworth Road and Darnford Park much has been done over the years , and as spring arrives many plants will reward us with colour.

Darnford Moors now has a broad swathe of walkable pathways – and the green woodpeckers are very happy, as are a number of regular dogwalkers and and also some non Darnford golfers who get the many lost balls that we’ve found there.

Fosseway’s linnets and goldfinches can rely on having plenty of gorse left for them, as we’re only clearing the canal bed and 50 new gorse saplings have been planted to compensate. That said, the gorse in the canal bed gets its own back on us with their vicious recriminations as we try to clear them out.

Barracks Lane is now resplendent with mixed hedging just waiting to flourish in the unprecedently early spring. Many thanks to the indomitable folk who braved the Sunday weather just before and soon after Christmas.

Summerhill is already showing signs of the daffodils planted by the “greens”  in the woodland area last year; we’re expecting the bluebells (English, and NOT Spanish), that The Green Team  nurtured for 5 years before planting last year, to show themselves very soon. We've also had a number of Sundays there with the wider team planting whips and accent trees. Most notably and most noticeably, as can be seen from the photo, there’s a fantastic 400m length of laid hedge, which has been the challenging work of at least every Saturday for the last few months: hawthorns left to their own devices for over 50 years were not only high but intertwined. Only once laid off by the weather, the work party has kept warm and mostly dry by having fires to burn up all the offcuts from the hedge laying and also most of the tree and shrub roots which have been dug out of the canal bed.

This is also a prime site for  restoring and enhancing its ecology: huge scope for attracting bees and other insects by appropriate planting, by creating habitat piles and thereby improving bird, bat and other animal habitats and corridors. There’s an exciting plan to relocate the badgers from one side of the canal to the other with a peanut trail...... but the rabbits might thwart the wildflower and meadow planting aspirations....!

Take a walk at Summerhill: see the transformed hedge, and particularly look for the growth from the thousands of presently tiny buds which are beginning to sprout. If you’re lucky, as we’ve been on most Saturdays, you’ll hear and/or see Skylarks, Buzzards, the Kestrel and certainly the little robin or two which often serenade us – and even the Peacock butterfly which heralded Spring’s arrival on Saturday, 12 March!

Chris Bull

Environment Matters   2016  Issue 2

500m of Hedge laid at Summerhill   Photo: Hugh Millington

Bat boxes at Tamworth Road - another ‘Green & Grounds’ initiative

One of thousands of buds on laid hedge at Summerhill

Whips planted in Darnford Park on the north environmental mound by the ‘Greens’
Photo: Paul Marshall

‘Grounds’ ongoing battle to keep the canal bed clear  

Lichfield & Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust