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Thursday, 5 September 2013

Trees are welcome on the Shroppie

Travel the Shropshire UnionCanal and you are on top of the world one minute with views that stretch for  miles and the next you enter a green tunnel with the trees almost meeting overhead. It is endlessly fascinating, especially as animals and birds have made this green haven their home.

However, all those tress do bring their own problems when they are clinging to the sides of deep cuttings and steep embankments and many boaters reckon the Shroppie is the canal most likely to hold up boats and walkers with fallen trees.

Simon Jenkins, managing director of Norbury Wharf has seen the Shroppie in all seasons for many years and he says: “I suspect that the Shroppie does suffer with more fallen trees than other canals, although it is rare that they cause a serious problem when they do fall. Obviously high winds and heavy rain bring them down and the ones on the embankments are the most troublesome.”

He knows that when the canal was first built, 180 years ago, trees were always kept well in hand and  removed on a regular basis from the canal bank. As the canals became less profitable the private canal companies began to save on bankside maintenance and once commercial traffic ended in the 1960s British Waterways did little to prevent the trees establishing a hold.

Simon explained “These trees have now been an issue for many years and, as you can imagine, the situation worsens over a long period of time as they grow bigger and don’t get managed by the waterways.

“The banks become unstable in the wetter periods and then we have problems, land slides are also an issue, and sometimes linked with a large tree being uprooted in a cutting, sometimes bringing down the fractured
stone of the cutting sides into the canal itself.

“It doesn't happen very often but we did have a serious fall of stone a couple of years ago, once again linked to a period when we had lots of rain.”

Oddly enough it is not fallen trees that most affect boaters – many of them welcome the opportunity to get in stocks of wood for their boat fires – but the leaves.

Simon explained: “Leaves are a pain in the bum in the autumn months. As the over-hanging trees shed their leaves they fall on to the water and eventually sink to the bottom of the canal and in some circumstances are
suspended in the water for a time. When boats pass along the canal the water displacement moves the water in the restricted channel towards the propeller, at this point the leaves stick to the flat areas of the propeller
know as the bats or blades.

The leaves gradually get thicker and thicker until forward motion is massively reduced and the boat bought to a near standstill. If the steerer of the boat does not know about this situation they often just keep applying
the power to try to make the boat travel at the same speed but with no effect other than to stir up the water and create a bowl of leafy porridge.

“This also has the effect of over-working the engine and possibly overheating it too. “We often tell our hirers about this leafy problem and they look at us like we are spinning them a yarn, we have even had customers
come back and reported that they had experienced the problem but when they had looked down the weed hatch there was not a leaf to be found!!!

“The easiest way to remove the leaves from the prop is to pop it in to reverse just for a second and that will reverse the rotation of the propeller which will allow the leaves to fall off.

“If this is done after every bridge then the forward motion of the boat should be unhindered and the engine should remain at its optimum running temperature.”

With all the potential issue with the Shroppie's many, many trees, would Simon go back to the days of bare banks along the canal?

“Of course not, the trees make the Shroppie one of the most popular and lovely canals in the country – I think most boaters would like the offside greenery a bit better pruned, though.”