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Grand Western Canal

Management of the Canal

The Grand Western Canal Country Park and Local Nature Reserve is managed by the Canal Ranger Service, comprising a Canal Manager, two Rangers and occasional seasonal staff. The Ranger Service is based in the Canal Basin in Tiverton, but they undertake work throughout the Country Park. Their work is led by the Grand Western Canal Management Plan. image - PDF icon (3.51MB - pdf help)

Volunteers at Sampford Peverell hedge

They are ably assisted by a range of volunteers including the Volunteer Ranger Service who usually work one Sunday per month at the Canal; school and college work placements; and regular volunteers who help out once or twice a week. For more information on volunteering, please contact the Canal Ranger Service.

The routine maintenance of the Country Park can be split into two ‘seasons’. From late spring to early autumn the main tasks are mowing and strimming along the towpath, car parks and picnic sites; and operating the weedcutting boat (which prevents weed from choking the Canal).

From late autumn to early spring the main emphasis is on tree and hedge management. Tree works include restoring a coppice regime in many woodland areas beside the Canal and cutting back branches that overhang the Canal.

In addition to these major tasks is a huge variety of other work undertaken by the Rangers, such as running events, leading volunteers and guiding educational visits by local primary schools and managing a range of contractors who undertake tasks such as dredging, towpath resurfacing, tree surgery and hedgecutting.

Dredging
Over time the Canal tends to fill up with silt from decomposing plant matter and soil washed in from adjacent roads and farmland. Unless the Canal is periodically dredged, it would eventually silt-up, preventing boating and angling and leading to a deterioration in wildlife habitats.

Between 2002 and 2007, most of the Canal was dredged thanks to a substantial capital investment made by Devon County Council, Mid Devon District Council and the EU Interreg IIIb programme. The work has been phased over several years in order to reduce the immediate impact on wildlife, and current monitoring has shown an increase in the variety of water plants (on which the rest of the Canal food chain relies) as a result of the work. The future of boating and angling on the canal has also been secured for many years to come.

The Ranger Service has also been working with adjacent landowners to promote sustainable land use, in an effort to reduce soil eroding into the Canal in the future. Most of the offside boundary of the Country Park has been fenced to protect the banks from erosion by livestock and to create wildflower rich buffer strips that provide excellent habitats for a range of wildlife.

dredging

Hedgelaying
hedgelaying

The Country Park contains nine miles of hedgerow that borders the towpath. After several decades of being annually trimmed with a tractor-mounted flail, the hedge has become quite gappy and sparse in many areas. As part of the Country Park’s Countryside Stewardship Scheme agreement, over three miles of hedgerow are being restored through a combination of hedgelaying and hedge planting.

Hedgelaying is a traditional form of hedge management which promotes thick regrowth from the base of the hedge and creates a bushy hedge which acts well as a stockproof barrier and provides great habitat for wildlife. Hedgelaying is particularly popular with the Canal’s Volunteer Ranger Service who spend many days on this rewarding activity each winter.

Towpath resurfacing
towpath improvementsSince 2002, eight miles of towpath has been resurfaced using crushed stone from the quarry at Westleigh. This work has been focussed on previously muddy or uneven sections of footpath with the aim of improving conditions for wheelchair and mobility buggy users in particular.

Offside Buffer Strips
Buffer StripWithin the canal's Countryside Stewardship Scheme Agreement 4km of offside bank have been fenced to creeate buffer strips. These strips on the offside protect the canal from silt and nutrient pollution and provide excelellent habitats for widlife. Click here for a case study of the project image - PDF icon (880KB - pdf help).

Culverts
Volunteers repairing culvert near Warnicombe BridgeBetween 2009 and 2012 a major project to clean and repair the canal’s 30 culverts will take place. The culverts allow water from streams and ditches to flow under the canal but over time they tend to fill up with silt and debris. Specialist enclosed-access teams will undertake this important work.