Lancaster Canal boaters demand action during heated towpath meeting as floating duck weed continues to pose risk to boat engines

More than 20 boat owners took part in a meeting over fears of danger posed by vegetation growth spiralling out of control on the Lancaster Canal.

Saturday, 10th July 2021, 12:04 am

The waterway is currently plagued with summer vegetation growth of aquatic plants, which can grow up to 20cm a day.

As the canal is surrounded by farmland in many parts, the problem has been worsened by run-off from agricultural fertilisers used in nearby fields, which are high in nutrients, helping the weed to thrive.

When weed is sucked into a water cooled boat engine it can cause blockages that cause them to overheat and break down.

Some frustrated boaters have joked about selling 'Lancaster Canal pea soup'

In addition, there are fears that because the 'carpet' of weed looks like a continuation of the grass towpath, sparking concern children, pets and other users could mistakenly walk onto it - with one report that a six month old puppy recently drowned.

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Canal & River Trust removes duckweed 'carpet' from Lancaster Canal

Boaters pay the CRT a licence fee of several hundreds pounds every year which is supposed to go towards the maintenance of the 200 year old waterway, including clearing weed, and some say they feel the canal is not being adequately maintained.

A file of complaints was handed to a Canal and River Trust representative documenting boater's various concerns, with boaters sharing their personal experiences and claiming there are health and safety implications due to what they say is a "failure to maintain the towpath's bank side and vegetation on and in the Lancaster canal".

Weed and overgrowth near Garstang

The CRT said it is spending thousands on vegetation control and maintenance across the network, and admitted there was no quick fix.

Canal user Julie Ball , who organised the meeting near Raby's Farm in Cabus, said: " My husband and I are boat owners on the Lancaster Canal and on Father’s Day I took my dad out for a cruise on the canal.

"Our boat is raw water cooled and the floating duck weed is so bad our boat overheated five times. Each time we had no where to moor up due to the bank side weeds. I tried to measure them but at 8’6” high my tape ran out - they were three feet deep in many places.

"So in trying to de weed our engine filters we suffered an extra hazard on the canal as we were effectively a stranded boat.

The weed can damage boat engines

"My father is nearly 80 and I have disabilities, so we were both quite scared due to the health and safety hazards of the canal, which we think is purely down to lack of maintenance and mismanagement.

"I spoke to several members on our Facebook page and I was contacted by Angie Parkinson-Green who is an operations manager working for the CRT. She offered to come and talk to the boaters

"In total 21 people turned up and I received 18 private messages from boaters who were unable to attend. This meeting was arranged in 72 hours so it was short notice for everyone but in my opinion the turn out was very good.

"I opened the meeting and handed the file of complaints in for the boaters who could not attend.

A barge cuts through the weed at Garstang

"We pretty much hit a brick wall.

"The tree huggers and the ecologists don’t want the vegetation cleared, but if the vegetation isn’t cleared the water level will drop as the vegetation is consuming the water and diminishing the water levels in the canal. The height of the weeds and amount of floating vegetation is making the canal unnavigable.

"We did ask what the time frame was to get the canal back to its former glory. We were told three years for a noticeable difference and five years for a significant to complete difference.

"We just feel like the CRT wants boaters to pay up and shut up and came to the conclusion that our voices didn’t matter. "

In response, a Canal & River Trust spokesperson said: “We have a major problem with summer vegetation growth of aquatic plants right across the 2,000 miles of waterways managed by our charity.

"Every year we spend more than £700,000 on vegetation control and maintenance, and trying to clear the ever-expanding waterway green ‘carpets’ that develop is a constant challenge.

"In May we launched a national initiative to encourage people to be more aware about spreading invasive species across the waterway network. Some of the aquatic plants can grow up to 20cm a day.

"In this particular area of the Lancaster Canal, duckweed is widespread, exacerbated by the nutrient-rich run-off from agricultural fields. We do have an extensive maintenance and management plan and are dealing with the issue, but unfortunately there is no quick-fix.

"If and when green waterway ‘carpets’ emerge during the summer time, we would urge people to take sensible precautions – keep a close eye on small children and pets on leads.

"Every year, we spend millions of pounds in keeping the 200-year-old canal network in good working order. Only this last winter, we invested £18 million in re-lining the Lancaster Canal on the Lune Aqueduct and near Bolton-le-Sands.

"We are always on the look out for volunteers to help us in the mammoth task of maintenance and vegetation clearance. To sign up, please go to the Canal & River Trust website, www.canalrivertrust.org.uk.”

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