Offside Rhododendron Management on the Basingstoke Canal
5/6 October 2019
It always makes a change to visit the Basingstoke, being a fully restored and operational canal. Unusually the Basingstoke is not operated and maintained by the Canal and Rivers Trust – instead, it is owned and maintained by the Basingstoke Canal Authority, financed partly by Surrey and Hampshire county councils, and also supported both financially and operationally by the Basingstoke Canal Society. After a long relationship with the Canal Society (formerly the Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society) going back to the original restoration through the 1970s-1991, and subsequent back-pumping and towpath improvement schemes, Kescrg is always keen to return periodically to help with the inevitable ongoing maintenance of the canal.
A perennial problem on the canal is encroachment of the line by invasive rhododendron bushes growing on the offside banks. Having had a very successful dig in 2016 clearing around 200m of the offside between Frimley and Deepcut, we were due to return to carry out similar work in Fleet for our February dig. However, as the Friday of the dig progressed, so did a massive snowstorm – causing chaos as it tracked East along the M4 and finally by late afternoon settled on Basingstoke and its surroundings. As with many drivers and their cars, we abandoned the dig at short notice – just as well, as being a Fleet resident I awoke on Saturday morning to a good 4 inches of snow.
So, we rescheduled the visit to October- and duly a small but enthusiastic team met at Odiham scout hut on the Friday night ready to meet up with Geoff the local and crack on in the morning. The base for operations was the layby on Crookham road between Fleet and Church Crookham, where the brand new chipper would be stationed. The area to be cleared was about half a mile up the canal, opposite the Fox and Hounds pub. This meant cutting rhododendron into the workboat, then transporting it back to the chipping site for offloading. Unfortunately, we could not leave the chipper unattended, so the chipping team had to wait for each shipment of cuttings, so had to be somewhat patient between loads.
However, once we had a pattern established, we were able to cut several boat-loads each day. We had to work carefully as we were clearing the banks at the bottom of a row of gardens, and there were several native trees and shrubs that we were careful not to damage. The residents were very supportive of the work we were doing as it will allow much more light into their gardens – and though due to the ferrying back and forth from the chipping site (not helped by a slightly underpowered and temperamental outboard) progress was not as rapid as our previous visit to Frimley – by the end of Sunday we had cleared about 100m of the offside. In particular, this stretch is on a sharp bend and near where the trip boat takes on visitors, so doubling the width of navigable water is greatly beneficial to users of the canal.
With thanks to Geoff and the Basingstoke Canal Society for hosting us, this was a really interesting and productive weekend.