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CVLLP 5: Canal Vegetation

Project Objective

To protect, enhance and restore the natural heritage of the Caldon Canal between Froghall and Hazlehurst

Throughout Europe there is a move toward the landscape approach to conservation of biodiversity, lead not least by the threat of climate change. This project aims to take an innovative approach to sustainable landscape management by showing how conservation actions when delivered at a landscape level (the Churnet Valley) can be carried out; optimising the involvement of the community and co-operation between non-governmental organisations, individuals and industry to minimise the costs of conservation management and maximise ecosystem services. The concept of Ecosystem Services involves recognizing an ecosystem not just for biodiversity benefits but rather the full range of services and products it provides:

The Caldon Canal between Froghall and Hazelhurst lies at the heart of the Churnet Valley, whose steeply wooded valleys feed directly down to the Canal / River Corridor. The route of the canal itself forms the most popular access route in the valley for education and leisure with an estimated 700,000 visitors per year. This project will not only achieve its own objective but will also act as a key activity programme for community participation, as well a demonstrating sustainable woodland management and a broadened approach to woodland products.

Fit to existing strategies and objectives

The European Union’s (EU) ‘Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010 and beyond’ identifies action for threatened species as a key pillar of its approach. This project will provide beneficial to some of the EU's endangered species such as:

  • Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix  (EU Concern Moderate, UK Concern High)
  • Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus (EU Concern Moderate, UK Concern Medium)
  • Green Woodpecker Picus viridis (EU Concern Moderate, UK Concern Low)
  • Argent & Sable Moth.Rheumaptera hastata
  • Lutra lutra, Otter (Annex 2 & 4)*

*Annex 2: Animal and plant species of community interest whose conservation requires the designation of Special Areas of Conservation Annex 4: Animal and plant species of Community interest in need of strict protection.

Halting the Loss of Biodiversity by 2011 and beyond identifies the recognition of the link between biodiversity and ecosystem services and promotes a shift towards a new balance between conservation and development; this project addresses objectives:

(2) to conserve and restore biodiversity and ecosystem services in the wider countryside

(5) to substantially reduce the impact of invasive alien species and alien genotypes

(9) to support biodiversity adaptation to climate change

(10) to substantially strengthen the knowledge base for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, in the EU and globally.

In the European Commission’s ambitious new strategy “Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020” (ref) there are three main targets which will all be addressed in an demonstrative way within this project:

(2) better protection of ecosystems, and more use of green infrastructure

(3) more sustainable agriculture and forestry

(4) tighter control on invasive species.

Comprehensive description of the project

Important note: British Waterways (BW) have conducted a full vegetation survey and management plan for the Caldon Canal between Froghall and Hazlehurst and all tree management work that was required for the purposes of health and safety or to ensure canal navigation, which are statutory requirements of BW, have been undertaken during the 2010-11 seasons.

Lack of woodland management in the project area has resulted in a lack of structural diversity required to sustain populations of key species. This has resulted in range contractions and local extinctions. Factors influencing declines in woodland bird species have, broadly, been identified as a lack of woodland management resulting in:

  • crown crowding, excess shade and cooling micro-climate
  • lack of understory grazing for a suite of species that favour open shrub layer (Common redstart, wood warbler and European pied flycatcher)
  • lack of structural diversity for species that depend on the shrub layer (marsh and willow Tit)
  • lack of internal open space - rides, glades.

Without intervention in woodland management at a landscape scale this situation will continue to deteriorate; the structure of woodlands will become unfavourable for species, so increasing isolation of populations. The Project targets the factors underpinning woodland bird declines by bringing woodlands into favourable management. This is to be achieved by linking appropriate management for conservation benefit to a market for wood products, thus ensuring sustainable woodland management. The interface between woodlands and adjacent habitats is also important for a number of species and the project will address this by undertaking woodland management throughout the length of the Caldon Canal and working closely with other CVLLP projects.

Project Activity

In order to achieve a sustainably managed woodland of high biodiversity value BW will undertake a concerted programme of habitat management along the canal/river. During the development phase of this project, a full work programme was produced with actions to manage BW woodland and associated habitats and link woodland management to other countryside management projects.

To maximise the biodiversity value of woodlands BW will manage them by:

  • managing mature trees to secure their longevity, unsecure limbs will be removed as well as limbs affected by fungal or pest attack, lopping and pruning appropriate limbs and branches to ensure healthy regrowth, producing symmetry in the trees structure to ensure stability
  • crowning and topping where appropriate will let light through to ensure young trees and other vegetation have a good environment in which to thrive
  • arranging dead wood from trimming to provide habitats for insects that provide nutrients for birds
  • appropriate piles to encourage local amphibians and mammals, specialist holts for otters and piles for grass snake adders or slow worms
  • erecting bat and bird boxes will be erected on mature trees.

To maximise connectivity between woodland packets and promote a wider ecological potential of boundary features we will also implement a hedgerow management programme to: replant, renew, gap fill, coppice, trim, side or lay the hedgerows between woodland pockets. This will be done in order to produce a healthy stock proof, wildlife friendly hedgerow that will last for generations.

Planting fruit trees and mini orchards, where appropriate, will be included in the programme allowing fruit for community and canal users. Hedgerow maintenance is not a statutory requirement of British Waterways and the current stock of ancient hedgerow is in poor condition. Hedges are important not just for biodiversity, but also for farming, landscape, cultural and archaeological reasons. Hedgerows are important habitats in their own right. They are a primary habitat for at least 47 extant species of conservation concern in the UK, including 13 globally threatened or rapidly declining ones, more than for most other key habitats. They are especially important for butterflies and moths, farmland birds, bats and dormice. Indeed, hedgerows are the most significant wildlife habitat over large stretches of lowland UK and are essential refuge for a great many woodland and farmland plants and animals. Over 600 plant species (including some endemic species such as a whitebeam Sorbus devoniensis), 1500 insects, 65 birds and 20 mammals have been recorded at some time living or feeding in hedgerows.

To demonstrate sustainable woodland management we will carry out practical projects that will demonstrate a wider market for the woodland products. For example: hardwood stakes, small brash and weavings for bank protection and access projects (CVLLP 15), reducing the need for imported engineering solutions, oversized timber for water quality buffer projects (CVLLP 3), which will be used to demonstrate economic, local solutions to diffuse pollution.

Manage invasive species: In line with the EU WFD priority actions we will commence a dedicated programme of invasive species controlwithin the canal woodland management project. Within the Churnet Valley Living Landscape the highest levels of infestation are within the wet areas of the canal and river valley bottom, where they are in places dominant and damaging to our native habitats. Invasive species control will play a significant part within all areas of our project and the concentration of resources within the valley will make the extensive control at headwater, agricultural and woodland initiatives upstream worthwhile.Three identified invasive species are:

  • Japanese Knotweed 130m2 at Hazlehurst to be cut and removed to a licensed tip and sprayed with glyphosate based herbicide during 2012-16
  • Giant Hogweed 10m2 at various locations to be cut and removed to a licensed tip and sprayed with glyphosate based herbicide during 2012-16
  • Himalayan Balsam 1247m at various locations May-June and early July remove manually by pulling and dispose at approved locations:

Invasive species colonise natural habitats and out-compete the native plants and animals that normally live there. Rivers, canals, hedges, roadsides and railways form important corridors for native plants and animals to migrate, and large infestations of non-native weeds can block these routes for wildlife:

  • Giant Hogweed blocks the pathway for walkers and makes it difficult for anglers to access the canal
  • Japanese knotweed can cause problems for local flood defences and drainage and significantly affects the area’s ecology because of its ability to spread quickly and ‘shade out’ native plants
  • Himalayan balsam tolerates low light levels and also shades out other vegetation, so gradually impoverishing habitats by killing off other plants. Each plant can produce up to 800 seeds. These are dispersed widely as the ripe seedpods shoot their seeds up to 7m (22ft) away. Once established in the catchment of a river the seeds, which can remain viable for two years, are transported further afield by water.

The Invasive species management will be undertaken using a mixture of contractors for chemical control, supported by community and volunteer based physical control. Undertaking an intensive capital invasive species control project here we will form the basis for the required invasive species control within the rest of our projects together will offering a key-stone activity in the valley from which to promote and support a community initiative "The Big Churnet Valley Pull". Thus over a four year period we expect to bring the overall population of Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed to a level in the valley that can be managed on a routine basis.

Who will benefit?

The Valley Community

During the woodland management project with BW we aim to get 25 Volunteers from the Valley Community involved in practical conservation projects.

Dissemination to the public beyond the valley

The Churnet Valley is a leisure destination for over 2,000,000 people per year, although it is estimated that ¾ of these are visiting Alton Towers Resort. The canal and river corridor is the key place where interpretation and dissemination projects will best reach the 700,000 visitors to the valley and the 50,000 casual canal visitors and 3,500 canal boat visitors. All of these will be able to gain a better understanding of the importance of canals and woodland management for wildlife.

Outputs and outcomes

Measured outputs

86 trees felled during project.

1,000 individual trees treated for extended life and biodiversity value, including:

  • Standing Deadwood 94
  • Coppice 483
  • Crown Lift 80
  • Pollard 58
  • Other (prune) 48

500 new trees planted

100 metric tonnes of biomass material exported – much for Life+ associated use

100 bird boxes & 25 Bat Boxes installed

50 habitat piles, 10 mammal piles, 2 grass snake piles 2 otter halts.

4.461km of hedgerow managed for improved biodiversity:

  • hedgerows in good condition – trimming required 1091m
  • hedgerows requiring siding and gap filling for future laying 1137m
  • hedgerow siding and laying 84m
  • hedgerow coppice and gap filling for future laying 1262m
  • new hedgerow planting 887m.

Invasive species

Japanese Knotweed 130m2 at Hazlehurst to be cut and removed to a licensed tip and sprayed with glyphosate based herbicide during 2012-16

Giant Hogweed 10m2 at various locations to be cut and removed to a licensed tip and sprayed with glyphosate based herbicide during 2012-16

Himalayan Balsam 1,247 linear metres treated at various locations.


25 Volunteers involved in practical conservation projects

50,000 casual canal visitors and 3,500 canal boat visitors will have gained a better understanding of the importance of canals for wildlife.

Invasive species: We do not hope to eradicate any of these species within the project timescales, however, we do hope to have had a significant impact upon both the range of infestation within the valley and density where it is currently a negative factor in biodiversity quality. Our long-term outcome is liable to more readily ascertained by the adoption of an “eradication is possible” culture from the land managers and community of the Churnet Valley.


The habitats managed under this project are all owned by the CVLLP Partner, British Waterways. They have undertaken a legal agreement within this project to maintain the heritage of the habitats.

Risks and constraints

Operational Risks

Risk: Key staff retention technical skills and relationships with land managers need to be built up over time staff recruitment and retention is therefore important.

Contingency planning: The canal vegetation plan is completed and the majority of skilled work required will be carried out by contractors. The responsible partner for this work (BW) already has good procedures in place. Project timetable allows for changes or additions to activities involving community volunteers should there be issues with support staff.

Project Delivery Risks

Risk: Poor weather may reduce our ability to deliver habitat management projects within described timescales, this is liable to have a minimal potential effect as timescales for work in a given year is based upon seasonality of work rather than the amount needing to be done. Exceptionally wet periods may result in difficulty access to bankside areas and

wetlands but we expect this to cause delays rather than reduced outputs.

Risk: Failure to achieve invasive species control; we are aware that the complete eradication of Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed within the Churnet Valley is not a viable option within a four year project. Our programme therefore is to demonstrate significant gains in control at a landscape level and to show how maintained effort will continue to tackle the issue.

Post Project Failure Risks

Risk: abandonment of initiatives once CVLLP, Heritage Lottery project support and assistance has been removed, is a very real issue, and one that we are targeting through the emphasis upon creating an economic emphasis upon the ecosystem services we are managing through the wood product market.

British Waterways is a full partner in the Churnet Valley Living Landscape and is committed to maintaining its activity within the valley. Our partnership is committed to investing time and resources over the long-term into the Churnet Valley; CVLLP have eventual designation of the whole area as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as a possible and aspirational outcome, but no time-scales of targets are set for this.

Constraints, licences, permits etc.

British Waterways own all of the land where this project will take place, where licences or permits are required by Environment Agency or DEFRA BW is competent to ensure they are provided. Statutory Bodies; Natural England, Environment Agency and DEFRA are all involved with this project and have positively fed into its planning and this bid submission.

Climate change

Climate change is presenting us with many challenges, such as the need to reduce emissions, find alternative energy sources to fossil fuels and to close the carbon cycle. Conversely, it is forcing our society to think about how we face these challenges and the potential business opportunities that may arise. The use of wood as fuel, through technological advances and the need to reduce emissions has once again become an attractive option, providing additional incentive to bring our under-managed woodlands into a more biodiverse and sustainable state.

The Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership habitat projects are aimed at maximising biodiversity value of woodlands and creating a robust habitat better suited to adapt and cope with climate change.  Woodland projects are aimed at creating a sustainable woodfuel market, with a minimum net carbon footprint; transport implications will be reduced as far as practicable by creating fuel collection hubs and use of water and rail transport.

Our innovative approach aims to bring the woodlands of Churnet Valley back into good conservation management. The innovations are based around working together to identify a broad woodland product base that maximises the range of materials which can be derived from management in the local economy, from woodfuel to oversized hardwood posts and brash weavings. Our ecosystem services based projects are designed to future-proof the community and ecology of the Churnet Valley regarding climate change: the habitats, woodlands and wetlands in particular will be healthier, better connected and more robust and better able to cope with climate change whilst our increased emphasis on local and natural products will, to a degree, buffer the community against a world with restricted raw materials, transport and engineered solutions. Although we do not expect to solve the world problem within the valley alone we will contribute to that solution.

Invasive species

The increased presence of invasive species including Himalayan Balsam, Giant hogweed and Japanese knotweed has reached a point where they are a significant risk to the wet/damp woodland communities of the valley. They have resulted in public concern, to a degree that we have identified invasive species as a key area of community involvement. Although we aim to reach the situation where management of non-native species can be undertaken as a routine activity, this Caldon Canal / River Invasive species control element of this project is designed to engage a wide audience and to create a period high effort so that future management can be efficiently directed.

Including high-profile, readily identifiable and actionable invasive species across all relevant CVLLP projects will also allow us to raise awareness of less well know species of concern, from Signal Crayfish to Phytopthora.


We will maintain high levels of biosecurity during the habitat work, particularly with reference of Phytothfera contagion between woodland parcels.

Environmental Policy

General actions for project:

Reduce travel: Public transport will be used where feasible, we have a number of community, youth and training opportunities within the canal vegetation project, to facilitate travel for these people CVLLP will identify a Churnet Valley Project HQ within reach of public transport.

Project staff: Manager, admin Assistant, Practical Projects Officer and Woodland Officer will all be based within the area to reduce travel as far as practicable. Outsourced staff and contractors will be offered facilities within the project (ie office desk) to allow them to undertake clerical elements of the project locally where possible. Our Practical Projects Officer will have access to a minibus for transporting volunteers and placements, reducing the need for multiple car journeys.

Maintain discipline: Every project element within CVLLP has a requirement to identify the impact of actions in relation to their carbon footprint.

Innovate within the project: we will be looking to maximise local markets for woodland products, whilst educing the market for imported (to the valley) woodland based products. In addition our woodland dissemination project will identify carbon savings through transport hubs for road and look at alternative export routes via the heritage railway and canal network.

Green Procurement:

For the appointment of contractors and external contractors we will make use of the EU Green Procurement Toolkit to maximise environmental benefit.

Follow Environmental Policy: All staff, contractors, volunteers and placements will be expected to adhere to the responsible partner’s environmental policy: British Waterways Environmental Policy.