The Canal & River Trust charity is inviting the public to take a rare behind-the-scenes look at a £4 million project to restore a section of the Montgomery Canal on the Shropshire Welsh border, near Oswestry.
On Thursday 5 July, the Trust will be hosting two guided tours at 11am and 2pm to see the new Aston Locks Nature Reserve, which is being created next to the canal to provide a protected home for birds, wildlife such as damselflies, dragonflies, otters and water voles, and rare aquatic plants like Floating Water Plantain Luronium natans.
Trust ecologists and engineers will explain the complex works and show how the plants and animals are being transferred into the new nature reserve from the main line of the canal. The whole project is being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), supported by the Montgomery Canal Partnership, and delivered by the Canal & River Trust, which cares for the Montgomery Canal and 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales.
Known for its outstanding natural beauty, wildlife and heritage, the Montgomery Canal runs for 35 miles between England and Wales. The canal is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest on both sides of the border. The whole length in Wales is also recognised as a Special Area of Conservation, showing that it is one of the most important sites for wildlife in Europe.
Funding for the restoration programme was announced a year ago and since then good progress has been made towards upgrading nearly five miles of towpath, restoring 1¼ miles of the canal to navigation from Maesbury to Crickheath and creating a dedicated turning point for narrowboats, known as a ‘winding hole’. This will enable boats to return to the area for the first time since 1936 when the canal was closed.
Only around half of the canal is currently navigable but, with the help of Shropshire Union Canal Society volunteers, this latest major phase should be completed by 2020.
Canal & River Trust project manager David Hennessey explained: "The Montgomery is a special canal and its restoration has required a special solution. The absence of boat movements over the last 80 years has allowed the man-made channel to become colonised by a wide range of rare flora and fauna. By creating a new three hectare wildlife habitat, we will be able to protect and conserve these species for generations to come, while enabling boats to return by excavating the main channel into a navigation again.
"On Thursday 5 July, we welcome the opportunity to host a ‘hard hat’ day and take members of public behind the scenes of this amazing project."
Places on the free guided tours are limited to a maximum of 20 on each tour and can be reserved in advance at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/aston-reserve-behind-the-scenes-tour-tickets-47205806839 . Participants are asked to meet in the car park at Queens Head, near Oswestry, by 10.45am and 1.45pm, and wear sensible footwear. The guided tour will last about 90 minutes and involve walking about c.3km.
The Canal & River Trust works with 15 partner organisations which make up the Montgomery Canal Partnership. The Partnership aims to restore the canal fully within the next decade as a haven for people and nature.
For more information about visiting your local canal, the Montgomery Canal restoration or becoming a Friend of the Canal & River Trust, please go to www.canalrivertrust.org.uk.