Stepping up to just get mown down

People who follow me on social media will know I’ve not been enjoying the best of health of late – you might have noticed the blog has been operating at reduced power in recent weeks for which I apologise: But this has meant more time near home, and as I’m now on the mend I’m pottering about and noticing things again.

You might be wondering where I’m going with this, but it’s something that possibly isn’t huge in the great scheme of things but has really, really angered me, and I think people in the community should know about it.

This is a fine thing I fully support: A local school adopting a stretch of local canal. Encouraging engagement and care for the environment in local kids. Top stuff.

Just before last Christmas (December 2019) I noticed signs had appeared on the canal between Anchor Bridge and Ogley Junction that the stretch of waterway had been adopted by pupils and staff of Millfield School, which backs onto the canal at Catshill. Adopting stretches of canal is a voluntary thing that individuals or groups can do, where willing folk collect litter, undertake simple maintenance, monitor conditions and generally look after the upkeep of their chosen stretch of cut. A fine idea.

So the kids of a local primary – Millfield, a school with a fine reputation for engagement with the community and outdoors – had their own stretch of water and one of the first things they did was decorate a large number of stones with designs and artwork, and lay them neatly opposite the school field on the towpath, neatly by the hedge.

You’ll need to click on the image to see, but there’s a line of pretty, lovingly decorated stones along the hedge line, made and placed by Millfield pupils. How lovely.

They were a gorgeous, happenstance thing: I came upon them by chance and they were lovely, jolly and endearing. A sign on the hedge explained their presence, and people stopped to look at them, but they stayed undisturbed, which also pleased me.

Until about ten days ago.

Canal maintenance and upkeep – like mowing grass areas, flailing hedges (clipping) and the like are performed by contractors engaged by the Canal and River Trust, the national charitable body responsible for waterway operation, maintenance and preservation in the UK.

This is the same trust the teachers at Millfield will have contacted to adopt their stretch of the Wyrley and Essington.

Well, it’s hedge cutting time around here – it’s usually carried out late winter before birds start to nest, which is all well and good. The hedges needed a trim. At the same time, one assumes the same contractors mowed the grass along the towpath too.

Hedge cutting is necessary and important before birds begin to nest.

Grass mowing is a bit odd, though: The contractors do this at regular periods throughout winter as well as summer, which baffles me. I’ve been critical of mowing operations by Canal and River Trust contractors before, as they just butcher everything in their path and seem to cut far too frequently. This might seem like a whinge, but when one considers the flora that grows by the water and the wildlife that depends upon it, regularly destroying the canalside flowers seems a bit unnecessary.

In summer, important species of wildflower like this poor marsh orchid are regularly cut down by mowing contracts on the local towpaths for no reason I can discern.

I took the C&RT to task just last summer for destroying patches of marsh orchids in Walsall Wood – formerly rare wildflowers that we never used to have here. I was told the mowing specification would be modified, and all would be well.

Nothing changed.

Back to Millfield’s commemorative stones, then.

The Canal and River Trust just drover a tractor through kid’s artwork. Did they not notice?

The contractors just drove their tractor over them. Without any care or attention, the artwork kids had worked hard to create, which had been well respected by canal users was just ignored and churned into mud by the hedge cutters on a mission, followed by the mower. I hope the stones buggered their blade, I really do.

How the sign survived is a mystery, but the contractors must have seen it.

Not just that, but the signs put up by the school to inform the public were not removed and  it was clearly purely by chance that, somewhat dishevelled, they survived.

This is an outrage. Teachers guide their pupils to care for their world by graciously volunteering to look after a stretch of canal, and the body that invites them to do so then drives a tractor through their work. Unceremoniously, without thought. What a way to teach kids respect for others.

How can we teach kids respect and the value of voluntary work if paid employees treat their work in such a disrespectful way?

This is nothing short of vandalism.

I’d like the Canal and River Trust to account for this awful blunder and at the very least explain to their contractors that destroying kid’s work in this way is not acceptable.

I am genuinely disgusted.

I’ll point out here and now that I’ve brought this issue up of my own volition and have not sought contact with the school, whom I assume will be equally dismayed when they find out.

To the kids involved: Many, many people saw you work and appreciated it. Please do not be disheartened. A small minority of people are insensitive idiots. Unfortunately, several of those seem to be engaged in towpath maintenance by the Canal and River Trust.

Why the Canal overlords have to aggressively mow the towpaths is beyond me – most of us would rather see this (photographed in Pleck, Walsall, a year ago) than cropped turf.

To the Canal and River Trust: Get your bloody act together. The canal should be a haven for wildlife and biodiversity. When people volunteer and adopt your canal, respect their work please: And the grass isn’t Wimbledon court – it’s OK to let it grow a bit. Let’s preserve the flowers for the bugs and bees.

I hope this can be sorted. Comment here, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or tap my shoulder on social media.

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6 Responses to Stepping up to just get mown down

  1. stymaster says:

    I noticed this a day or two ago, and thought “Oh, what happened to all the stones?”. I’d stopped to look, and tweeted a photo, just before Christmas, and thought what a nice project it was. You really would have thought the contractors might have given a shit.

  2. Evelyn Humphrey says:

    This is appalling I hope the canal trust do something special for these children makes you wonder who they are employing so sad .

  3. Trevor Stevenson says:

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention. While I havent seen the work done by the school children, its evident that a lot of thought, effort, and care was put into the work by the children. To see it defaced by the contractors is bordering on heartbreaking, its easy to know how the children will feel about this, and your message to them is nicely worded.
    I do hope that health permitting, you will continue to put pressure on the appropriate authorities for not only an answer as to why this authorised vandalism was committed, but to also obtain an assurance that this sort of maintenance is carried out with much more sensitivity and consideration for the flora, fauna, and wildlife, and also with respect for the efforts carried out by people who do care and who are prepared to give time and effort to preserve and improve our environment. Trev

  4. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    Perhaps our dear Member of Parliament , Ms Wendy Morton,and our West Midlands mayor , Mr Andy Street, or one of their staff, will have read this and set about “doing the necessary.” without delay.

    kind regards,
    David Evans

  5. Dru says:

    It seems a network-wide problem; here in Wiltshire are areas where glowworms proliferate, and despite information about their habitats being both solicited and freely available, they are ruthlessly wowed…

  6. Dru says:

    …mowed, dammit!

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