A dream to restore the Montgomery Canal, one of Britain’s most picturesque canals, took a giant leap forward with the start of a £4 million project. A new nature reserve is to be created next to the canal near Oswestry which, together with work along the canal itself, means boaters could soon be returning to the area for the first time in 80 years.
The work is being carried out by us, and is being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and supported by the Montgomery Canal Partnership.
The canal on the Shropshire/Welsh border is currently only partly navigable and is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Rare aquatic plants, including Floating Water Plantain Luronium natans, will soon be given a secure environment by the creation of a new three-hectare wildlife habitat within Aston Locks Nature Reserve. The site, which is expected to be complete by winter 2017, will also be home for a range of wildlife including damselflies, dragonflies, otters and water voles and attract a range of bird species.
Alongside the creation of the reserve, a further 1¼ miles of the canal, from Welshampton to Crickheath in Shropshire, will be restored to navigation. A dedicated turning point for narrowboats, known as a ‘winding hole’, will be created, enabling boats to return to the area for the first time since 1936 when the canal was closed. Around half of the canal is currently navigable and, with the help of Shropshire Union Canal Society volunteers, this latest major phase should be completed by 2020. The project includes access improvements to the canal and nearly five miles of towpath upgraded. A comprehensive programme of community events and activities is also underway.
Known for its outstanding natural beauty, wildlife and heritage, the Montgomery Canal runs for 35 miles between England and Wales. The canal has an abundance of rare aquatic plants and 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.
The project is also supported with funding from Powys County Council, Shropshire Union Canal Society, Inland Waterways Association, Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust and the Friends of the Montgomery Canal.
Wendy Capelle, our waterway manager said: "The work starting today at Aston Nature Reserves is a huge step forward in restoring this beautiful canal. It is a testament to the dedication of so many people over several years who have kept the dream alive and we’re hugely excited to see the diggers on site. The Canal & River Trust want to continue the hard work of local volunteers in bringing the canal back to life and as a charity, the support of HLF is invaluable in enabling us to do so."
John Dodwell, chair of the Montgomery Canal Partnership comments: "I would like to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund and all the others who have contributed to making possible this stage of the restoration. This is a new step forward in the 10-year strategy to restore the Canal back to Welshpool – and then on to Newtown. The Heritage Lottery Funding award has re-invigorated the local community’s efforts to ensure further restoration of this magnificent canal."
Vanessa Harbar, Head of HLF West Midlands said: "Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, the restoration of the Montgomery Canal will see a real boost to Shropshire’s biodiversity, its nature reserves and waterways, and the strong community partnerships that have made this scheme possible."
The Montgomery Canal Partnership aims to restore the canal fully within the next decade as a haven for people and nature. This work will bring canal boats back to Crickheath for the first time in over 80 years.