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Upper Mills Crack Willows update

Good news on the falling Crack Willows at Upper Mills

The fallen tree is about to be removed and further vulnerable trees coppiced, pollarded or felled.

Crack Willow – Not Weeping Willow

The trees concerned are Salix Fragilis. The tree’s common name is Crack Willow or Brittle Willow.

The name is derived from its susceptibility to wind, ice and snow damage. The trees often split and fall without warning. This can also occur when being felled or pollarded.

The Crack Willow is native to Europe and Western Asia favouring waterside habitats. It thrives beside rivers, streams and canals.

Heavy 'drinking' leads to demise

July and August’s high temperatures caused the trees to draw up more water than in cooler weather. The canal side location provides water a plenty.

In simple terms the trees might perhaps be considered to have ‘overindulged’ making the already leaning trees somewhat top heavy. The first tree split in two and one half toppled across the canal and towpath at the end of July.

The first picture shows the decayed state of part of the tree that remained standing.

Log Team attend the scene

Cotswold Canals Trust’s (CCT) Western Depot Log team attended promptly and cleared the first stricken tree from the channel.

And then…

Just three days later the second tree fell only five metres along the canal from the first – Close in time and alarmingly close in proximity!

The second photo shows the second tree across the canal.

These are tall trees whose tops reached the towpath. Their weight and rapidity of falling could indeed have resulted in serious injury to towpath users.

The danger to canal users & restorers, afloat or afoot, means that the towpath has been officially closed by order of Gloucestershire County Council.

Heras fencing placed across the path to implement the closure would appear to have been pushed aside by some towpath users. Consequently warning notices have been put in place informing the public of the towpath’s ‘legally closed’ status. The notice pictured right advises walkers to ‘judge the risk for themselves’.

Fortunately this section of towpath has an alternative path way on the opposite side of the canal. 

Good News – wrgies to the rescue

The Waterway Recovery Group – Forestry Division will be on site on the weekend of 14th & 15th September.

This elite team of ten specially trained climbers and chainsaw operators will be led by Clive Alderman.

Clive explains… "The Forestry team is made up of volunteers from all over England. We will arrive in Gloucestershire on Friday 13th and be on site early on the Saturday morning.

"Our aim is to clear the navigation and remove other trees that appear at risk of falling. We know that the Cotswold Canals Trust Biodiversity Director Paul Rutter and Stroud District Council’s Tree Officer have marked the relevant trees for our atention.

"We will work as swiftly as safety permits and hope to complete the affected length by the end of Sunday.

"It will help if we are not impeded by would-be towpath walkers, so please spread the word that the path will definitely be closed on the weekend of 14th/15th September."

The CCT Log Team have made preparations to move in on 16th September to assess how much useable log wood has been produced and to clear away any remaining brushwood. 

An explanation

Biodiversity Director Paul Rutter explains the challenges of canalside tree husbandry..

"Trees along the canal have survived many years of neglect. This situation is not ideal for public use of the canal on boats or tow path, nor is it ideal for the wildlife.

"To suggest felling trees may appear to be a rather confusing message, but in order to maintain navigation whilst enhancing the landscape and its bio diversity we need to remove some trees and reduce the size of others along the canal.

"The willow trees along a section of canal at Upper Mills have been in need of some management simply because they have grown leaning heavily over the canal and the towpath. A number will be felled thereby creating space for others to grow. This work will include coppicing – cutting back to ground level – to allow regrowth and the provision of an attractive habitat for insects.

"Where possible other trees will be pollarded – cutting limbs higher up the stem to 6 to 8 feet in length. This was the traditional means of managing, and indeed cropping the trees, when the canal was used in last century.

"The coppicing process retains the tree as a low stem which can be managed without the need for subsequent high level tree surgery. Coppicing also improves the stability of the tree which has brittle branches. The old gnarled trunks provide a haven for birds and other wildlife to find shelter and food. Some timber cut from the tree will be retained in places to create habitats for fungi and insects etc."

Future canal side tree maintenance

Some work will be necessary at Ryeford this winter. Some alder trees have become very tall above an eroding river bank. The alders will be coppiced to improve their stability while also increasing light reaching the canal.

Click on the names to learn more about the Crack Willow – Salix Fragilis, not to be confused with the Weeping Willow –Salix babylonica.