Taking care of our tranquil waterway

OUR community is blessed with a wonderful waterway, the Basingstoke Canal, which is a fabulous green ribbon running from east to west through borough Woking.

In a few paces, we can step out of urban life into the canal’s tranquil, tree-lined corridor and a different world. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty, with more than 250 acres recognised as sites of scientific interest and nature conservation.

The Basingstoke Canal where it runs through St John’s

It’s not surprising many more people have been enjoying the canal during the COVID-19 pandemic – more than three times the usual number of local people according to the Basingstoke Canal Society, the charity which describes itself as the guardian of the waterway.

In normal times, more than 28,000 volunteer hours are spent each year on maintaining the waterway and its many locks and conserving its biodiversity. Without volunteers, the society would not exist, and the canal would not have been saved from dereliction.

Hundreds of volunteers have worked over 30 years to restore and maintain the waterway. As many readers will recall, the canal used to be filled with mud, reeds, stagnant water and rubbish, if it existed on the ground at all. In 1966, while it was privately owned, the owner was drawing up plans to fill in parts of it for development.

That year, a letter from Brookwood resident Jim Woolgar appeared in several local newspapers. Pointing out that many considered the canal as no more than a convenient rubbish dump, he proposed forming a society to restore the waterway and towpath, and if possible to reopen the canal for navigation.

About a dozen people replied and the Basingstoke Canal Society – formerly called The Surrey & Hampshire Canal Society – was duly formed the same year to save the waterway.

The society campaigned for its restoration under public ownership. This was achieved in the early 1970s, when Hampshire and Surrey county councils purchased the waterway.

In partnership with the local authorities, the society organised voluntary working parties, managed work training schemes and employed a full-time team to restore the canal. After nearly 20 years effort, 32 miles of the waterway, from its junction with the Wey Navigation at Byfleet to the Greywell Tunnel in Hampshire, were formally reopened in May 1991 by HRH The Duke of Kent.

Maintenance and repair work being carried out on Cowshot Lock, one of the flight of locks at Deepcut in Surrey

The canal is still is owned by the county councils, which provide funding together with the district and borough councils whose areas the canal passes through.

The society promotes and campaigns for the sustainable future of the canal as a navigation and public amenity. Through cruises on its trip boats, John Pinkerton II and Kitty, it also raises money which is used to fund maintenance and improvement works undertaken by more than 250 volunteers.

As one of the most tree-lined canals in the country, it can insulate us from the stresses of the modern world. A canal-side walk through this beautiful nature reserve with water, wild plants, trees and wildlife will do you good.

Your canal needs you

BASINGSTOKE Canal Society is always looking for more volunteers to help its work, not only on canal maintenance but also for people to become involved in projects, committees and organising events.

It also seeks people with press and marketing experience to help raise the profile of the canal and publicise activities such as its boat trips.

Fundraisers are also needed, to join a team raising money through individual donations, grants, legacies, lottery funding and building links with local businesses.

For details of volunteering opportunities visit the get involved section of www.basingstoke-canal.org.uk.

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