Once again I find myself apologising for a belated blog but in my defence I have been rather unwell. Without painting an overly depressing picture I do have a serious underlying lung condition and there is a virulent chest infection doing the rounds which I went down with. It’s kept me off work for 2 weeks and I even missed a BNCT meeting. On the up I am now getting better and will now not mention it again.
My love for the Aylsham Navigation stems from the history and I see the surviving watercourse as a linear historical monument. I have to say that what follows is a personal view and not BNCT policy – if there is anyone out there with the contrary opinion I would be more than happy to give them an equal length blog to put the case.
We have been made aware that the EA are planning changes to the stretch of the Bure between Buxton and Horstead. Their plans, which are only in the early stages, have not yet been fully formulated (so it’s important to influence them now) as they plan to reintroduce some of the bends lost when Mr Biederman canalised the river in the 1790’s to “improve” the rivers habitat and help alleviate flood risk. Both very laudable but the fact is that this stretch is also the most unspoilt and original left of the Navigation. The flood risk argument is ludicrous; dredging would have the same effect but they are not prepared to do that as it involves ongoing costs. The river is a flood risk and would remain so after these works but there has never been a repeat of 1912 and the drainage boards do a good job these days. In very recent time the water levels have been extremely high but it coped with the excessive rainfall and with dredging I think that would continue.
There are things that could be done to improve water quality and habitat without destroying an historic monument. This is a stretch which is open with water meadows and is still much as it was when the wherries were sailing. There are few trees for most of it as they would have robbed the wind from the wherries and the canalisation has matured. It is also the stretch most likely to be redeemable as a restoration project if anybody ever wanted to attempt it. Horstead Lock could relatively easily be put back in to use and the navigable depth is mostly there. I have always said that we are a conservation movement and not a restoration one and I stand by that but now I would not object if restorationists came on the scene to bring “navigation” to Buxton.
To add to the mix there is the footpath which is crucial to our vision of the Bure Navigation’s future. It currently runs alongside the Navigation but what would happen if the men from the Ministry started playing with the route. I would need to be very deeply assured about what they were doing and where – my gut reaction is leave well alone. Then there’s Mayton Bridge which Mr Biederman left high and dry building a new and navigable route just east of the original medieval bridge. I’m not sure if that could take being re-watered although, in fairness I do not know if that is part of the plan but a marker should be laid.
There is a deep irony here in that we have started to look at stretches of the Navigation that we could lobby for a conservation area status for. After much search it is this self-same stretch that we have identified as a real possibility. The reasons are varied but the original nature of its environment much as it was when in use was the deciding factor. By introducing a conservation area funds could be found for individual projects to improve the habitat whilst retaining the linear route and the historical monument that is the Aylsham Navigation. This coupled with the EA stepping up to the mark and dredging once every 10 years and we would have an improved, intact and flood defended waterway. Well that’s my personal opinion anyway.
Sadly the stretch identified above is not the only one with problems at the moment. I have written before about Brampton Island and the land-owners unwillingness to open the path ordered by the planning inspector. I’m not going to dwell on this as the arguments are well rehearsed other than to call on him to comply before it is enforced. The continual disruption of the route is frustrating and I urge all walkers and users to exercise caution in their dealings and to allow the authorities to do their job. Having said that they should get on with it because if they don’t a more drastic measure might be called for and I don’t want that. I would much prefer to see peace and harmony – I respect the landowners rights but I also respect the law that says he has to allow access. The two respects are not mutually exclusive. Part of the problem, a large part if I’m honest, is that NCC have cut their footpath support as part of the austerity times in which we find ourselves. The fact is though that they have statutory duties that they are not undertaking and this is causing real problems on the ground. Sometimes I wish I had a magic wand …………