Thursday, 12 May 2011

Sheerness Canal - Two Halves.

Many moons ago when the tip of Sheerness, alongside the sea, housed both a naval dockyard and an army garrison, one of its defences was a waterway called officially Queenborough Lines but always known to local people as The Canal. This waterway ran from the seawall in the east all the way around the outer edge of Sheerness town to the seawall in the west, alongside the dockyard, although half of the western section was filled in many years ago. It acted as a kind of wide moat all round the outside of Sheerness, split into the two halves by the main road into Sheerness. As children growing up in the 1950's it was one of our main play areas and was the closest we were able to get to real nature and wildlife.
Surprisingly, all these years later, it has survived to look exactly as it always did - it hasn't been drained or cleaned up, it hasn't been built on or polluted and in some ways the western section is better than it ever was for wildlife - but it still remains a Canal of two halves.
Standing on the road into Sheerness and looking down the eastern section below, which stretches for about a mile or so and becomes narrower, it looks great but it has always been ruined by the regular topping up with seawater through a sluice at its seaward end. This has always rendered it pretty useless for wildlife, with no water weed, no birds such as Coots, no edging plants such as sedge and phragmites, just bare, sterile water. Its banks, featured below, look as dead as this alongside both sides for its full length and all because of the salt water.




Now, by simply walking across the road and facing west, look at the difference, look at the wide borders of sedge and club rush and the Yellow Water Iris and how natural it looks. The difference is purely because many years ago, the tunnel under the road that linked the two waterways was blocked up, allowing the western half to become purely fresh water. OK, there have been a couple of drought years when it has completely dried up but all in all its the best wildlife corridor that Sheerness has. Walking along there today I had nesting Dabchick, Coot, Moorhen and Reed Warblers, a few pairs of Tufted Ducks and a pair of swans and Common Blue butterflies along the grassy edges. What a shame that the other, much longer and larger section is left the way that it is and full of seawater, what a wildlife area is being missed.







Earlier on day and back at the reserve, I was chuffed to see this section of ditch looking so good. It used to be just a bare section of ditch alongside the reserve barn but about fifteen years ago I pushed loads of willow branches into the ditch bank in the hope that they would root and this is the result. Not only does it screen the barn but passing warblers feed in the trees and Coots, Moorhens and Dabchicks nest underneath them.


This Marsh Frog also enjoys the ditch. (Double click the photo to enlarge it and look at him giving you the eye)


As does this Celery-leaved Buttercup.


This Dog-Rose alongside it.


And this Yellow Water Iris in it.

4 comments:

  1. An enjoyable and interesting read Derek and nicely illustrated with your photos.

    What a shame that such a potentially wonderful habitat has been wasted. The other part really emphasises what 'could have been', such a contrast!

    Nice to see the Marsh Frog, we don't have those in our area at all.

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  2. Thanks Jan, my photos will never be of the quality of yours but my interest in photography is not enough to warrant expensive gear.
    The Marsh Frogs are incredibly noisy and seem to have built in amplifiers and I hear them most nights as I lay in bed because they're on the samll marsh across the road from me as well.

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  3. I was born in 1958 at Minster and grew up in Sheerness. I too used to play along the canal. In the 60's it was full of weed; I remember catching sticklebacks from beneath the wooden platforms that were used by the boats. I used to hire a canoe there as a 6/7 year old, before I'd even learned to swim - a Shilling an hour, I think it was. The other side was completely overgrown with rushes and scary to me in those days.
    Thanks for writing this - I was just having a conversation with my brother about the canal; we were wondering what the original use for it was and when it was dug. Your blog was the first google result for "Sheerness canal."
    Glad to hear it hasn't changed much.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I was born in 1958 at Minster and grew up in Sheerness. I too used to play along the canal. In the 60's it was full of weed; I remember catching sticklebacks from beneath the wooden platforms that were used by the boats. I used to hire a canoe there as a 6/7 year old, before I'd even learned to swim - a Shilling an hour, I think it was. The other side was completely overgrown with rushes and scary to me in those days.
    Thanks for writing this - I was just having a conversation with my brother about the canal; we were wondering what the original use for it was and when it was dug. Your blog was the first google result for "Sheerness canal."
    Glad to hear it hasn't changed much.

    ReplyDelete