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New Montgomery extension takes shape

The Canal & River Trust has taken a major leap forward this spring in the mammoth task of restoring the canal which closed in 1936 due to a breach.

Now the trust has been working with volunteers from the Shropshire Union Canal Society (SUCS) and contractors to upgrade nearly 8km of towpath, restore 2km of the canal to navigation from Maesbury to Crickheath and create a dedicated turning point for narrowboat, known as a winding hole.

David Carter, restoration project manager of SUCS, said there is just 390m of the stretch left to restore before boats can take to the new section of canal near Oswestry.

The aim is to have it open next year, but Mr Carter said there is a lot of work to be done to be finished on schedule.

"When it does reopen there will be an enormous surge of interest," he said.

"When it's finished it will be very popular as it's linked to the Llangollen Canal. This is just as beautiful and rather longer.

"Montgomery is one of the great causes of canal restoration. Lots of people have got behind the project and can't wait to see it open.

"We've had hundreds of wonderful volunteers helping and they come from all over the country. Most of them give up three days a month and do everything from operating heavy machinery to smaller tasks on the ground."

This latest major phase is being funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Regional Development Fund.

The canal trust's project manager, David Hennessey, said: "Completion of the winding hole is a particular milestone as this will allow boats to travel another 2k along the beautiful canal.

"Slowly but surely, we are achieving the major goal of connecting the mainline Montgomery down to Welshpool."

The next stretch of the canal is dry at Llanymynech and fundraising is underway to rebuild Schoolhouse Bridge - the last blockage in Shropshire.

Volunteers are attempting to raise £300,000 to buy materials, hire machinery and ultimately build the new bridge.

Michael Limbrey, chairman of the Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust, said if the project can attract more funding, the ambition is to restore the canal to Llanymynech within five years.

Further up the canal at Queens Head, two nature reserves have been constructed parallel to the canal channel at Aston Locks to provide a protective home for rare aquatic flora and fauna removed from the water.

Wildlife such as damselflies, dragonflies, otters and water voles, and rare aquatic plants including floating water plantain will be preserved.

Mr Hennessey added: "The Montgomery is a very special canal and its restoration has required a unique solution.

"The absence of boat movements over the last 80 years has allowed the man-made channel to become colonised by a wide range of rare flora and fauna.

"By creating a new three hectare wildlife habitat, we will be able to protect and conserve these species for generations to come, while enabling boats to return by excavating the main channel into navigation."

The trust sent specialist cameras including an underwater drone into the reserves on Friday afternoon to see the wildlife in its new location. 

Thursday 30 May  | Andrew Denny  | 2.36pm, Thursday 30 May 2019

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