Itchen Navigation Trail Project

I have been visiting Hampshire County Council (HCC) Archives recently to do a bit of site research on Winchester in general and get my head around masterplanning the area.  Listened to some recordings of an interview conducted with Polly Whyte and Alison Morse on work they were doing through the Wildlife Trust to maintain and preserve the Itchen Navigation.

A few interesting things came out of it. To summarise in a few bullet points:

  • Pathway banks need the most work/ maintenance.  It is a former navigation after all, so they’re not natural formations.
  • ‘X’ marks the spot.  ‘X’s written on tree trunks and stones along the length of the navigation mark toll points where different landowners would charge barges for using that stretch of the watercourse.  Toll money would be used to supplement maintenance costs.
  • Habitat improvements were seeing water voles, salmon, trout and minnows etc returning to the area.
  • Unusually for the Wildlife trust this was work being done to land not owned by them. The banks of the navigation are owned by various landowners up and down its length who are charged with maintaining their section of it.  It is in their interest to maintain the navigation to stop land flooding etc, but despite this it had suffered over the years due to lack of resources etc, hence the trust getting involved.  Landowners by and large were appreciative and supportive of the work.
  • Biggest problem with the banks is erosion and how to stop it.  Biggest threat to erosion is people and their pets!  Hence they have designated ‘dog dips’ built for stepping down into the water.  These are formed by using gravel ramps and/ or timber steps/ oak sleepers as appropriate.
  • Tree roots also assist erosion as they break up the soil at the water’s edge meaning it is more likely to be washed away.  In some cases trees can topple as support for the tree roots is washed away, damaging the banks further.  They also prevent plants from taking root and stabilising the bank under the shade of their canopies.  Ergo certain fast-growing trees like Sycamores have to be watched and dug out wherever found.
  • Material from overgrown areas would be recycled and used to help construct and repair other areas of the navigation.
  • Poor management of water levels lead to the downfall of the navigation as there was strong competition for the water from many different avenues.  In some instances a sluice would not be maintained well and hence could not be opened, or they would be opened by individuals who would take more than their fair share for their mill or water-meadows, or some would block water being taken from the navigation to float their barge etc.
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