As a wildfowl rescuer in the West Midlands for over 20 years, the most common recurring problem facing these type of birds is pollution in the water. This is not just from industrial sources but often from boat traffic on the canal.
There are not a great deal of problems from boats in permanent moorings, but when they start to travel, some boats leave behind a vile scum of diesel contamination like some form of watery slugs.
I have no idea as to why at present there are political idiots claiming “climate emergencies” and taking action on land travel pollution, yet the real visible pollution on the canal waterways as far as I know has no plans to be tackled. ALL DIESEL POWERED MARINE CRAFT AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED SHOULD BE PHASED OUT IN THE NEXT DECADE. IT IS POLLUTING THE WATER ENVIRONMENT AND DOES NOTHING TO HELP WATER BIRDS OR THEIR ENVIRONMENT AT ALL.
Before anyone jumps on me and starts pontificating on the original uses of these structures and the deluded rose tinted recollections of steam and how this region “made things”, I don’t care. This retrograde amnesia has no place. The present and future do, and some of these boats are causing real problems for wildfowl that are now attracted to these areas, which are increasingly becoming centres of housing around them also.
This post deals with two sites and two incidents that have recently caused me to wonder if it is any longer possible for swans to nest and have cygnets in these shitty Canal and Rivers Trust run boat lanes.
I am not a fan of the CRT, and never were of their forerunner British Waterways either. They have orchestrated a fake and misleading campaign about bread being “harmful” to ducks, which in itself has been more harmful to the birds as some rescue organisations and experts have pointed out. The CRT ad was a marketing campaign, originally to promote them as a new charity when the part publicly funded BW ceased to exist.
The strange thing about the CRT is their support of fishing and boating- their two main income streams, and the complete lack of acknowledgement of these activities being the real harm causing significant impact on water birds that they claim to want to conserve.
In the shithole that is Sandwell, for the first time in 20 years, two pairs of swans nested at Titford Pools and The Old Mainline Canal in Tipton. Both of these are on what is known as The BCN – Birmingham Canal Navigations. Both pairs hatched 5 cygnets.
A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the pair at Titford were in trouble, and their cygnets were missing. I could see one dead on the island by where they had had a nest. Both were covered in some contaminant which I suspected was diesel. The problem with this canal area is that it is situated immediately under the M5 motorway, and it is likely that there is considerable run off from this source off the road and into the water.
Having called the RSPCA and with no action being taken, myself and Wychbold swan rescue picked up the pair from the site, and I would note after having had harassment from the police who had been called by someone thinking that we were stealing the swans. If only these same people had been around to care about the missing cygnets and the contaminated swans eh? 😡
Other previous swans in this area have had the same issues. Drunks continue to squat under the motorway and most of the anglers who fish in this area are pissheads who toss their rubbish behind them carefree of anyone ever challenging their illegal behaviour.
At Tipton, a pair of swans nested near to Factory Locks. At just 5 weeks old I had noted that they were near to the Coseley Tunnel near to where 5 boats had been mooring for approximately two weeks. The next day I did not see the family.
The area around these boats was polluted with contaminants, though notably not anywhere else on the network for well over a mile in both directions. This at least tells me the likely or suspected source. It was apparent that one boat had recently been “blacked”- the cans of paint still on the deck. This practice of waterproofing should not be carried out in the water, but in dry dock on land- what do you think happens when paint enters the water?
At this same area I noted a coot in distress which had clearly become a sponge due to the pollution it had been through.
The swans minus any cygnets were on land near to where they had nested, but out of the water , vigorously preening themselves and also clearly affected by what they had swam through.
I called various agencies, and eventually a couple of days later the swans were caught and taken to the RSPCA rescue centre.
I had contacted both the Environment Agency and the Canal and Rivers Trust, not only about the actual harmful pollution, but also about the likely source. I was tasked with sending them pictures and I expected them to do their jobs and clean it up, but perhaps from previous experience I knew that this was a vain hope. As it transpired they have done absolutely nothing.
The EA officer told me that he had left it with the CRT, as they now only have 6 staff and no longer attend incidents on canals and pass them on to the CRT. The CRT state that one of their ecologists went out and assessed the scene, recording it as “localised” and would be broken up by boat traffic. This of course is the problem for water birds, in that it does not break up when they go through it, and also this drifting mass of pollution is only likely to affect more water birds wherever it drifts due to it not being controlled and contained.
It is this categorisation of “low priority” by the CRT ecologist from which I have the most anger.
The agency use the ” Common incident Classification Scheme as guidance ” for incident reports when members of the public report incidents of environmental pollution via the Freephone 0800 number. The CRT no doubt follow this same protocol.
This can be read below.
I have previously written a blog about this on the sister website whatliesbeneathrattlechainlagoon, and my experiences with reporting a repeat pollution incident, which surprise, surprise involved Severn Trent (stench) water.
To summarise again here, Two tiered systems are used and within this different category level responses are noted.
The wording of these categories are rather vague , but appear to relate primarily to fish, and not to any water birds affected- one notes what I have already said about how these organisations do not care about wildfowl in distress.
So to these organisations, fish are priority and wildlfowl are not. The impact of 5 cygnets (all of them) being lost were categorised as category 3 by the CRT ecologist, at which point the EA would not attend, with the CRT deploying no resources either. I’m not sure how the adult swans feel about this incident being “a very limited impact” or anyone who had marvelled at these birds and their cygnets cruising the waterway for over a mile stretch. Boaters fed them near to the Malthouse stables, and they were doing well. The effects of their loss is not “reversible” , they will not be coming back from the dead.
The last pair of swans on this canal to breed or even attempt to breed was in 2001. They too lost all 8 cygnets to pollution from an industrial source- Masefield Epson and their hydraulic oil spill into the canal system near Newcommen Drive.
Having reported this issue to the EA, where they then did attend themselves, I gave a statement leading to the prosecution of these dirty Dudley port scumbag polluters.
These are press reports from the time, though the fine of just £2000 was derisory.
The mysterious “Grime reaper” even paid a visit to the scene with a mop and bucket. Perhaps he may appear again….
I can only once again hope that the CRT drastically rethink their ill though out responses to the plight of these birds. We do not have many in the West Midlands, and they have faced dreadful persecution from thugs and pollution. Unfortunately the “responsible authority” appears to be on their side, and not ours.