Thursday, July 27, 2023

CRT Funding - a ray of hope.

 Still no reply from my MP regarding my plea for him to oppose the proposed cuts to CRT funding, but at least one MP is doing something about it, and who'd have thought it - it's none other than  the , ahem, startlingly debonair Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant!  It turns out he's the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Waterways.

Here's what he said.

“When the old British Waterways Board – a part of the Department of Transport – was converted into a charitable trust 11 years ago, the plan was that the Canal and River Trust would become financially independent by 2027 and they received a 15 year grant.

“They have gone a long way towards financial independence, but have not achieved it yet.

“The present grant does not run out for a further four years, by which time the trust will have received £735million from the Government in addition to their own operations including mooring fees, rents on property, endowments and other income. The annual average income from the Government amounts to £50 million per year.

“The new financial settlement is for ten years and averages out at over £40million a year, but is less taking into account inflation. But this won’t kick in until April 2027 so there is still considerable time to resolve the funding gap.

“As chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Waterways which includes canals in its remit, I have had several conversations with the chief executive of the Canal and River Trust, the Secretary of State for the Environment Therese Coffey, and Treasury Ministers.

“We are exploring alternative ways of funding including a large endowment which might give the trust the financial independence both the Trust and the Government desire.

“We all enjoy our waterways, whether it be on the water or walking along canal towpaths. This valuable asset cannot be jeopardised and I hope a resolution is found over the next year or so to allow the trust to plan ahead.”

Well good on yer Michael.  I never thought I'd say that.

Monday, July 24, 2023

No replies and butterflies

 James Sunderland MP hasn't yet replied to my email about CRT cuts (see my earlier post).  Either he's on holiday or he can't be bothered. Maybe he's lost heart as it looks like he might not get in next time.

On a more cheerful note, I thought I'd join in the Big Butterfly Count again this year and send my numbers in. For one thing, it gives me an excuse for loafing about in the garden.   Any sunny spot will do.  You could of course do it on a canal towpath; I suspect that might be quite good in places.

Looking back at my photo archive I can see that 2020 was the best year round here.  I think I got ten or eleven species that year, some of them in large numbers. 

 Officially I'm counting in my garden, but I do cheat and stray into the graveyard just over our hedge.  They let the grass grow long in the 19th century part and there are wild flowers there too.  Butterflies like long grass it seems and some species are fussy enough to depend on a particular type of grass for their caterpillars.  An example of this is the Small Skipper (actually it might be an Essex Skipper, but without hearing it talk I can't tell the difference)

which they say only likes Yorkshire Fog.  What?  Yes, Yorkshire Fog.  No, not mist in Yorks, but it's a type of grass.  Quite how it got that name I have no idea.

This year has been better than last for butterflies but nowhere near as good as 2020.  I got  8 species this year and in smaller numbers.  There are reports of Red Admirals having a good year, and I can support that, as yesterday we had five of them in our small garden at the same time.  Of course none of the little b***ers sat still for a photo except this one on our bird feeder hanger.

As per usual our butterflies seem uneducated and are not especially drawn to their proper place, the buddleia bush, seemingly preferring our holly and ivy. Perhaps they think it's Christmas.

One we did get this year and not in 2020 was a comma.  Here it is, demonstrating its liking for ivy.

What a cracker.  Glad to see that commas haven't come to a full stop.

Over in the churchyard they have more plants that butterflies and moths prefer.  The Gatekeepers (probably the most common here) go mad for the Ragwort

and the 6 Spot Burnet moths seem to like the knapweed

as do all sorts of bees.  Actually I like knapweed too.  Perhaps I should put some in the garden.

Have a go and send your numbers in.  It's all good clean fun and you might learn stuff.


Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Leamington A town of two halves.

 Royal Leamington Spa sounds pretty grand don't you think?  Well some of it is, but if you cruise through it on the canal you wouldn't think so as the Grand Union  follows a pretty straight line through the more industrial area some way south of the old town centre.  Nevertheless there are one or two interesting sights like this:

Anyhow, enough of that and back to the story.  A year ago as we were boating through Leamington I stopped and bought a car (like you do).  It wasn't totally an impulse buy, I had been looking for a low mileage particular model for a while and I saw on line that a dealer in Leamington had just the right one.  The car when we bought it came with two years free servicing so last week we returned for that very thing.  It's a long way from our home but only 25 mins by car from Ventnor marina where we moor Herbie.  So we dropped the car off and took a bus into Leamington centre to kill time while the service and MoT was being done.

The bus wound through what you might politely call some 'affordable' areas, then broke through into the grand old spa town area with splendid halls, churches, gardens and a very wide main drag featuring what once were grand hotels, but now alas converted into shopping arcades featuring more than a couple of empty shops.

It seems times are not what they were in the lovely old Spa town. It was all pretty quiet.  Nevertheless I recommend a visit if you are passing through on the canal.  You'll need to take a bus or walk quite a long way from the canal to get to the Georgian splendour, but splendour there is.  

Having dashed into Wetherspoons to avoid a heavy shower and had a light lunch there, we thought we ought to do something rather more civilised and later on popped into the Pump Room for tea.  Sadly, I have to report that it had no more ambience than Wetherspoons.  We might have expected pretty china cups and saucers and a tea pot and perhaps a cake trolley, but no such luck.  Glass tea cups (I hate them), a tea bag and water from an urn served by a bored looking counter lass, and modern bench like tables.  The only thing posh was the price.  They did have some cakes but at over £3 a mouthful we decided against it.

In Regent street we did find a fab whole food shop where you could buy all sorts of lovely stuff from hoppers and big glass jars so that's one to look out for if you're that way inclined.

Next time we go to Leamington (we get another free car service next year), as long as it's not raining, we'll explore the gardens which look lovely and the huge parish church which looks promising. If we're lucky or clever we might manage to be there for one of their regular organ recitals.

So it was back to the car dealer to pay absolutely nothing for the service, the MoT, and a car wash which made the effort of going there well worthwhile, saving well over £200.  Then back to spend the night on Herbie at the marina.

Talking of the marina, I did have a wry grumble to Steve the Harbourmaster.  "One thing I might complain about,"quoth I, "is that this marina is too quiet."  There's hardly a soul about during the week.  If you want peace and quiet, Ventnor marina has it in spades.

I had warned Steve that we're likely to move on to pastures new later this year, merely because we want a change of cruising area.  If you could lift up Ventnor marina and put it somewhere else on the network, we'd be there like a shot because as a marina it's easily the best and most attractive we've stayed in. Our alternatives top choices at the moment are either back to dear old Cropredy or further away up to Kings Bromley not far from Fradley junction.  Decisions descisions.  Either way , as they are both Aquavista marinas like Ventnor, we can transfer our contract fairly easily without needing to give months of notice ( assuming they have space).

We may cruise up to Kings Bromley later this summer to explore the area a bit before making up our minds.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Me and my MP

 My MP James Sunderland (Con) and I don't exchanged mails all that often, but I do occasionally bother him about environmental issues.  Usually of course he toes the government line and sends me an emollient reply explaining why he sympathises with my complaint but doesn't agree to my suggested action.

Well this week wrote to him again about the proposed cuts in the DEFRA funding for CRT from 2027.  If I've understood it right, these cuts amount to £300 million over ten years, so that averages a loss to CRT of £30m a year.  Now last years grant was £52m so that represents a  60% cut!!  No wonder CRT's chief exec  Richard Parry is alarmed.  

So what did I say to my MP?  Well I pointed out that in the ten years since CRT took over the job they've done a lot to look after themselves raising lots of external funding and recruiting an army of volunteers.  The  CRT income from other sources last year was £162.6m  from charitable donations, boaters licences and mooring, property income, and income from utilities, so the government can hardly say that CRT isn't pulling it's weight in raising funds.  

I also pointed out that £30 million a year is a piddling amount for the government to find for all the benefits the waterways deliver to the millions who use them.  £30 million represents the cost of a mere 176 yards of HS2 which few people want.

Then I quoted some stats from CRT's annual report about the numbers of people using the waterways and towpaths and the public health and environmental benefits provided which clearly substantially outweigh the small cost of maintaining the budget at previous levels.

So I asked him to join with other MPs in opposing these cuts.  I don't think he will, but he might.  We have no waterways in our constituency so he doesn't get much voting benefit from speaking out.  I await his reply.

You, dear reader, may have an MP with more at stake locally in terms of sympathy for the waterways, so why not drop him or her a line.  The more the better.

Of course by 2027 many existing MPs will not be in parliament so who knows what the new lot will do and think.  Pressure needs to be kept on.