The Montgomery Canal: Restoring a Site of Special Scientific Interest

Current canal restoration, with newt exclusion fencing

This blog has some historical information, but please indulge me as I include some information from a previous job restoring the Montgomery Canal!  The canal is a SSSI for large sections of its length and also a SAC in Wales, primarily for rare aquatic plants, which happily co-existed with horse-drawn barges, but do not like modern propellers and silt disturbance.  Add in 127 listed structures, the 1986 Parliamentary Acct to restore the canal and many active restoration volunteers and you have quite a mix.

The restoration now follows a Conservation Management Strategy which, showing my age, I wrote for the Montgomery Canal Partnership around fifteen years ago.  Focussing on the whole canal corridor it was in some ways a forerunner of the wider landscape scale schemes that the Heritage Lottery Fund and others now promote.  The restoration progresses slowly, but the good news is that the CMS remains the framework for ongoing work.

Launching the Conservation Management Strategy (less grey hairs then!)

The current restoration has to meet standards not envisaged by the Parliamentary Act, and has to show net gains in biodiversity, in common with all other new developments, including bringing the SSSIs up to favourable condition status.  The solution on the Montgomery is a series of off-line nature reserves, making use of water flows around the locks, which means that the canal and reserves function as single connected habitat.

Phase 2 construction of Aston Nature Reserve

Meanwhile a small army of volunteers has been pressing ahead with restoration of the actual canal, with the Shropshire Union Canal Society running regular work parties.  I recently spent a weekend with them and it was good to see the steady, if slow, progress.  But you can not rush a fine wine!

Phase 2 now fully established

Having dealt with SSSI consents for the new nature reserves the channel works have required special measures to relocate a Great Crested Newts colony that had taken up residence at Crickheath Wharf.  This has involved exclusion fencing, the creation of a series of small ponds to the side of the canal and a rescue and relocation exercise.  Log piles covered in soil have been built next to the ponds to provide habitat for winter hibernation.

Ponds constructed for Great Crested Newts

The current funding for the restoration sees plans to open the canal to Crickheath, but the next phase will hopefully take the re-opened canal as far as Llanymynech, the original destination of the Canal.  Llanymynech Heritage Area is a fascinating site, with a large quarry, incline railways and a restored Hoffman lime kiln as well as the old canalside wharfs.  Amazing the infrastructure behind early nineteenth century agricultural improvement.

Off site compensation is often viewed as a last resort, but if we are to be ambitious and genuinely deliver an improved environment for future generations, then thinking big is essential.  Creating and linking existing habitats off-site can achieve more than trying to squeeze in some biodiversity gains on-site.  Off-line nature reserves on the Montgomery Canal are a move in this direction, but where were the rare aquatic plants before the canal was opened in 1796?  Probably in the marshes and ox-bow lakes of the River Severn flood plain.

Stephen Lees


Job Opportunity: Landscape Architect


Leeds Castle gardens design (Land and Heritage)

What is a landscape architect? We are generally very familiar with ‘Architects’ designing built structures, and with engineers making them happen, but what about the open spaces surrounding and between structures? They rarely simply ‘happen’ and require a level of thought from the modest to the sublime. Many of us are familiar with garden designers and landscapers, backed up by a host of television coverage from quick fix gardens to the Chelsea flower show design sets, but what about parks, towns and large landscapes?

The Landscape Institute define the role of the Landscape Architect by stating that ‘’landscape practitioners create and conserve great places. They work with the built and natural environment to create innovative public spaces, green spaces, roof gardens, wildlife habitats, install sustainable infrastructure, improve environmental quality, health and wellbeing, plan and manage national parks and urban parks. They also mitigate flood risk, masterplan urban developments’’.

A landscape architect thinks about the bigger picture, how things link together, and whether they will work as useable, pleasant spaces. They also consider the technical issues such as drainage, construction, volume of use, and pull this together to help humans to interact well with urban and developed spaces. The institute goes on to say ‘’there are many different careers to be found in landscape, but most require education and training in some or all of the following areas; landscape design, management, science, planning and urban design. Landscape professionals also need a mix of practical skills, an understanding of people and society, plus a passion for the natural world. The ability to bring these diverse skills together is a must’’, and that ‘’the landscape profession requires individuals who can innovate, solve problems and think about such weighty issues as regeneration, the environment and public health. Landscape professionals work in housing, health, planning and development, the natural environment in the public and private sectors’’.

Humphry Repton
By Northmetpit at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Landscape Architects have played a vital role in making the outdoor spaces that we know and love today, and whilst they themselves might not have recognised the role title, include the likes of Capability Brown (18th Century), Humphrey Repton (19th Century) and Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe (20th Century). The conservation focused landscape architect can find themselves in the lucky position of working to conserve and restore fine historic landscapes, and to use these influences in their own design and development work.

We are looking for a Landscape Architect to join us at Land and Heritage. We specialise in heritage landscape conservation and development, often on sites with multiple designations and complex issues. We are also involved with garden and landscape design and ecological mitigation on new developments, which is an area that we aim to actively grow.

Do you have the qualifications? Have you developed a good working knowledge of process, design and the tools you need to achieve this? A clear understanding of standards and procedures is essential, combined with the ability to problem solve and find positive outcomes.

..Researching old landscapes: Plas Glynllifon

Land and Heritage are based in the South West, whilst working throughout the UK on a range of projects. Maybe you fancy escaping to the countryside, to surf the north coast or soak up rays in the English Rivera? Of perhaps you’d enjoy the relaxed yet cosmopolitan city of Exeter? We’ll support home or office working, and provide all technology and equipment required to achieve first class results.

We are offering a competitive salary, followed by performance related rewards. There is an opportunity to rapidly rise to director and partnership position as the team expands.

UPDATE: we are pleased to announce that Amanda Urmson will be joining the team in January.  Amanda has previous experience in the private sector and with Nottinghamshire County Council.  We are sure Amanda will be an asset to the company and our clients.  Welcome aboard Amanda!

Matt Jackson 


Improvements to the Cedar Lake at Leeds Castle advised by Land and Heritage

Gardening within a 900 year old landscape at Leeds Castle

A castle has stood on the same site at Leeds in Kent for 900 years, and in 1280 Eleanor of Castile laid out a Moorish courtyard garden. Over the centuries following Kings and noblemen have developed the landscape, including Tudor viewing terraces and 19th century cascades. The 20th century saw the great wealth of Lady Baillie once again restore and develop the castle and grounds, a tradition continued by the Leeds Castle Foundation today. Great names have included Russell Page, Stephane Boudin, Simon Verity, the Bannermans, Francois Goffinet and Adrian Fisher, and now the pleasure grounds enter a 21st century period of development. 

Started in 2017, the 20th century ‘Wood Garden’ is being transformed Continue reading

Land and Heritage Japanese Knotweed Management

Tied Up In Knots Over Knotweed?


Land and Heritage Japanese Knotweed Management

Japanese Knotweed flowering (copyright GB non-Native Species Secretariat)

Japanese Knotweed has recently made national headlines, as Network Rail were found liable in the Court of Appeal, for damage from untreated Japanese Knotweed spreading into neighbouring gardens.  Japanese Knotweed is one of Britain’s most invasive plants and the prevention of its spread is a legal obligation for landowners under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is difficult and expensive to manage but non-intervention is not really an option. Early treatment of a new colony is quicker, cheaper and preferable to leaving it to become established. 

Japanese knotweed was introduced to the UK by the Victorians in the mid 1800s.  The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew have a record of receiving a plant specimen, sent unsolicited by a keen botanist overseas, on 9 August 1850. The earliest record of a nurseryman selling the plant was in 1854, when neighbouring Kingston nurserymen Messrs Jackson and Son started trading in it , hopefully not relatives of our Matt Jackson!  Surrey’s famous garden designer Gertrude Jekyll even recommended the planting of a dwarf version in some of her designs, although she later rescinded, saying it should be “planted with caution.” 

Well caution was perhaps an understatement Continue reading

Land and Heritage 25 year plan appraisal

The 25 year Environment Plan – Armageddon or Paradise?

An alarming warning comes from Spring Watch presenter Chris Packham this week (read it here), concerning the gulf between wildlife diversity in our nature reserves and that within the wider countryside.

All of this comes about from 70 years of agricultural intensification, urban sprawl and infrastructure expansion. Our network of Nature Reserves is piecemeal, widely scattered and has no strategic plan or design. All the studies of wildlife populations and distributions show that our current protection measures are simply inadequate. When was it decided that wildlife should be looked after within nature reserves and everything else could be trashed?. Oh and by the way there is no money for managing nature reserves as they are “unproductive”.

Farmers, have been all too happy to call themselves “the guardians of the countryside” but have clearly failed on an epic scale. Continue reading


Army Museums into the Future

There are over 140 army museums and collections in the UK, which does not include air or naval forces. Some are vast, with enormous items on show such as the Tank Museum, and some are really quite small, perhaps forming part of a larger museum. None of them are insignificant. 

Land and Heritage collections work with Army Museums Ogliby TrustIn April 2018 Land and Heritage published an Army Museums National Scoping Report, which looked at the significance, condition and financial resilience of all 140 plus museums. Matt and Clare were commissioned in July 2017 by the Army Museums Ogilby Trust to undertake this, which formed part of their larger resilience project ‘Army Museums into the Future’. As an interpretation and collections specialist Clare was able to make a thorough assessment of just how well the army museums care for their treasures, and what support they might need going forward. 

The UK army museums scoping project made contact with a wide and diverse selection of army museums, and the results have returned some very useful, positive information. The Army Museums Ogibly Trust website has an entry for all of the 142 individual museums and collections surveyed, and acts as a portal for researchers and visitors to locate an army collection, and find out more information. This facility is due to be launched by the Trust shortly.

The project has highlighted some very positive trends, and some truly amazing numbers, for example: 

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Ecology, archaeology, landscape architects and architects at the South West Land and Heritage Symposium at The Garden House, Devon

South West Land and Heritage Symposium

The South West Land and Heritage Syposium at The Garden House, Buckland Monachorum, Devon

Land and Heritage have just hosted the first South West Land and Heritage Symposium at The Garden House, Buckland Monachorum, Devon. This networking event brought together professionals from the land heritage sector including gardeners, landscape architects, ecologists and archaeologists to highlight a few.

The South West Land and Heritage Symposium delegates at The Garden House, Devon

Simon Humphreys, Director of Land and Heritage, opened with these words:  Continue reading

Wetland Restoration on Goss Moor NNR

Rewetting already spreading from the Pendine ditch

Our contracting team have recently completed a “Peatland Hydrological Restoration Project” for Natural England at Goss Moor National Nature Reserve in Cornwall.  The aim was mainly to raise the water table locally, and also introduce some natural meandering processes in to the River Fal.  The chosen methods on this occasion were a series of leaky dams on side drains and flow deflectors on the river channel.  Longer term, the site manager, Steve Hall, would prefer to see beavers doing the work. Continue reading

The Protection of Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees from Development

Trenant Wood, Cornwall

Natural England and the Forestry Commission first produced a statement of Standing Advice” for veteran trees and ancient woodlands” back in 2014.  Standing advice is a ‘material’ planning consideration, meaning that planning authorities must take the advice into account when making decisions on relevant planning applications.  Since the advice was first issued there have been no less than 7 updates or changes to the advice given, so make sure you are up to date! Continue reading

Keeping trees safe and well; what’s expected of owners and managers?

Oak tree in the landscape at Bodnant garden

A mature oak tree frames a vista on the lawn at Bodnant Garden, North Wales

What makes a tree safe?

When it comes to working on trees it is often a highly emotive subject, especially when they are in very public places, and have powerful connections to community. When a tree fails it can have devastating effect, and yet it is common to see sadly unnecessary interventions to healthy trees, simply on the grounds of ‘safety’.

Professional tree inspectors never assess a tree as safe, they will weigh up many factors to judge likelihood of failure. As a complex natural organism, there are external signs that an inspector can use to determine tree health, from a simple bulge in the trunk to a fruiting fungal body within the tree. A rounded bulge to one side can indicate internal decay, or a vertical rib can mean that a long internal crack is present, each of which can alter the structural capabilities. There are aggressive fungi and passive ones, each having  unique decay outcomes, telling us much more about the complex event.
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