GLAF Return to Alney Island, Gloucester, 30 June 2022
On a fine morning at 10.45 we met Nicola Chidley, PROW (standing in for Alan Bently) at the ‘Reserve’ carpark off Westgate. We were introduced to James Fotios, an officer of the City Council. James explained that he was relatively new to the job but would advise as best he could.
We walked the footpath closest the city toward the refurbished Docklands. The ‘Castle Meads’ are rich grassland meadows. I was disappointed to see the grass was late in the season for haymaking and questioned their likelihood of being cut. James advised that they ‘have no storage for hay’. Surely it could be sold or passed to a local livery or farm? This grassland will essentially be improved by cutting and preferably late grazing (mucking and trampling by cattle).
As we passed the major entrance of pedestrian traffic from the Docks, it was clear that no clear signposting or encouragement would draw visitors onto the island site. We were pleased to see that new information boards had been installed in places, since our last visit and recommendation. Noticeable is the ever-increasing growth density, unhelpful for a wildlife reserve, and the infestation of knotweed and other noxious invasive weeds wind blown and carried in by water flooding. These thickets impact on wildlife and reduce species diversity. It is a fallacy to assume that leaving such density areas to wildlife is beneficial, it is definitely not.
We were made aware that responsibility for various areas lies with various ownerships. It appears that the City Council resource of four manpower is spread beyond Alney to Robinswood Hill and other open spaces. There appears to be an expectation by the City Council that the least encouragement for the site the better. The political argument is that ‘ownership’ is with the ‘Friends of Alney Island’, the ‘Hereford and Gloucester Canal Trust, the Gloucester County Council and themselves Gloucester City Council. I have a problem with this expression of ‘ownership’. We should be talking about ‘accountability’. Clearly somebody has to lead this situation and it should be the City Council overseeing the matter.
Industrial archaeology Our journey concluded at Llanthony Lock which has recently received some clearance attention presumably by the Canal Society operating independently from the Wardens. On route we looked at an old iron railway bridge, reputed to have been designed or conducted by Brunel. It was used to bring coal to feed the old Electricity Power Station. It may be possible for this strong looking bridge, to be reemployed with modification, as a foot bridge.
I appreciate the many difficulties in organising such a variable estate, but the potential for a healthy, safe, interesting, and enjoyable ‘Country Park’ is clearly possible.