Crowds flock to view restoration work on North Walsham and Dilham Canal
Hundreds of people descended on a mill pond in remote north Norfolk at the weekend to learn more about work to restore the county's only canal.
Up to 400 people visited Ebridge Mill pond as part of celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the Act of Parliament which allowed the North Walsham and Dilham Canal to be built.
As visitors from all over Norfolk and further afield browsed displays, admired a steam engine, had a paddle in canoes, examined artefacts found during restoration and chatted to canal enthusiasts, swallows, kingfishers and grey wagtails flitted above the restored pond.
Only one of the vocal opponents of the restoration had made themselves known during the weekend, according to Chris Black, vice chairman of the North Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust, who said he had collected more than 250 signatures supporting the 'on-going restoration of the canal.'
A number of nature lovers and nearby landowners have voiced grave fears about the scale, and effect on wildlife, of restoration at the pond, where mature trees have been chopped down as part of measures to reintroduce water to the site, which had virtually dried up.
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Their concerns led the Environment Agency to issue a stop notice on dredging work until talks had been held.
Mr Black said the trees had been destroying the canal banks and the reintroduction of water to the pond had led to a number of new bird arrivals being spotted, including cormorant, heron, redshank, and swans, which had been absent for several years.
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The trust aims to restore the structures and waterway of about 7.5 miles of the almost nine-mile canal which ran from the confluence at Wayford Bridge, near Smallburgh, to Antingham ponds.
'About 85pc of the canal is completely manmade, making it Norfolk's only true canal,' said Mr Black. 'It's a very important and historic waterway for Norfolk and we can't let it destroy itself.'
The trust hopes that stretches will be able to be enjoyed by walkers, canoes and small sail-powered boats.
'It's never going to be a commercial waterway again - it doesn't go anywhere - but it's there to help tourism in the area,' Mr Black added.
David Revill, of the East Anglian Waterways Association, who organises monthly volunteer restoration work parties on the canal, said they had virtually finished work at the mill ponds at both Ebridge and Briggate, and were now working on Royston Bridge, Bacton Wood Mill lock, which was almost fully restored, Honing staithe cut and Honing lock.
Laurie Ashton, who owns the canal at Ebridge Mill pond, said he had requested a hearing with the Environment Agency to appeal against the stop notice, which Mr Ashton said only related to a small area, about a third of a mile upstream from the pond.