RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Waterways are living, breathing amenities for all

I have spent many a happy hour strolling along the banks of Chichester canal as much as I have along the shores of Chichester channel, both of which are in this week’s walk.

‘Mr Chichester’ showed me the towpath walk 50 years ago.

He was Bernard Price, not only our local historian and author of many books but a BBC radio and TV personality on programmes such as Antiques Roadshow.

He would have loved the scene today of boats taking passengers up and down the waters.

In those days the canal was silting up fast, and was on the way to completely drying out.

Reeds were forming thickets in the lower reaches, and would soon have built up layers of silt on the way to becoming woodland – one of the problems on a far greater scale for the Norfolk Broads, and the national nature reserve of Stodmarsh in Kent.

One day we heard an explosive song among the reeds which baffled me for awhile.

The bird was hidden in the rushes.

Later I identified it as a Cetti’s warbler – one of the first to start a rapid colonisation of the south of England and later, the Midlands in the same way that the little egret has moved north from the southern continent of Europe.

There were mallard just outside Bernard’s house by the towpath as shown in my photograph then, and he told me how he used to watch the flotillas of ducklings in spring gradually disappearing underwater as pike moved in like submarines for their attacks.

Down by the sluice gates into the sea we used to see coots and tufted ducks begging bread from the houseboat fraternity. Mute swans had found this a useful place to live as well.

Once we saw a swan taking a shower in the tumbling water escaping out of the sluice gate itself.

Many years ago the owner of this part of the canal told me that he used to open the gates once a year to clear the weeds in one monumental flood into the harbour.

I expect a lot of fish and fresh water dragonfly nymphs went with it.

Nearly half a century ago the management of the canal used to come up regularly on the old Coast and Countryside committee at County Hall I remember and there was a lot of talk but little action about what ought to be done to save it from oblivion.

Now the Chichester Ship Canal Trust has solved many of those problems and turned the waterway into a living breathing amenity for us all so do make a date this spring and summer to use it for your own enjoyment and relaxation.