In April 2014, under the Canal and River Trust's "Adopt a Your Local Canal" scheme, a small group of canal enthusiasts - SUMBA (Shropshire Union Middlewich Branch Adopters) - adopted 4 1/4 miles of the Middlewich Branch canal from Barbridge Junction to Hoolgrave Bridge 11.
In October 2014, with CRT's agreement, SUMBA adopted a further 1 1/4 miles from Bridge 11 to Morris Bridge 15 - making it, we believe, the longest adoption of navigable canal in England.
Since its formation SUMBA and its volunteer and supporter base has grown far beyond initial expectations, and the group is now carrying out planned maintenance for CRT in addition to improving and maintaining the canal's visual and physical environment, both on the towpath and offside.
SUMBA has a volunteer base in excess of 50 people, fairly evenly split between male and female, and up to 25 volunteers regularly attend our work parties. In addition we have a contact list of almost 100 supporters, organisations and media. During the 2015/2016 autumn and winter programme we undertook three work parties a month for the benefit of all users of the Middlewich Branch canal - boaters, cyclists, fishermen, walkers and the local community.
The tasks that SUMBA has completed include towpath and lockside maintenance, greasing lock gates, laying pathways, cutting back towpath and offside overhanging vegetation and trees, painting and/or repairing canalside infrastructure, towpath furniture, locks and buildings, adding picnic tables, benches and BBQs, lock keeping, litter picks, auditing the condition of the towpath and canal - and much, much more.
We have an ongoing programme to plant historic Cheshire apple trees, fruit bushes and insect attracting plants at appropriate towpath locations and whips to infill gaps in the hedgerow.
In October 2015 we commenced a twice monthly autumn/winter programme to lay the overgrown hedge opposite Venetian Marina near Cholmondeston lock. This was a major task involving three days of professional training courtesy of CRT, and required us to first clear and then lay over 200yards of hedge. This was finished at the beginning of March in time for bird nesting, and the result is a significant improvement to the towpath.
The 8,240 hours that the volunteers have put in so far shows the level of commitment to their adopted length of canal. When asked why they volunteer for SUMBA the unanimous answer is - 'We enjoy it and it's very rewarding and sociable'!