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Keeping Exeter’s waterways safe and free from obstructions

Published: 16 August 2022

Keeping Exeter’s waterways safe and free from obstructions Image courtesy of Dave Littlefield

Vital work to keep the Exe Estuary free of navigational obstructions has been carried out by the city’s Harbour Patrol Team.

The Team, who work for the City Council as part of the city’s Port Authority, spent much of Sunday night re-floating a 28ft abandoned yacht on the banks of the River Exe near Turf Lock.

The yacht had been left to decay in the water and was considered a navigational danger to other vessels in the estuary, as well as a threat to wildlife and the environment.

The Team, under the watchful eye of Harbour Master Grahame Forshaw, waited for high tide on Sunday night - which came around just before 10pm – when they were able to re-float the yacht, before towing it back to Topsham.

Once at Trout’s Boatyard, the wreck was lifted out of the water before being taken away on a flat-bed lorry for scrapping.

Waterways Montage

The Council’s harbour patrollers monitor the Exe Estuary and the Canal for wrecks to improve navigation and prevent environmental damage.

Over recent times the team has discovered more than 30 abandoned boats on the Exe, in varying forms of decay.

The team does everything possible to locate the owners of these wrecks so that they can be lifted out of the Exe and disposed of responsibly.

However it is not always possible to locate the owners and the Council often has to take matters into its own hands, as wrecked vessels can be a hazard to other boats using the Exe. If left to decay, they can break up, leaching oil and fuel into the water, which can be fatal to wildlife.

Cllr Ruth Williams, Lead Councillor for Recycling and Waterways, paid tribute to the Harbour Patrol Team and the work they carry out.

“The Team are out on the water, throughout the year in all types of weather, ensuring that the estuary and canal are safe places for everyone to enjoy.

“The work they carry out is vital, not just for recreational users, pleasure boats and fishing vessels but also for the wildlife that call the Exe estuary their home,” she added.

As well as carrying out work to remove wreckages from the estuary, the team maintain markers and buoys that are vital to navigate the Exe as well as mooring points for yachts and small boats.

The Team also carry out regular patrols to ensure the 10 knot speed limit for powered craft is maintained and important ‘no-go areas’ around wildlife save havens in the estuary are not breached, a crucial task to allow flocks of wading birds to enjoy the Exe too.

Abandoned boats on the Exe are becoming more and more of a problem for the Team. Many fibre glass boats built in the 1960s and 70s are now coming to the end of their working of useful life. The cost of disposing of them is in the region of £300 per foot. As a result, harbours across Europe are unfortunately seeing a huge rise in boats stripped of all identification marks and abandoned.

Studies by the University of Brighton have found that shards of fibreglass ten times thinner than a strand of hair have been found embedded in oysters and other aquatic life in Chichester Harbour.

The City Council’s Harbour Patrol Team are urging people to consider the responsibilities of taking on an older boat and think about the long term costs of renovation and eventual disposal.

They are also asking members of the public to report any sightings of abandoned boats. Many are left hidden behind reeds along the river and estuary.

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