Article on The Nettles and Weeds on Sandham Bridge by Sylvia Cole - Chair of Sandham Bridge Paddock Owners Group.
Recently, I saw comments on ‘Facebook’ about the condition of Sandham Bridge; the old pack-horse bridge between Thurcaston and Cropston. I thought it might be helpful if I corrected a few misconceptions and reminded villagers of the efforts made by a few other villagers to keep this bridge, the public foot-path, and the surrounding areas, as an amenity for all to enjoy.
In 2006, at auction, a group of local people bid for, and gained ownership of, Sandham Bridge, Brooky Lane and the adjacent paddock. We call ourselves “Sandham Bridge Paddock Owners Group” or “POG” for short. In the past ten years we have achieved quite a lot. With the help of the Parish Council, we have had a new gate fitted to give better and safer access to the footpath from Anstey Lane, especially for parents with young children and for elderly people. We have requested and displayed notices to prevent dog-fouling. We have arranged for, and funded, regular cutting of the grass and improved other areas in a number of ways. We have, a number of times, invited Leicestershire County Council’s Footpaths’ Officer to walk the path and comment on its condition and accessibility. We have taken specialist advice on the structure and condition of Sandham Bridge, which is classified as an ancient monument. We have sought guidance from Severn Trent and British Waterways, on problems associated with Rothley Brook.
At intervals, in an effort to keep down the weeds and nettles, we have used selective weed-killer on some areas. After taking advice, we know that we cannot use weed-killer close to the brook, nor can we use it indiscriminately on the public footpath. Any related procedures on the footpath or nearby have been carried out in the late evening, alongside notices which enable our dog-walking friends to avoid the area for a few hours after the chemicals have been applied.
Following warnings that the removal of large weeds and roots from cracks or fissures in the bridge could cause structural damage, we are cautious about such actions. Occasionally, we have sawn off small tree branches which have taken hold amongst stones on the side of the bridge parapet. Those who walk the public footpath regularly may have seen a working party made up of some of our POG members, sometimes standing in mud or water, trying to clear the river bank, or to remove debris from under the bridge. We have even used a tractor to pull away dead branches to improve the flow of the water.
This work and research is carried out by our Consortium – a group of ordinary people who, collectively, paid a considerable sum of money to purchase this land, not for themselves, but to preserve it as an open, accessible space, to be used by villagers. We are not specialists, nor farmers (although we will be forever indebted to the late William Green for his invaluable advice, in the early days, on all things relating to ‘the land’). We are just ordinary people who care about the natural environment of Cropston and Thurcaston.
Contrary to the impression given on ‘Facebook’, the Parish Council does not own the land, nor do they have any responsibility for it. So far, their main input has been to support our efforts, to offer advice and, very generously, to offer some financial support if any major bridge repairs are needed in the future. Whoever suggested that the Parish Council should be ‘ashamed’ has certainly got it wrong.
So…….yes there are nettles; yes, the bridge may need some attention; yes, the river banks are sometimes overgrown but, ten years ago, if we hadn’t bought the land, it was destined to be a Transit Site for Travellers. Had this been the case, it is likely that public access would have decreased rapidly and this village amenity would have been lost forever.
In conclusion, I hope that this account provides a useful context for future debate, whether on ‘Facebook’ or elsewhere. If anyone reading this wants to ensure that this valuable village resource is cared for and maintained for future generations, please join us on one of our annual working parties. You really will be made most welcome!
(Chair – Sandham Bridge Paddock Owners Group)