On Thursday 20th June, the Canal and River Trust organised a volunteering day to tidy up the canal running past the University and Selly Oak. Around 30 people from across the community, including University staff, Guild of Students staff, and private accommodation provider Unite Students staff, volunteered their time to what we assumed would be a few hours of litter picking. How wrong we were.
It turns out that litter picking when you’re by the canal is quite the adventure. There were the litter picking grabbers and black bin bags that you might expect, but upon arrival (and after slipping into some very fashionable high visibility vests and protective gloves), we were handed metal grappling hooks on lengths of rope. What ensued was four hours of hurling the hooks into the canal and pulling up all sorts of strange treasures from the depths.
The first person to pull out a car tyre was hailed as Master of the Canal, which was sort-lived as several other tyres soon followed. By throwing the hook into the water and securing the end of the rope under your foot, and then dragging the hook back to the bank along the bottom of the canal, you were able to hook all sorts of things out of the mud.
A cry went up when somebody hooked our first bike – rusty and clearly submerged for months, if not years, the twisted metal was pulled out of the canal and taken away to be suitably disposed of. Then we found another, and another.
Once the muddy treasures started to be unearthed, the mood shifted to one of competition. Everybody wanted to find something they could be proud of, and we threw in our hooks over and over again hoping to find the jackpot.
By the end of the session we had found car tyres, trolleys, fences, goalposts, multiple bikes, a van bumper, and a car door. All of this was sitting below the surface of a mile of canal and would no longer pollute the waterway, no longer damaging animals and narrow boats. Knowing that we had pulled out all we could for the day, and smelling slightly of canal water, we headed back to work or back home.
With one of the most intricate networks in the world, it’s clear that Birmingham’s canals need a bit of looking after from time to time. To make a safe and clean environment for people and wildlife, regular volunteering opportunities to ‘sling your hook’ and get involved in the treasure hunt will be taking place on a regular basis. Keep an eye out and get involved with your community…even if it’s just to compete with your mates as to who can find the most amazing junk.