IT IS not our canal-side trees, but those mature Plane trees that line the 330 years old Canal Du Midi in France.
I know that this canal is in France, and hence not totally relevant to boaters in the UK, but recent news that came to my attention on a recent visit to France will I am sure strike a chord with all true canal lovers, writes John Hall.
150 miles route
This canal connects the Garonne river to the Etang du Thau at Toulouse from where it then runs down to the Mediterranean. West from Toulouse the Garonne river links the Canal de Garonne to the Canal des Deux to continue the route towards Bordeaux , a total of 150 miles.
It was built during the reign of Louis XIX, and completed on the 15th May 1681—a truly monumental achievement!
It is lined on both sides for its whole length with lovely towering Plane trees forming an arch over the canal, which as they neared maturity, (it took 150 years for them to do so) provided welcome shade to users of the canal, as well as stability to the banks.
It therefore came as a complete shock that I learned that a fungus has invaded these trees, (it was in 2010 that it was realised that a problem existed, and was exacerbated by boaters tying up to the trunks-any abrasion provides a point of entry for the fungus) and that every one of them (numbering 42,000!) are going to have to be felled.
This work has already begun and is expected to take up to 15 years to complete. The trunks will also have to be burned on site in an attempt to restrict the spread of the fungus. A further problem will concern the roots which will also have to be removed risking significant disturbance to the banks.
Thank Hitler for
It is theorised that the fungus was unwittingly introduced during the second world war by American troops, contained within the material of their ammunition boxes, something else we can thank Herr Hitler for!
Pictures that I have seen showing sections that have already been cleared are a truly depressing sight. The canal looks so bare and must appear very much as it did when it was first completed—for once a glimpse of how it looked originally we could well have done without.
The trees will be replaced of course, this time with a disease-resistant variety, but it will be several generations before the canal is returned to its former glory.
The canal received Unesco World Heritage Status in 1996, and the French are very concerned that this honour may now be in jeopardy. Also tourism may be severely affected, because the trees provided very welcome shade in a region of France where temperatures regularly reach 30 deg.C and above, and in addition, in the stretches that are being felled, cruising will not be allowed due to the danger to passing boats.
Treasure their waterways
I feel that this situation is a terrible blow to one of the most beautiful canals in existence, and I have every sympathy with the French owners, who (unlike British Waterway in this country) really do treasure their waterways and invest constantly in them, despite the fact that commercial trading has almost ceased and the canals are mainly the preserve of the leisure boaters.