The Environment Agency has embarked on its annual winter programme of major repairs and refurbishments to locks along the non-tidal River Thames.
The agency said that in all, eight lock sites would have a total of £1.2M spent on them – five in Oxfordshire and one each in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Surrey.
It said that the major works would include removing both pairs of lock gates at Shifford Lock near Bampton in Oxfordshire, and Kings Lock in Oxford, so that the frames could be re-faced with new sheets of timber.
Each of the gates weighs around 8t, so the Environment Agency said that they would be removed by crane and transported by low-loader lorry to its depot in Osney, near Oxford. An in-house team of specialist craftsmen will then carry out the work.
At Penton Hook Lock near Staines in Surrey, it said that the downstream gates would be removed so that repairs could be made to the hinges that supported them. To do this, the agency said that the lock chamber would need to be braced and then pumped dry. Before the lock is fully drained, it said that any fish found in it would be safely transferred to the main river – normally many hundreds if not thousands of fish.
Environment Agency waterways manager Barry Russell said: “We maintain and operate 45 locks in total. These are part of a portfolio of over 1000 navigation structures on the Thames that we look after.
“Many of these are important heritage assets which we are custodians of on behalf of the nation, and without them, boating on the Thames as we know it simply wouldn’t be possible. So taking good care of them is a huge responsibility for us, but one we’re very proud to have.”
Funding for the work has been raised from boat registration fees and government.
The agency said that the annual investment in the lock’s upkeep ensured the they were in good working order throughout the 220km of navigable waterway from Cricklade in Wiltshire, near the river’s source, to Teddington in south west London, where the river becomes tidal.
The work is done during the winter months when there are very few boats on the river minimising disruption.
It said that often, the work that was carried out was the culmination of many months, sometimes years, of planning and preparation.
“What we do each winter is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the totality of what’s needed to keep all these structures in a good state of repair.
“Whether it’s carrying out a structural survey – above ground or below water - considering the findings, planning and costing the work, seeking funding, sourcing and ordering materials or fabricating parts in our workshops, there’s always something going on. In many ways, it’s like owning and caring for our very own Forth Bridge.
“Fortunately, the people doing all this work – many of whom are engineers, technicians and other specialists brought in to support us from outside my own waterways team - are as talented and dedicated as anyone could hope for. Between them, and our 60 strong team of full-time lock and weir keepers who operate them, these structures are in very safe hands indeed.”