RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 40 Number 2 Article 3
September 2003

Zig & Zag get 'Goosed-up' with 'Dangerous Denis' for Daring Rescue Mission!

Manchester: Tuesday 20th May 2003, 8pm

Peter Mohr - RRCPC
Julie Mohr - RRCPC
Denis Bushell - TSG

There is not much excitement for cavers during the week in Manchester. More often than not the three of us meet up at the 'Y' fitness club in the Castlefield Hotel for some general cave chat. It is called 'Castlefield' because the Romans built a fort, 'Mamucium', on the site in 77 AD to keep the restless locals on the far side of the River Irwell in Salford. The fort was surrounded by shops and brothels (not much change then), and the Romans hung around until about 460 AD, when they got fed up with the rain and went back to Rome. Nothing much happened until the late eighteenth century when the area was redeveloped as the 'cradle of the Industrial Revolution' 'Castlefield', as the Victorians named it, became covered in factories and warehouses serviced by a complex canal system built by the Duke of Bridgewater in the 1760s. The area has now metamorphosed into an 'urban heritage park' the warehouses are now trendy loft apartments and the Bridgewater Canal is home to tourist boats and flocks of breeding Canada geese, ducks, herons and swans!

It rains in Manchester so much that sometimes the Canal has too much water in it! In order to control the level of water two arms of the canal overflow into a horrible large 5-metre-deep pit called the 'Giant's Basin'. Many times we have looked over the railings and wondered what was 'down there'? We were about to find out. During the recent torrential rains a pair of Canada geese and their five gosling chicks, nesting on the Bridgewater Canal, were swept off the Canal into the Giant's Basin. The pit is about seven metres in diameter and has a footbridge across the top. The black bilge water in the bottom is about two metres deep, and about five metres below the level of the Canal itself. The vertical stone sides are covered with slippery moss, and so there was no way that the goslings (who had not yet learnt to fly) could climb out. The mother goose stayed in the Basin with them, while the flock of adults honked their distress above. Local workers did what they could to feed and comfort the birds but they were gradually weakened by the constant torrent of cold water pouring on top of them. Improvised attempts to haul them out and efforts by the RSPCA failed, and the Fire Brigade said it was too dangerous to get them out!

Four of the goslings succumbed and were swept away (the herons got one or two) the mother and her last chick struggled on something must be done! We raced to get our caving gear. We donned our wet-suites and abseiled into the pit. It was horrible however the constant cascade of dirty water, the rubbish floating around, underwater debris that ensnared Denis, and a current sucking us towards an underwater tunnel did not deter us.

Denis swam after the exhausted birds, edging them towards Pete, waiting in a dingy, who grabbed the little gosling by the neck, passed it to Denis, who then put it in a plastic basket, which Julie gently lifted to the surface to the happy 'honking' of its dad. Julie had also sensibly attached a five-metre electron ladder, which made it easy to climb out mission accomplished?

What about mother goose? We had all assumed that she would fly out once her baby was rescued (other adult birds could fly in and out of the pit without difficult), however she showed no signs of even trying. She was exhausted and her flight feathers had become sodden and lost their oil layer. A further rescue was needed. Julie was a bit put out that she had not managed to get into the watery pit itself, so the following morning Denis and Julie returned with their wet-suites and the rescue equipment, and gave a repeat performance. After some frantic thrashing in the water, they cornered the mother goose behind a plank and stuffed her in a large laundry bag, which was lifted to the surface. The family was united. There was no scene more moving than to see the two parents and their happy little fledgling swimming away, honking with happiness, to the cheers of the local workers and visitors. What fun it all was, and no one caught leptospirosis!

Thanks to everyone who helped to bring about this happy ending. Apparently every year several ducklings and goslings are swept into the overflow, perhaps it's time for some preventive action?

Peter & Julie Mohr

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