ANIMAL welfare volunteers in Middlewich have hit another stumbling block in their long campaign to protect swans in the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Funds were secured for a 400m fence and hedge to stop swans entering Booth Lane and endangering motorists more than five months ago.

But British Waterways will not release its grant of £2,500 to the Swan Support Group until there are assurances about the fence’s long term maintenance.

The organisation wants Middlewich Town Council to underwrite the agreement.

This would mean the town’s Council Tax payers would foot the bill to cut the hedge and deal with any vandalism if the Swan Support Group folded.

There were mixed feelings about the proposal at the council meeting in December.

Clr Peter Hirst said: “I think British Waterways is being responsible by making sure there is a body to maintain this fence.”

But Clr Chalky White added: “I’m not convinced. It’s effectively a blank cheque and I don’t think we should be looking at taking on blank cheques at the moment.

“I’m not saying we should step back completely but British Waterways has significantly more funds than us.

“We could potentially get in an underwriting partnership with them.”

Until there is a resolution, canal visitors and Booth Lane residents will have to continue to put up with the temporary orange fencing which is often described as an eyesore.

It is also frustrating for the Swan Support Group, a member of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, as it has already appointed a contractor who is ready to start the work.