AN EXPERIENCED charcoal burner has been transforming cut-back scrub from the Lancaster Canal banks into a soil improver prized by gardeners.

The Friends of Carnforth Coke Ovens are trying to detect any traces of the former cinder ovens beside the canal at Bolton-le-Sands, and they have been clearing the site of overgrowth to take a closer look.

Brian Crawley, secretary of the Friends, put his charcoal-burning expertise to good use by holding a biochar burn at the site. Biochar is used horticulturally for drainage of clays, retaining moisture, as a substitute for peat and grit, and to deter slugs, explained Robert Swain, of the Friends.

Volunteers carried large amounts of scrub to some old oil drums set up for the burn, trimmed the pieces to size, and started fires inside the containers.

Once the fires were going, the drums were tipped onto their sides and the thin strips of woody material - holly, elder, bramble, ash and sycamore - were fed into the fire, where they gradually burned down to form biochar. The burn lasted from 10am to 4pm and was supervised by Brian.