Skip to main content

The charity making life better by water

Aerial view of a narrowboat crossing a stone aqueduct over a river and fields in the shining sun.

Cultural and environmental assets

Our network includes globally renowned heritage, making it the third largest heritage estate, with open access in the UK.

Culture and environment

Caring for our heritage and environment

We're custodians of natural and historical spaces. We're conserving, promoting, and providing access to our network for people and wildlife.


of our network

is designated for wildlife


million pounds

invested in our reservoirs since 2020


volunteer hours

spent planting trees and learning conservation skills

As a result of climate change, the UK is experiencing more severe weather patterns – the greatest threat to the nation's heritage and biodiversity. The UK is already one of the world's most nature-depleted countries, with just 53% of its biodiversity remaining.

Our canals and rivers make up the UK's longest linear green-blue space and are a vital part of our nature recovery. This 2,000-mile-long wildlife corridor provides homes for iconic and protected species and everyday wildlife.

Our Heritage Estate & Stewardship

In the 18th and 19th centuries, our canals changed our nation's fortunes. Today, this network is recognised as one of the finest working examples of industrial heritage. As the custodian, the Trust conserves, promotes, and provides open access.

Historic England listed 125 waterway heritage assets as 'at risk' in 1998. Now, our work and your support means only one remains on the list – Hanwell Lock Flight.

However, changing weather patterns on a fragile and ageing infrastructure are making it increasingly challenging to keep our historic network open, safe, and resilient. As such, we must balance competing needs, adopt different ways of working, and embrace innovation.

Repair of Winterburn Reservoir in North Yorkshire

Winterburn Reservoir is the Trust’s highest dam. Completed in 1893, it is still used to supply water to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and provides valuable open space for people and wildlife.

In 2023, as part of our legal obligations to ensure its continued safe use and to preserve the unique reservoir heritage for the future, we undertook essential repairs to the spillway.

  • Read the film transcript

    My name’s Stuart Sutherland, I’m a Senior Project Manager at the Canal & River Trust. We’re here today at Winterburn Reservoir, which is in West Yorkshire, and we’re here today to start work on the spillway behind us to do some repair and maintenance.

    As you can see, there’s a lot of vegetation, there’s a lot of growth, there’s some pointing and there’s some masonry works that need to be done on the spillway in order to bring that asset back into full function.

    This asset was built by the Victorians. It’s one of the tallest reservoirs that the Canal & River Trust own and operate. It is a Grade II listed structure, so ensuring that we save the heritage of this asset for future generations, and ensure that we have a fully functioning asset is very important to us here on the project.

    The asset feeds the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, which is about 15 kilometres away from here. The spillway itself functions when the water in the reservoir reaches its top water level and then water cascades down this spillway and into the beck behind us here, so over time, there’s a lot of wear and tear on the spillway and that’s why we’re here today, is to really ensure that this asset is safe and secure for the future.

    The works is programmed to take about 13 weeks. We’re doing it in the summer, so the reservoir itself has been naturally drawn down, so we’re not wasting any water in the reservoir here. All the water that’s been withdrawn from the reservoir has been used in the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. At the end of the project, this spillway behind us will be fully functioning, we’ll have reduced the risk to the asset by ensuring that water that’s coming down the spillway actually makes it all the way down and isn’t finding any paths underneath the masonry.

    To find out more about the project specifically, go to the Canal & River Trust website and search for Winterburn, and you’ll be able to find out some more information about the project there.

Our impact on cultural and environmental assets

Kingfisher in flight with small fish in its beak

Support our work

We need your support to keep canals and rivers alive. Donate today to make a difference

Explore more about our work and impact

Last Edited: 01 March 2024

photo of a location on the canals
newsletter logo

Stay connected

Sign up to our monthly newsletter and be the first to hear about campaigns, upcoming events and fundraising inspiration