The Shropshire Union Canal: Middlewich Emergency Appeal

In March 2018, part of the Shropshire Union Canal collapsed and needed urgent repair. 2,800m3 of material (that's 200 lorry loads) was washed away.

It's taken:

  • £3 million
  • 4,000 tonnes of stone
  • Hundreds of volunteers
  • Six months
  • Two major civil engineering companies
  • And one, very determined Canal & River Trust 

But we did it!

Friday 21 December 2018 saw the official reopening of the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. A huge thank you to everyone involved from start to finish.

Before and after: the Middlewich Branch breach 2018 Before and after: the Middlewich Branch breach 2018
Middlewich breach from the air Middlewich breach from the air

What happened?

Part of the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal collapsed in March 2018, rapidly emptying the canal. Our engineers were quickly on the scene, but the collapse impacted people and wildlife. 

How you can help?

Your generous donations to our Shropshire Union Canal: Emergency Appeal is going toward restoring this beautiful and treasured canal for the people who use it and its towpath every day.

You can support our appeal:

  • Online: by going to our JustGiving page now
  • Text: LEAK515 to 70070 to give £5 (you'll be charged £5 + one message at your standard network rate)
  • Donate by post: FREEPOST RSXX-XSGE-KKUE, FAO: Shropshire Union Appeal, Canal & River Trust, Station House, 500 Elder Gate, Milton Keynes, MK9 1BB
  1. Latest updates on the Middlewich breach

16 November - The next phase of the works is to install 220m of waterproof lining. This will then have a protective concrete layer installed over it. The waterproof liner needs to be installed in the dry and temperature is critical for the protective concrete lining. 

Weather permitting, these will be completed early December. There will then be a staged refill of the canal and a short period of testing at each stage programmed for the middle of December. At the same time as the refill and testing stage, the new towpath will be constructed, fencing installed and topsoiling/seeding completed. 

Eeveryone is working hard to get the canal back in water for Christmas.

We'll still be working at the site through January to complete demobilisation and reinstatement, but the canal and towpath will be open during this time.

3 October - we've rebuilt the collapsed embankment up to a level roughly equal to the level of the bed of the new section of canal. And we're currently constructing the new canal walls. We'll follow that by completing the embankment to bring it up to towpath level. We'll then reline the canal to make it waterproof.

Middlewich Breach Middlewich breach track

17 August - work begins - see our latest press release 

26 July - a Traffic Management System was added along Coalpit Lane. This plan shows the traffic management measures that are to be implemented. 

22 June - as you can see in the video below, the final narrowboat, just a few metres from the giant 70 metre hole, was removed to safety. 

31 May - the next phase of work has begun this week and will be to construct the access, compound area and ramp into the canal bed, liaising with Natural England to mitigate ecological impacts and get ecology related licences in place. 

25 May - Middlewich Town Mayor William Walmsley and Councillor Bernice Walmsley visited the breach. It was an opportunity for the  council to understand the extent of the breach, the environmental factors and to consider methods for fixing it. Recently, the Trust has received contact from Member of Parliament for Congleton, Fiona Bruce MP, who has shown an interest in visiting the site later in the year.

7 May - we invited local Middlewich primary school, St Mary’s, to visit the breach site. The entire school took part in an assembly, while the Year 6 class continued with a workshop around Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). 

11 May - we're continuously monitoring the wildlife to make sure we protect the birds and creatures that live along the canal while repairs are ongoing.

Lastly, the current target is to mobilise the entire area for major repair works to begin in mid-June.

In early May - our team held an ‘open meeting’ at the local Morrisons supermarket, encouraging people holding their own local fundraising events to tell us what they’re doing. Our colleagues, Shelly Cordner (major donor fundraiser) and Lucie Unsworth (national youth engagement manager) have been looking at ways to get young people involved in the support of the breach. 

6 April – our staff met with local fundraisers to see how they can support local fundraising efforts.  

18 April - Our contractors have installed a stone access road. The topographic survey information shows that 2,800m3 of the embankment has been washed away – that's over 200 lorry loads.

Badgers around the breach

Due to badger setts on the opposite embankment, we'll face significant constraints on delivery of materials. It means we will need a disturbance licence. We’re installing cameras to monitor any badger activity and applying for necessary licences.

At this point, our best estimate is that repairs will take six months from June at a cost of between £2m and £3m.

17 April - BBC Radio Stoke had a live broadcast from the breach. This included details of how the breach has impacted the local community and the range of different canal and towpath users. 

4 April - the Canal & River Trust's chief executive, Richard Parry, visited the breach to meet with the engineers, project manager and our contractors to see how the plans for works are progressing.

29 March – thank you for the fantastic response from the community -  with offers of volunteering, free use of meeting rooms, and of course, the people who've helped in fundraising.

We're in consistent contact with boaters affected to keep them up to date on progress. Our waterway chaplains have been at hand on site, offering help to boaters that live on board.


Middlewich Branch breach dam

23 March - Principal engineer, Mark Durham, talks about what we've been up to on site over the last couple of days.

  1. 21 March - volunteer group SUMBA (Shropshire Union Middlewich Branch Association) worked alongside our customer operations team clearing as much rubbish as possible from the drained canal bed.
Middlewich Canal Bed Rubbish Middlewich canal bed rubbish

19 March - project team manager, Clive Mitchell, was on site of the breach and gave a brief update in the short video below on the damage.

17 March - fast action by emergency staff has resulted in nearly 10,000 fish being rescued from the stretch of canal

16 March - our emergency engineers were on site all night dealing with the breach

The Middlewich Branch connects the Trent & Mersey Canal just south of Middlewich town to the Shropshire Union Canal at Barbridge Junction, a distance of about 10 miles. Constructed in 1827, it is nearly 200 years old.

Last date edited: 25 February 2021