The charity making life better by water

Boaters' Update 11 August 2023

This latest edition begins with a thank you to all those who’ve supported our #KeepCanalsAlive campaign. It’s swiftly followed by news of dredging and bank protection work. Read on to find out how our workshops have innovated ways to produce more lock gates and what our updated Towpath Code contains. Important advice on keeping your gas cylinders safe follows along with news more Green Flag awards. Finally, there’s an update on our plans to change our website to better suit the needs of boaters.

Boats on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal in summer

Welcome to Boaters' Update. This latest edition begins with a thank you to all those who've supported our #KeepCanalsAlive campaign and is swiftly followed by news of dredging and bank protection work. Then read on to find out how our specialist carpenters have innovated ways to produce more lock gates and what our updated Towpath Code contains.

Some important advice on keeping your gas cylinders safe on your boat follows along with news how more of the network has been granted Green Flag status. Finally, there's an update on our plans to change our website to better suit the needs of boaters. The ever-present news roundup and this weekend's stoppages can also be found.

Happy boating,


In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 1 Aug – If you're looking for something to do with the kids in the next week or so then why not take them along to the UK's longest and steepest flight of staircase locks at Foxton. There you'll find a range of activities laid on which will, hopefully, inspire the next generation of canal enthusiasts!
  • 4 Aug – We're predicting that warmer wetter summers bought about by climate change are making the fight to stop our canals from becoming choked by invasive weeds more challenging.


Thousands support #KeepCanalsAlive campaign

Just over a month ago Government announced a new funding settlement, spanning from 2027 to 2037, to follow on from our current grant agreement. Whilst we welcome this further long-term commitment to the nation's historic waterways, the amount awarded represents a steep reduction in funding of over £300 million in real terms over a ten-year period. A reduction that will have devastating consequences on our canals and the people and wildlife who rely on them.

Front of a boat cruising on a sunny day

As you'll know, this is just the start of a long campaign to get Government to reconsider the decision as Richard Parry, chief executive, explained when interviewed by Cruising the Cut's David Johns.

An independent campaign group, called Fund Britain's Waterways (FBW), has organised an event for this weekend (13 Aug) where boaters, walkers and other canal enthusiasts, including our chief executive, can converge in Birmingham to urge Government to adequately fund Britain's waterways – and it wants the public to get on board.

A flotilla will assemble for 12 noon on the canal frontage next to the Mailbox (B1 1RS). The coalition comprises more than 50 organisations including those representing boaters, anglers and other waterways users.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “It's often said that Birmingham has more canals than Venice but their importance goes far beyond this famed statistic. Our vast and diverse canal network is a remarkable historical inheritance – cherished by the wildlife and local communities that exist around them and enjoy them today.

“I feel strongly that this very special legacy should be maintained, nurtured and celebrated for generations to come and I'm sure many fellow residents right across our region feel the same. That's why I stand ready to work constructively with both local and national stakeholders to help ensure these unique waterways are preserved in the months and years ahead.”


More dredging, better towpaths and fire at Glastonbury

Dredging at Gloucester Docks is set to begin again in September. The second phase of dredging came to an end in June with a further 9,000m3 of silt being removed from the Docks. Further progress has been made with the finger pontoons, Llanthony moorings and the entrance to Victoria Basin and the next phase of dredging will deliver further improvements for boaters at the historic Docks.

Dredging at entrance to Victoria Basin Gloucester Docks

More mooring space, as a result of the dredging, means that there's more chance that you'll be able to moor up and take in one of the summer events. There are a range taking place at Gloucester Docks this summer for boaters and members of the public to enjoy.

‘Crossings' is a is a new installation artwork by Luke Jerram in collaboration with BBC Radio 4 producer Julian May. It consists of nine rowing boats that play audio stories from different journeys on water that people have experienced in different circumstances around the world. It's running at the Docks from 9 August to 3 September. Retro on the Water, an event celebrating the history of the boats that have graced our waterways, is also taking place at the Docks on the weekend of 26-27 August.

Improving towpaths

A £1 million project being funded by Sustrans Paths for Everyone programme, supported by the Department for Transport, is improving a stretch of towpath on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Aldermaston. The work will improve access to the water for boaters, as new bank protection is put in place along the canal as well as benefitting walkers, cyclists and those with wheelchairs or buggies.

A total of 2.5km of improvements are being made with bridge improvements and a World War II pillbox on the route is being developed as a new habitat for bats.

Lighting up Glastonbury

Sacks of wood in a field

The wood collects in the fish pass when the river floods and thanks to a partnership with Greg Klaes, who is chair of the Banbury Canal Partnership, we were able to save £3,500 on the cost of disposal of the wood by instead transporting it to the festival where it was used to keep the stone circle fire burning for the entirety of the festival.

Contractors spent a week collecting the debris from the fish pass which was opened in 2020 and allows fish free passage past the nearby weir for the first time in 170 years.

Flying the Green Flag

All of the canals in the Wales & South West region have regained their Green Flag status for 2023-24. The Kennet & Avon Canal, Bridgwater & Taunton Canal, Gloucester & Sharpness Canal in England have been awarded with the status again, while the Monmoutshire & Brecon Canal in south Wales has also achieved the ranking. The Swansea Canal has again received the Green Flag Community Award. Find out the national picture below.


Innovations help produce more lock gates

As many readers know, we build our bespoke lock gates in two workshops, at Bradley in the West Midlands and Stanley Ferry in Yorkshire. While the form and function of the typical lock gate has barely changed in 250 years, our specialist teams are bringing forward several small changes to lock gate production to increase speed and efficiency.

Close up of a lock gate

The small changes to production will save the team 25 working days each year, enough time to produce at least an additional two top end single lock gates or one set of bottom end mitre gates.

A working group including workshop carpenters, heritage specialists, engineers and volunteer boaters on our Navigation Advisory Group has brought forward the changes.

First designed 250 years ago, the traditional black and white lock gate is an iconic feature of the nation's landscape, and it is important to preserve this heritage aspect. One change agreed by the group is to only paint lock gate steelwork that is above the waterline. As the painting is purely decorative, this will retain the characteristic look while whilst having no impact on the resilience of the gate.

Workmen installing lock gates

Further location-specific changes, in some instances requiring consent from local authorities, will see an alteration to the design of the bottom end gates on the Grand Union Canal which will negate the need for a second horizontal layer of planking without compromising the performance of the gate.

The group has looked at ways to save money on materials. In conjunction with engineers from the Timber Research & Development Association it has refined the Lock Gate Calculation sheets. These calculate the size of timber required to achieve the required strength of the lock gate. The new sheet allows the teams to try different timber sizes and is likely to produce a saving of 5% on timber usage.

Stoke Lock Flight, Trent & Mersey Canal

“The proposals for alterations to the designs and production process were bought forward by the teams who carry out the work, with valuable ideas and feedback shared by boaters on our Navigation Advisory Group. Any new ideas must respect the important heritage of the canals, while balancing the needs we have, as a charity, to safeguard the future of the ageing network.”


Towpath code updated

Now that we're in the busy summer holidays, and with murmurs of an improvement in the weather, we are appealing for people to remain friendly and courteous on towpaths – as figures published recently show the nation's canals are benefiting more people than at any time in history.

Cycling along the towpath

As the summer temperatures hopefully rise, we are asking people to keep their cool, and have published a new Towpath Code to help people better enjoy their time on towpaths, avoid tension between visitors and respect the wildlife and pets along the canal network.

A huge rise in visitors

Richard Parry, our chief executive, says: “With the nation's 250-year-old canals more popular than ever, the summer months are set to draw even more people to visit these much-needed spaces. But with so many people sharing them, and with waterways bringing nature and biodiversity into our towns and cities, it is important that we are kind to each other and to wildlife.”

Running along the towpath

“Today canals are playing a key role within society. They are vital links for walking and cycling and help Government hit its targets* around access to nature and the outdoors. But canals are old and vulnerable and need continued investment. By sharing the space responsibly, we can all look forward to enjoying our local canals this summer.”

Our Towpath Code

Our Towpath Code is a simple, easy to understand guide for how to share towpaths thoughtfully and considerately. Remember: Share the space, Drop your pace, It's a special place. The following applies:

  • Pedestrians have priority.
  • Cyclists must slow down for others.
  • Take extra care when passing people, pets and wildlife.
  • Respect people using the waterway for activities like boating, angling or paddle-sports.
  • Wheelchairs, mobility aids, cycles and legal e-bikes are allowed.
  • E-scooters, motorbikes, modified e-bikes and other unauthorised vehicles are not allowed.
  • Keep dogs under close control and clean up after them.
  • Take litter home.

You can find out more about the code here on our website.


Keeping your gas safe

This is a serious subject so let's start with a serious fact. According to the Health & Safety Executive there have been 179 injuries and 12 fatalities as a result of domestic gas explosions in the five years up to July 2022. With 22 million properties connected to the gas grid this does only represent a tiny minority, but for those affected it will be a massive tragedy.

Photo of Gas Street Basin

Of course, your stored gas cylinders don't need to be safe just at the time of the examination. So what, you may ask, do you need to do make sure your gas storage arrangements are compliant and, more importantly, safe all the time?

LPG is 'heavier' than air and if it leaks out of the gas system, it can flow down into the cabin or engine space and create an explosive vapour cloud. So, in broad terms, your storage needs to ensure that if there was a leak, then it won't enter the interior of the boat and will be safely directed overboard.

To stay compliant with your navigation authority rules, and to keep everyone safe, please read the BSS Examination Checking Procedures (ECP), Part 7, which is on page 52, (section 7.1 - 7.8) for the BSS checks relevant to gas storage and, for greater explanation, the first few pages of Appendix 7 in the same document, page 146. The ECPs explain, in full detail, what BSS Examiners will look for when they carry out the BSS Checks on your boat.

This topic will become much more prominent in the coming months and years – regular readers may remember that back in April, and thanks to lobbying from BSS, Calor Gas postponed its decision to discontinue 3.9kg propane and 4.5kg butane cylinders. The operative word there is ‘postponed' because it still intends to phase them out as old stock runs out. This'll mean that your boat may need alterations to accommodate different sized cylinders although, of course, the way they're stored will still need to be compliant and safe.


Maintenance, repair and restoration work this weekend

As someone who's out on, or by, the water more often than most, you'll know that there are times when we need to fix things that unexpectedly break. So, below, you'll find a list of navigations that have ongoing restrictions that may affect you if you're planning to get out on the water this weekend:

When restrictions to navigation happen, we get them up on to our website as soon as we can – always best to have a scan before you set off. As set out in the article above, you can set up your smartphone to automatically alert you if a notice is issued for a canal or river that you're interested in. Check out this guide to setting it up.

If you have any questions about a specific closure, or spot an error in our system, please get in touch.


More miles awarded Green Flag status

We have secured a further 53.5 miles of Green Flag waterways across England and Wales, with 592* miles now holding the international quality mark for parks and green spaces. The Green Flags further demonstrate the important role the 250-year-old canal network plays for local communities, bringing nature into the heart of our towns and cities.

Vibrant green spaces

The entire 46-mile-long Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal has been awarded a Green Flag for the first time, along with the Stourbridge Canal and Town Arm, also in the West Midlands. These are added to our existing Green Flag stretches, which range from once unloved stretches of urban canal that have been transformed into pleasant, wildlife-rich places in the centre of towns and cities like Manchester, Sheffield and Walsall, to more rural locations such as the Kennet & Avon and Monmouthshire & Brecon canals.

Green Flag Award flag with canal and boat in background

However, our canals are facing a dual crisis, with climate change taking a costly toll on the historic network in the form of more frequent extreme weather, and with the government recently (10 July) announcing deep cuts in funding for canals in the future. We are calling on people to support their local waterway and help #KeepCanalsAlive.

What our canals have to offer

Richard Parry, our chief executive: “These Green Flags showcase the breadth of what the waterways have to offer: free, accessible green space on the doorstep of millions. Our historic canals are places in our towns and cities where people can relax, get close to nature and feel the health benefits of spending time by water.

“Caring for a 2,000-mile canal network is a challenge, with our ageing waterways vulnerable to changing weather patterns, daily wear and tear, and perennial problems like litter and encroaching vegetation. This impressive number of Green Flags is a testament to everyone who works or volunteers with the Trust, including those in the community who play such a vital part in helping to look after their local canal.

A group of youngsters gather to celebrate with a green flag award for the canals

A vital sanctuary

Commenting on the news that 50* stretches of our waterways have met the Green Flag Award standard, Keep Britain Tidy's Chief Executive, Allison Ogden-Newton OBE, said: “Our parks continue to provide a vital sanctuary for communities to play, grow and bond. The news that a record number of parks in the UK have achieved the Green Flag Award standard reflects the tireless work of those tasked with looking after these national assets.

“At Keep Britain Tidy, we're very proud of the Green Flag Award - a crucial component in ensuring the continuing quality of our parks and green spaces, making sure they are managed to the highest standards and are safe and accessible. We believe it should be a minimum standard for every park – and that everyone, wherever they live, should have access to high-quality green space. Parks play a key role in the health and wellbeing of the nation not only in the physical and mental health of us all, but also in the environmental health of the planet. Congratulations to all this year's winners.”

An intrinsic part of our landscape

Canals are an intrinsic part of our landscape with the quintessentially British sight of a narrowboat, lock or a humpback bridge familiar boaters as well as anyone in towns or countryside alike. Today, as well as being visited by around 10 million people every fortnight, our waterways are used by you, boaters, along with around 35,000 other boats.

The Green Flag Award scheme, managed by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy under licence from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, recognises and rewards well-managed parks and green spaces, setting the benchmark standard for the management of green spaces across the United Kingdom and around the world.

Green Flag Award-winning parks and green spaces can be found here.

*Two further waterways which currently hold Green Flags, the eight-mile-long Montgomery Canal, and a 20-mile stretch of the Weaver Navigation, including Anderton Boat Lift, are awaiting confirmation. If the awards are renewed, 620 miles of Trust waterways will hold Green Flag status.


Website changes to benefit boaters

Following your feedback that our website could be working better for boaters, you're going to see a few changes this summer.

You told us that it isn't always easy to find key boating information, and we have addressed this by making the Boating section more visible and providing other links and shortcuts to the section from the Homepage.

Steering a boat on the canal

On some pages you won't see much change immediately, such as the Stoppages and the MyTrust parts of the site, as we work on improvements to more areas over time.

We've worked with boaters, supporters, and volunteers on the improvements. As well as better meeting boaters' needs, the changes have a wider aim of attracting even more support for the Trust and better understanding of the work we do. Once launched, we'd love to hear your feedback and will be publishing a dedicated email address so you can let us know about what's good, and what needs further improvement.


Bits & bobs

  • Many boaters, and you may be one of them, love a life afloat because it enables them to have a lower environmental impact. With this in mind the Inland Waterways Association's Sustainable Boating Group has just issued a new guide to sustainable boating. Of course, there are plenty of other sustainable boating resources on its website too!
  • Did you know that we've recently held a webinar on invasive non native species? Well, if it's a topic that interests you then you catch the whole shebang by following this link. In the coming months we'll also be doing one that dives in to the detail of how we maintain the waterways.


Happy boating,


Last Edited: 11 August 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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