This update includes how we're highlighting the need for better Government funding for the waterways from 2027, details on our boat licence review, how teamwork has helped keep the network flowing in the East Midlands and how we’ve been securing the future of water supplies for the network.
After that you’ll find out how we’ve been catching anti-social motorcyclists who mistakenly think the towpath is a playground, why we’ve had problems with vegetation in the West Midlands, who our two new Trustees are and, finally, good news from the Weaver Navigation.
This weekend’s stoppages can also be found below.
In this edition:
Upcoming event #KeepCanalsAlive
Boat licence fee changes
Balancing challenges in Leicestershire
Water Act – securing water for the future
Maintenance, repair and restoration work affecting cruising this weekend
Successful crackdown on towpath motorbikes
Managing vegetation in the West Midlands
New Trustees appointed
Bits & bobs
Upcoming event #KeepCanalsAlive
In July the 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.
Partly in response to that announcement The Fund Gloucester’s Waterways Action Group is holding a Cruise and Rally on Saturday 30 September, in Gloucester Docks. Boaters are strongly encouraged to join the cruise leaving Saul Junction at 8am, to arrive in the Main Basin at 11am; and asking residents, walkers, anglers, local businesses, charities and everyone who uses the canal to join in a march from The National Waterways Museum in the Docks at 11.15am, to join with boaters to hear talks at midday from both national and local waterways groups, including Les Etheridge, Chair of Fund Britain's Waterways and our chief executive, Richard Parry.
Boat licence fee changes
Earlier this week we got in touch with boat licence holders to tell them about changes to future boat licence pricing following a consultation with boaters. Alongside growth in income from other commercial and fundraising activity, the changes will help support the long-term future of the 2,000 miles of waterways that we manage across England & Wales.
We have announced that boat licence fees will need to rise above the baseline inflation rate for each of the next five years. In addition, we are announcing the introduction of a surcharge for boats that continuously cruise and an increase in the surcharges for wide beam boats to reflect the greater utility they receive.
Richard Parry, chief executive, said: “Our canals are facing some daunting challenges and, if we don’t act now, the future could look bleak. The government recently announced significant cuts to public funding for the canals over the years ahead, whilst high inflation rates and the ageing infrastructure has seen the cost of caring for canals rise.
“We’re re-doubling our efforts to grow volunteering further and to increase funds raised across all our activities, from all our users and supporters, so we can deliver the additional ongoing investment that the network needs. The boat licence fee represents around 11% of income, going towards vital maintenance and repairs. Whilst the scale of the investment required is in no way to be borne by boaters alone, the increases from boat licences will make an important contribution.”
Alongside the changes to boat licensing, we continue to grow income from our property and non-property endowment, and from other commercial sources such as hosting utilities and water transfer, which together contribute over 40% of our income. We are targeting a step-change in income generation from towpath users and other supporters, with fundraising income projected to grow by 10% each year – whilst other commercial waterways income, including from anglers, paddle sports and moorings, is also set to increase.
The above-inflation increases for all boat licence holders, and the new surcharges, will take effect from April 2024. Details will be announced in November using the latest inflation forecasts.
Boat use has changed over the years, with rising numbers of people choosing to continuously cruise, and to choose wider boats. Most boaters without home moorings spend more time on the waterway network, and make more use of facilities, than those with a home mooring. Wider boats take up more space on the water than their narrow beam counterparts. We believe that reflecting the utility people get from their use of the waterways network, and the cost of supporting different boat use, is the fairest way to decide licence pricing – as reflected in the responses from the recent boater consultation.
We have also considered whether the various licence discounts currently offered are sustainable. From 1 April 2024, there will be a reduction in the discounts for prompt payment and for paying online as this has become the standard method used by the vast majority of boaters. The electric boat, historic boat and charity boat discounts will be retained.
Richard Parry continues: “We will continue to control our costs as far as possible given external pressures, while focusing our resources on the priority maintenance and repairs that are required to support safe navigation, and we will continue to lobby the government to rethink their short-sighted decision on our future funding.
“I recognise that these changes to licence pricing will not be popular with everyone, but the income we receive from boat licences is more critical than ever. The cost of the licence has largely kept pace with inflation since the Trust was formed and now, together with increases in income from all possible sources, we must raise the resources needed to keep the network alive for future generations, averting a return to the decline of the mid-20th century when canals fell into disrepair in the face of insufficient funding.”
We’re grateful to everyone who’s been boating in and around Leicester this summer for their patience while we’ve dealt with a number of engineering challenges.
Our canals are, of course, working waterways and from time-to-time collisions take place which cause damage to the network. Unfortunately, we saw two quite serious incidents in quick succession at Birstall Lock resulting in damage to the lock gates. The most recent resulted in a detached balance beam meaning that we had to close the lock to carry out a repair.
Meanwhile Kilby Lock also suffered a failure which needed a temporary stoppage pending an emergency repair.
When unexpected things like this crop up our teams work quickly to identify the issues, re-prioritise planned work and arrange for repairs to get the navigation open again as soon as possible.
In this instance, around 30 boats were stuck between the two closures and the customer support team, licence support and operational teams worked together brilliantly to identify, help and communicate with those affected. While it was a frustrating situation for everyone involved, we were really grateful to receive positive feedback from many.
Thanks also to everyone for their patience while we carry out repairs at North Lock to the north of the city. The condition of the cill has deteriorated and so we are having to drain the lock and carry out a repair, hopefully making things easier for boaters heading into and out of Leicester. This has meant the lock has been closed but, by the time you read this, we’re pleased to say that the works should be pretty much complete.
People power helps with Pennywort
This summer has seen a Herculean effort to tackle the invasive weed floating pennywort on the River Soar and over the past eight weeks more than 1,000 tonnes of it have been removed by contractors and volunteers.
The contractor works have been carried out as part of a Severn Trent Water funded project to tackle non-native species on our waterways. The team have been working their way downstream from Aylestone Meadows, just south of Leicester City Centre, to Pillings Lock near Loughborough.
The works have involved hauling the weed out using a specialist boat and up to 100 tonnes a day have been removed. Floating Pennywort plants can grow up to 20cm a day to form thick mats on the surface, starving the water of light and oxygen and causing problems for boaters.
Where space allows, the weed is left on the bankside which means any bugs and beasts can make their way back into the water, while the plant breaks down and rots away.
Alongside the contractor works, volunteers have also been rolling their sleeves up and helping to remove the weed. Barrow in Bloom has been using paddle power to help with the job, taking to the river on paddleboards to get into all the hard to reach places. The Loughborough Towpath Taskforce has also been spending time removing pennywort from parts of the River Soar in the town.
With climate change bringing increasingly warmer temperatures, the spread of weeds like Floating Pennywort continues to be a real challenge but the work we’ve been doing, helped by volunteers, will hopefully have made a noticeable difference for boaters making their way through Leicestershire this summer.
Vandalism on the Erewash Canal
We’re keen to get boaters’ help in tackling persistent vandalism on the Erewash Canal which is seeing sections drained, causing obvious problems for navigation, harming wildlife and taking time away from other important maintenance work.
Paddles are repeatedly being opened at several locks along the canal and our teams have been working tirelessly to run water through the system to get levels back up again. During the summer months this is especially difficult and can take days to recover.
We’re asking any boaters that happen to see such vandalism taking place to please report it to the local police so that we can demonstrate the need for extra patrols in the affected areas. For your safety please don’t approach the individuals yourself.
In the meantime, we’re working with Erewash Canal Preservation and Development Association to install some new anti-vandal locks to try and deter any further issues.
Water Act – securing water for the future
Many boaters will be aware that the water the network relies on for maintaining navigation comes from a complex arrangement of reservoirs, groundwater sources, streams and rivers, carefully controlled and managed via telemetry and pumps. This is all supported by the daily efforts of our colleagues and volunteers undertaking essential water control activities.
Up until a few years ago, the Trust, as a navigation authority, were exempt from needing permission, in the form of abstraction licences, from the environmental regulators in England and Wales to use this water. But this all ended when the Water Act 2003 legislation was finally brought into effect by the Government, and from 2018 onwards, the Trust has gone through a long, complicated and expensive process of becoming formally licensed for the many sources of water that the canals have relied upon for centuries.
The experts in our water management team diligently applied for over 150 licences, and in the period 2020-2022 the regulators (Environment Agency in England, and Natural Resources Wales for our Welsh canals) have issued these licences, following many, many months of careful negotiation.
While the overall outcome to secure these licences is generally positive (at one point in the process, there had been a risk that some sources would not be allowed to continue supplying the canals), the licences now impose a range of conditions on the amount of water we can use, sometimes limiting our supplies in times of low flows (such as the peak summer months) which of course presents huge challenges operationally to maintain levels for boating with less water available.
Some licences have got other conditions relating to fish screening and flow measurement, imposing new cost burdens to the Trust just when our finances are already being stretched. And all of these licences have an end date, meaning that they will expire in the coming years (a third of them coming up as soon as 2027). We will need to renew each of the licences and we already know there will be pressure from the regulators for us to take less and less water to protect the rivers and streams we rely upon, particularly with concerns over water availability and environmental damage in a changing climate. But the canals themselves are a complex ecosystem of often interconnected waterbodies, with ecological as well as recreational benefits of their own, so there will no doubt be further challenges ahead as we try to maintain reliable supplies - after all, water is the lifeblood of the waterways we all care for and enjoy.
While it has been a lot of work, and a challenge, to get these licences drawn up, agreed and in place, we’ve now had plenty of practice and will be striving to continue to secure water supplies for the future generation of boaters.
Successful crackdown on towpath motorbikes
Last weekend we had a second successful operation with Walsall Police targeting anti-social behaviour caused by off-road dirt bikes and e-scooters.
Since the last operation, the police have had an increase of reports regarding off road-bikes on the towpaths and green spaces. If you ever see any off-road bikes or e-scooters on the towpath then please do report it to the police via Crime Stoppers or 101.
During this latest operation we provided a driver and vehicle, to save waiting for recovery as it could take up to two hours for the seized vehicles to be collected. Instead, our driver and vehicle were following along so as soon as a bike was seized, it was straight onto the back of the truck and then taken to the police station.
Much like our first time, this was a non-pursuit operation and more tactical. The information comes in from spotters, including some in 'the sky’. This is fed through a direct link to our vehicle and then we start sending police to that area to put a containment on. It’s essential that we’re with the police to provide information about access points and gaps in boundary hedges, fences etc.
A good example of this was in Walsall, where the aeroplane spotted a dirt-bike on the towpath and the rider wasn't aware that he was being tracked. We were able to inform the police of the access points at Rolling Mill Street Bridge and Pagets Bridge so officers were dispatched to both locations. The local team also knew that there is a gap in the boundary which leads to Sister Dora Gardens, so police dirt-bikes were sent there. If it wasn't for this information the police believed that this rider would have got away, rather than arrested (the individual was a wanted person, and in possession of a class A drugs and a knife).
A total of four bikes were seized and three arrests made. Two of those stopped were on the towpath and two got onto the towpath as a means of escape but were later arrested close by.
This close working relationship with the police, local authority and local groups will hopefully be replicated throughout the country and it will most certainly be returning to the West Midlands to make towpaths safer.
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, pleaseget in touch.
Managing vegetation in the West Midlands
If you’ve boated through the West Midlands this year you may have noticed some areas where the vegetation hasn’t been managed in the way we would usually expect. The reasons for this go back to last year…
In April 2022 we retendered our vegetation management contract after a long-standing relationship which resulted in the vegetation services being managed by multiple contractors across the network in England and Wales.
This also coincided with the changing our specification of grass cutting, as well as the frequency of mowing, to achieve biodiversity gains as well as saving money.
Specification and frequency
We decided to change our grass mowing specification to provide more biodiversity gains to all areas of the network by leaving more fringe growth on the towpath. Approximately 75% of the network is now designed to leave fringe growth to mature on either side of the towpath line, with the aim of keeping a 1.5m mowed walking area down the centre of the towpath. However, our standards are to ensure that the grass is cut to the front of the towpath at sightlines and assets. In addition, in every kilometre of towpath there is at least 100m of towpath cut to the water’s edge for informal mooring to allow safe access for our boating customers.
In hindsight, we accept that we should have made more of this in our communications to boaters as some past mooring spots are no longer suitable for mooring. We know that in Please do send in feedback where this has caused you a problem and we will do our best to review and potentially revert back to pre-2022 grass cutting where we can.
The frequency of mowing has also changed from five cuts throughout the year to four as we look for ways to save money as we respond to inflation challenges and to release budget to be able to respond in areas where we may need to do additional work. We all know the weather this summer has certainly not helped us. We want to deliver a mowing regime which meets both boater and biodiversity needs so we are reviewing our specifications with our advisory group and will update our approach to grass mowing next year.
We have changed contractors, and this has resulted in a turbulent 18 months. The mowing has not all gone to plan, something that our boaters have given clear feedback on. We also acknowledge that the above factors are not an excuse for poor contractor performance, and this is being actively monitored at a regional and national level.
What’s happening now
We have now started the final width cut in all regions, where the grass will be cut from hedge to water’s edge on all towpaths. This will provide a clean canvas for the growing season next year. The quality of the contractors workmanship is being closely monitored by the regional team and is aided by the support of an ever-growing volunteer vegetation auditing team. On the contractor’s confirmation of completed sections of grass cutting, the volunteers audit and verify if works are completed to specification. If works are not completed to specification, they will not be paid until the contractor has delivered the work to specification.
We accept the vegetation management has been below standard in the region and are reviewing our mowing strategy for next year when we will be pushing for higher standards.
New Trustees appointed
We are delighted to announce two new appointments to our Board of Trustees, to help our work over the coming years. Our Trustee roles are unpaid voluntary ones. They lead our decision-making on policy and strategy, have legal oversight of our wide range of statutory duties and provide direction to the chief executive and his team.
David Orr CBE, Chair, said: “Following approval at the Canal & River Trust’s Council AGM on 20 September 2023, the Board is pleased to be welcoming Sir James Bevan and Chris Fellingham as new Trustees for an initial three-year term. Together they bring huge depth and breadth of relevant experience and knowledge from the public and private sectors, and both have a passion for the waterways. Their appointments come as the Board and Executive of the Trust are working to develop a new strategy to keep canals in England and Wales open, alive and contributing the many public benefits that they do, in the face of well-publicised funding challenges, ever more challenging weather events and the nature crisis.
“All of us at the Canal & River Trust look forward immensely to working with both Sir James and Chris and adding their individual skills and experience to those of our existing Board members.
“As their terms as Trustees comes to an end, we would like to thank Susan Wilkinson and Sarah Whitney sincerely for their many valuable contributions and wish them the very best in their future endeavours.”
Sir James Bevan
As Chief Executive of the Environment Agency from 2015 to 2023, Sir James has been a passionate and influential leader of sustainability – in particular, action to make the UK more resilient to the impact of climate change and to cut carbon emissions. He brings highly relevant experience in managing an organisation with similar challenges and opportunities to the Trust and in working closely with government, business and other organisations. The Canal & River Trust and the Environment Agency are the two largest navigation authorities in the UK.
Prior to this Sir James had a long career at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, including four years leading the UK’s largest diplomatic presence in the world, as High Commissioner to India, and four years as Chief Operating Officer, responsible for change and modernisation of a global network.
His unique combination of expertise in policy, executive leadership, risk management and environmental issues will be tremendously beneficial for the Trust.
Sir James says: “The restoration of the canals and revitalising of our rivers is one of the greatest success stories of my lifetime. I am delighted to join the Canal & River Trust as a Trustee and be able to play a part in that story in the coming years. There is still much to do both to secure that past legacy and to sustain and develop it for future generations.”
Chris is a highly experienced leader in asset management who will join the Board after a career in the City of London managing investment portfolios. He has experience across all asset classes and a strong track record in building businesses and delivering for clients across the fixed income and multi asset sectors.
Chris’s most recent role was Global Head and Chief Investment Officer of the Multi Asset Solutions Team at Manulife Asset Management, which enjoyed strong growth under his leadership. Prior to this he was Chief Investment Officer at Ignis Asset Management before its takeover by Standard Life, CEO and Partner of Soros Fund Management UK LLP, and has worked at BlackRock.
Chris’s expertise in asset management, managing investments based on both capital and environmental concerns, will be of immense value to the Board.
Chris says: “Over many years I have travelled extensively on the canals. From the peaceful helm of a 65-foot canal boat I appreciated the healing and relaxing effect the water environment has on mental and physical health. I also understood the origins and history of the network as well as the ongoing challenges of keeping it in good repair, which were evident even in the 1990s. I see my role as a Trustee at the Canal & River Trust as a way for me to help preserve this essential network for future generations.”
Bits & bobs
We can now confirm that we'll be updating the remaining pump out card readers in the North West region to contactless payments beginning on the 9 October. The pump out card readers across the rest of the network will begin to be replaced soon after - look out for a full roll out schedule in the next edition. If you have paper pump out cards, you can continue to use these until the card readers have been replaced (after that you'll be able to use any contactless bank card). We'll be providing details in the near future of how you can return unused pump out cards to receive credit for these.
Last Edited: 25 September 2023
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