Read a report on the damage caused by Storm Babet and a #KeepCanalsAlive campaign update. Sign up to a boaters' webinar and discover how we need your help to future-proof Anderton Boat Lift.
There’s also a guide to heating your boat this winter (and a reminder for continuous cruisers about redeeming your energy support voucher) along with an article about the support we can help you access if you’re struggling.
PS Earlier this week we held our online Annual Public Meeting. Thank you to everyone who watched and posed questions. You can watch a recording of the meeting here and read the additional questions, that we didn’t get the chance to answer, here. To help us improve future events, we’d appreciate it if you could take five minutes to complete this survey about both the event and the content we shared.
In this edition:
Cost of climate change: Storm Babet damages canals
Webinar for boaters
Boating benefits in Wales & South West
Supporting boaters – a guide to help
Heating your boat – a reminder for continuous cruisers
Maintenance, repair and restoration work affecting cruising this weekend
Cost of climate change: Storm Babet damages canals
Even though we’re only a month into autumn, our 2,000 miles of canals and rivers have already had the season’s first dose of storm damage.
Last month’s Storm Babet resulted in hundreds of trees being blown down across the network, and structural damage including towpaths washed away, a landslide on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, and considerable damage on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal where the River Soar flooded into the canal, causing over 50 metres of bank to collapse.
Our staff and volunteers attended numerous call-outs as they battled to control water levels and respond to damage, whilst, on the Erewash Canal in Sandiacre in Derbyshire, the quick response by a volunteer averted disaster when they were able to rescue a member of the public who fell into the canal, one of many people who were still using the towpath, despite itself, being submerged under storm water.
Richard Parry, chief executive, comments: “I’d like to thank colleagues and volunteers at the Trust for battling across the weekend to control water levels, responding to the emergencies caused by Storm Babet, and for all their efforts to keep everyone safe.
“Our canal network is a national treasure dating back 250 years. It isn’t safely locked away as an exhibit in a museum. It is here to be navigated by boats as they did centuries ago, used freely by millions of people, and for the benefit of wildlife. We’re going to see Storm Babet leave the canal network with a bill likely to be in the £millions. This illustrates the increasing expense of keeping the canal network safe and open, at a time when funding from government is reducing in real terms, and ahead of the steep future cuts they announced earlier this year. These extra costs are becoming increasingly common place as the changing climate takes its toll. Without adequate funding, they will lead to the gradual deterioration and eventual closure of some canals.
“The work of staff and volunteers, together with the support of our partners and friends, is vital if we are to keep our canals alive to benefit this and future generations.”
Thank you to all of you who have supported our #KeepCanalsAlive campaign so far. We are pleased to say it’s being heard, and confident it’s making a difference. Here’s a quick update on how it has been going.
In July 2023, we launched our #KeepCanalsAlive campaign, urging people to write to their MPs to voice their support for maintaining a safe and thriving canal network in England and Wales.
The campaign was launched in response to the Government's announcement of cuts to their future funding of the Trust and the continued lack of provision for inflation. With no rise for inflation from 2021 to 2037, plus annual cuts of 5% year-on-year from 2027, this comes to a reduction of over £300 million in funding, in real terms over a ten-year period, compared to recent levels.
Your incredible action has resulted in just shy of 12,000 emails sent to over 600 MPs across the country. This was a tremendous show of support that put our funding firmly onto the political agenda. We have been enormously encouraged by the response from these MPs and other political stakeholders, many of whom have expressed their concern about the future threat to our canals by writing to DEFRA or speaking out in both Houses of Parliament as well as in the media.
This is alongside wide coverage on news channels like Sky News, ITV News, and BBC Radio 4's Today programme and in the national and regional press, as well as online opportunities such as on David Johns' 'Cruising the Cut' vlog. Our chief executive, Richard Parry, has been providing further insights into the implications of the announcement and raising awareness of the need to fund our canal network adequately. As the situation became clearer, we received many letters and comments from readers, councillors and MPs, expressing their support for the Trust.
In recent weeks, we have hosted many MPs who wished to visit their own local stretch of canal to better understand the work we do as a charity, to ensure our canal network is well maintained and protected for future generations. This is a heartening response that ensures your voice is being heard. The real threats that canal closures could pose – to our health and wellbeing, nature recovery, biodiversity, heritage and local prosperity – are being recognised by the right people.
We also spoke to MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates during the recent conference season to highlight the need for continued support.
All of these efforts have made a real impact – next week, currently scheduled for 9 November, there will be a parliamentary debate in the House of Commons regarding the future funding of the waterways.
A huge thank you again to everyone who has taken part in #KeepCanalsAlive already, and please continue to raise awareness by sharing this message far and wide and we’ll continue to fight for our canal network.
Webinar for boaters
What are you doing on the afternoon of 17 November (apart from eagerly awaiting the next edition of Boaters’ Update!)? Well, if you’re interested in how we look after the network, then keep your diary free.
Two of our in-house experts – John Ward, head of project delivery, and Dean Davies, head of direct services – will be giving a talk on the challenges they face in maintaining and repairing our ageing waterways.
Between them, their teams will spend almost £80million this year on maintaining and repairing historic structures and waterways. They’ll be explaining how projects are prioritised, designed, and completed in one of the most complex environments in the country.
You’ll also have the opportunity to pose your questions to John and Dean about their work in the Q&A session afterwards.
You can book your place now but do bear in mind that spaces are limited, so don't miss this chance to learn more about how your licence fee supports our work.
Boating benefits in Wales & South West
As mentioned in the last edition, dredging has recommenced at Gloucester Docks to increase the depth of the water and improve access for boaters. The total spend on dredging at Gloucester is set to be £1.5million, a quarter of our national budget for dredging on our entire 2,000-mile-long network. Boaters can still use the docks throughout the dredging programme with the canal down to Monk Meadow Marina also being dredged as well as the Gloucester Lock chamber.
This summer also saw Gloucester Docks host 'Crossings', an on-the-water art installation created by artist Luke Jerram. Visitors were able to take a decorated rowing boat out onto the water at the docks while listening to an audio story recorded by someone who has themselves gone on an incredible journey on water in different parts of the world. In September, Fund Gloucester's Waterways held a rally with a parade of boats at the docks to urge the government to reverse their decision to cut funding for canals.
On the Kennet & Avon Canal, a 1½ mile stretch of towpath along the Kennet & Avon Canal at Aldermaston has been upgraded. It improves access for boaters (as new bank protection has been put in place) and brings benefits to walkers, cyclists and those with wheelchairs or buggies.
The £1.2million project was possible because it was funded by Sustrans Path for Everyone programme which is supported by the Department for Transport. The stretch of improvements begins at Aldermaston Wharf and heads eastwards along the canal to Sulhamstead.
Volunteers making a difference
Meanwhile, good news from Wales. A previously infilled section of the waterway in Clydach on the Swansea Canal has become a water-filled mooring basin: a major milestone in the Swansea Canal Society's work to regenerate the canal.
Thanks to the Welsh Government “Brilliant Basics” programme, administered by Visit Wales with additional grants from Swansea Council, Postcode Community Fund, Glandwr Cymru and the Canoe Foundation, the works have included a new launching ramp for use by canoeists, and a by-wash water channel that will maintain canal water levels.
Over the border in Stourbridge, and strictly speaking in the West Midlands, a new ‘Honours Board’ has been unveiled in recognition of the efforts of the main stalwarts of the Stourbridge Navigation Trust (SNT) who gave their time, skills and energy freely to firstly restore and then manage, maintain and improve the facilities over the years both past, present and into the future.
Volunteers have been at the heart of SNT since its inception. Following over a decade of restoration work led by volunteers the Bonded Warehouse was opened for community use in 1985. The present SNT is the culmination of five decades of voluntary effort, continuing the ethos of volunteering and seeing this as the sustainable way forward.
The Honours Board, skilfully hand crafted from scratch and hand lettered by local artist, Meg Gregory, was officially unveiled by the Mayor of Dudley, Councillor Andrea Goddard, and our chief executive, Richard Parry, at the 2023 Stourbridge Open Weekend and will take pride of place on public display in the Bonded Warehouse.
Chairman of the SNT, Ian Cowdale, said at the unveiling: “Without the efforts of many people, I believe the Bonded Warehouse would now be no more than a distant memory suffering the same fate as other listed structures in the locality. The Stourbridge Town Canal Arm has only survived thanks to the volunteer activity at the Warehouse. As visitors stand and admire the new Honours Board and use the facilities today they can, just for a moment, remember the hard work put in by a dedicated volunteer force.”
Supporting boaters – a guide to help
As you’ll no doubt agree, boating is a wonderful way of life. Even just thinking about it conjures an image of the bucolic landscape slowly passing by as you chug down a canal on a warm summer’s day.
Of course, when you’ve been boating, you’ve also had those days where the toilet is full, the mercury isn’t getting out of single digits, it’s raining stair rods and you’ve got another hour at the tiller before the next pump out or Elsan disposal point.
The point is that, while boating is an amazing way to spend time, it can also be challenging. This article looks at the range of support available if you’re struggling or a vulnerable boater.
The cost of heating fuels is a real concern at the moment and we understand that some boaters are worried. The article below has some heating tips and safety related guidance, as well as a reminder about government support that may be available to boaters. As always, if you're concerned, please contact your licence support officer.
Are you struggling in other ways?
We work with support partners such as local health services, council departments and specialist charities, to point boaters to the help and advice available to them if they are identified as having a vulnerability such a suffering from poor mental health.
Our boat licence customer support team can work with you to help find and get the support available from local authorities, who have a duty of care to provide adequate services (housing, social services, benefit advice etc), and/or other support agencies.
Colleagues spot where customers, and in particular boaters, may be vulnerable. Support is available to help stop boaters going through enforcement action purely because of vulnerability. Ultimately, we want all our customers to stay safe and enjoy our waterways so if you are struggling or know a boater who is struggling, please do get in touch with our team. You can also download our seeking advice factsheet.
If you are homeless or facing homelessness contact your local authority – use this checker to find your local authority. You can also call a local directory enquiry service to find your local authority.
We want everyone to benefit from improved health, wellbeing and happiness that comes from being on, and by, the water. Our equality policy sets out our commitment to promote equality for people with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 and our approach to making sure everyone can access and use our waterways.
If you're a boater with a disability that makes it difficult to move your boat in line with our boat licence terms and conditions please contact your local licence support officer directly or call 0303 040 4040.
Any boater who has had reasonable adjustments approved, such as an extension on how often they have to move their boat, is given a 'Trust aware' badge to display in their window, if they wish to do so. This means our team and other boaters can see that a boat owner has been in contact with us and they need some flexibility in how they use our waterways.
Finally, if you are disabled boater, did you see news of a disabled boating conference in the last edition?
Heating your boat
Before we get into some useful advice ahead of the really cold months, here’s a reminder for continuous cruisers. The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has now issued all vouchers for the Energy Bills Support Scheme Alternative Funding to eligible continuous cruisers.
While the majority of vouchers have already been redeemed, there are many yet to redeem theirs. Please note the expiry date shown on your voucher. They are valid for up to two months, and some vouchers will start to expire from this Sunday.
Please check your inbox, including your spam/junk folder, for an email from PayPoint. The voucher is not an attachment. You will need to click ‘CLAIM MY PAYMENT’ to redeem the voucher. Vouchers issued by letter contain a QR code.
If you are eligible for this support and cannot locate your voucher, please [email protected] soon as possible.
If you are having trouble redeeming your voucher online or in person at a PayPoint retailer, please also contact [email protected].
If you have a solid fuel or diesel stove, or gas heating, make sure that your flue is sweptt clear of any sooty deposits and other debris before use. Any obstructions in the flue could not only reduce the efficiency of your heating, but lead to a dangerous build-up of carbon monoxide or even lead to a chimney fire.
Check the height and condition of any detachable chimney and replace it if necessary. A chimney that isn't long enough, or has holes where there shouldn't be any, won't allow the stove to draw correctly, so your fuel won't burn efficiently and will cost you more in the long run.
Get it serviced
All heating appliances need servicing at least annually. If your central heating is LPG gas, make sure that you use a suitably GasSafe qualified engineer and one that is specifically qualified for LPG. You can search of a list of engineers on the GasSafe register. Remember that portable gas heaters should never be used inside a boat.
Some basic diesel stove maintenance can be done yourself depending on the make of stove, but for anything more complicated, or if you're not confidently competent, get your stove serviced by a professional according the manufacturer's instructions.
Solid fuel stoves, especially cast-iron ones, should be checked carefully for cracks and faulty seals. You don't want any of the toxic gases escaping into the cabin.
Heating appliances need to breathe. Check and clean all your boat's ventilation grills and mushrooms, even if this means making the spiders temporarily homeless.
Never block a ventilation hole, no matter how cold and windy it gets, as you run the serious risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Alarums, divers alarums!
No, not a Shakespearian stage direction, but a reminder to check that you have both types of alarms.
In the same way that country and western go together, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms should also go together. It is now a mandatory part of the Boat Safety Examination to have the correct number and type of carbon monoxide alarm for your type of boat's accommodation.
Make sure you have at least one of each of a type suitable for boats and install them correctly. Make a note on your calendar for at least the first day of each month or make every Tuesday #TestItTuesday - and make sure you press those buttons.
Gathering winter fuel
If you burn wood out away from built up areas, you're going to need to source a reliable supply of dry, properly seasoned stuff.
You're then going to need a wood humidity tester and somewhere safe to keep your wood stack dry - and not next to the stove either, unless you want to be yet another sad statistic in the burnt-out boat stakes.
For gas, diesel and coal you'll need to make friends with your local licensed fuelboats or merchants/chandleries. Make sure you've got a list of telephone numbers to cover all eventualities, as bad weather can make deliveries difficult, and there is absolutely nothing worse than running out of supply in freezing weather.
If you're struggling financially and can't afford to buy fuel, please reach out for help. Equally, if you know someone who's struggling, please contact us. There's more information here.
Smoke control areas and smokeless zones
As mentioned a few editions ago, if you're boating in any urban area, whether it's a small town or large city, please only purchase and burn fuels approved for use in smokeless zones. The sale of “house” coal and non-kiln dried wood is no longer permitted.
Further changes in legislation mean that you're likely to receive a visit, a warning, and/or a fine via the local authority if you regularly produce an excessive amount of smoke.
Smoke Control Area regulations can now be applied to boats following the passing of the Environment Act 2021. It is therefore in your interest to run your stove as efficiently and with as little smoke as possible.
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, get in touch.
Future-proofing Anderton Boat Lift: An appeal
As Storm Babet so violently reminded us, canals and their infrastructure are centuries old and need a lot of resources to care for them. With this in mind we’ve launched a new winter appeal to ‘Keep Anderton Boat Lift Alive’ as it undertakes a major refurbishment project to ensure Cheshire’s historic ‘Cathedral of the Canals’ remains operational for the next generation.
The unique 150-year-old structure, the world’s first major commercial boat lift, needs an upgrade to enable the ageing machinery to continue transporting around 3,000 boats a year, 50 feet between the Trent & Mersey Canal and the River Weaver Navigation below.
Each year thousands of tourists enjoy trips through the lift and along the river to Northwich aboard the Edwin Clark trip boat, named after one of the lift’s 19th century creators. As well as welcoming up to 100,000 visitors each year, the site also offers educational visits for schools, and a range of volunteering opportunities.
In addition to the work required to preserve and protect the iconic structure, there is also a proposal for upgrades to the visitor centre, amenities, and grounds surrounding the boat lift, as well as plans to construct a contemporary education and events space and the development of new learning, skills, and outreach programmes.
The first milestone was achieved last December, when we were awarded a £574,000 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to support the development phase of this essential project.
Project manager Fran Littlewood said: “Anderton Boat Lift is one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ and it is our mission to keep it operational for generations to come.
“By January 2024, we are looking to appoint the main contractor, who will design and plan the works programme over the summer. We will be seeking further grant funding and support from local businesses and philanthropists, which will be vital in enabling us to deliver the project.
“If all goes well, the plan will be to close the lift in early summer 2025 and reopen it 12 - 18 months later. This means that boaters and visitors can expect to enjoy a full season of boating in 2024 and potentially a short window around the following Easter, before it is wrapped in a protective encapsulation skin to give it a special 150th anniversary upgrade.
If you visit online boating forums then you may have seen some recent online chatter about bins. More precisely that we’re removing bins, including boaters’ refuse facilities. This is not the case. What we have been doing, to reduce costs, is removing towpath litter bins that are there for the wider public (and urging them to take their rubbish home with them). We remain committed to offering disposal and recycling points for boaters.
Please note that the opening hours of Cambrian House in Brimingham will be changing over the winter period, from 6 November, to 9am to 3.30pm (Monday to Friday). So, there’s still ample chance to pop in to get your canal souvenirs or Christmas gifts!
We’d like to say a big thank you to boaters on the Shropshire Union, who made the young anglers taking part in our Global Communities Celebration on 21 October feel so welcome. They even made cups of tea for the young people and their parents as they braved some utterly miserable weather!
Last Edited: 03 November 2023
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