Skip to main content

The charity making life better by water

Boaters’ Update 9 February 2024

Welcome to Boaters’ Update. Read on to find out more about the scale of work going on at our reservoirs around the country. Then find out if you used any of the top ten busiest locks in 2023.

An aerial shot of a narrowboat passing other moored boats and surrounded by high-rise flats.

An introduction to two of your newly elected representatives to the Trust Council follows and, with the weather set to turn colder again, the edition finishes with a reminder about Smoke Control Areas and how they apply to boats.

As ever, you’ll also find the list of current stoppages.

Stay safe, happy boating,


P.S. If you’re going to BoatLife at the NEC in Birmingham (15 to 18 Feb) then do pop by our stand, E205, and have a chat! If you haven’t got your tickets yet, there’s a ticket code - quote CRT - and get £3 off!

In this edition:

  • Unseen, but essential, reservoir projects
  • Where were you last year?
  • Meet your Council representatives
  • Maintenance, repair and restoration work affecting cruising this weekend
  • Smoke Control Areas
  • Bits & bobs
Several cranes in a drained reservoir carrying out repair work.

Unseen, but essential, reservoir projects

If we had the pleasure of your company at last weekend’s Open Day at Brent Reservoir, the title of this article will be entirely inaccurate – as you have seen! That said, there’s a vast amount of essential work going on around the country to upgrade around 30 of our reservoirs, which are some of the oldest in the UK and which many waterways rely on, over the next two years.

There’s so much happening that it’s hard to find a suitable place to start so, in lieu of a better idea, we’ll begin with the biggest. Toddbrook Reservoir.

In summer 2019, after a period of intense rainfall, the 1970s concrete panels on the spillway began to collapse. An around-the-clock response resulted in around 1,500 people being evacuated from the town of Whaley Bridge and over a billion litres of water (stored in the reservoir to supply the Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals) being quickly pumped out (enough to fill over five and a half million baths).

As part of the first phase of reinstating the 180-year old reservoir, an important repair project to the dam's damaged auxiliary spillway was completed in late summer 2020, greatly increasing its resilience against extreme weather events.

A protective, waterproof nib, or short wall, has been added to the crest of the dam wall above the damaged spillway. This reaches down to create a seal with the dam's clay core and ensures no water from inside the reservoir can penetrate beneath the concrete slabs at the top of the spillway.

The spillway crest has also been increased in height by just over one metre with the installation of a sturdy waterproof concrete wall. Engineers completed the job with the installation of new pressure relief holes and joint repairs on the spillway.

Work then set about creating a site compound in a local park. This included installing site accesses and realigning existing drainage and feeder channels. We also preserved a route to walk through the park on a footpath connecting Reservoir Road to the Memorial Park Bridge, which features a viewing point. New children's play equipment was also installed in a temporary location at the top of the dam, next to Whaley Bridge Athletic Football Club.

At the end of the project, a new playground, similar to the existing one, will be rebuilt at its original location in the park. The park will also be re-landscaped with replacement trees, wildlife habitats, extra paths and a new footbridge over the reservoir bypass channel.

In late 2022, construction work began to create a new overflow spillway structure to the north of the dam. This involved building a side channel weir, ‘tumble bay', spillway channel and stilling basin which will link into the existing bypass channel flowing into the River Goyt in the park. Our specialist consultants Arup created this fly-through video, which goes some way to highlighting the scale of the work on the new Toddbrook overflow spillway route. The video only shows the new construction project, not existing landmarks like Toddbrook Lodge.

Construction continued throughout last year with hundreds of piles being installed (ranging in size from 13 to 39ft in height). When complete the total number will be around 1,000!

We are anticipating much of the new spillway construction work will be completed by the end of 2024 and the reservoir restoration work finished by summer 2025. This will be followed by demobilisation of the construction site, building the new sailing club, and extensive landscaping to return Toddbrook Reservoir and Memorial Park back to public use.

We are now expecting a project end date around autumn 2025. We recognise this is later than hoped for: both the weather and ground conditions have proved challenging, but looking ahead, works will be above ground, and it may be possible to make up time. Once complete, this essential project is estimated to have cost around £25 million.

Other notable reservoir projects

  • Harthill Reservoir, located between Sheffield and Worksop and supplying water to the Chesterfield Canal, is a complex project with specific Measures in the Interest of Safety including a new spillway arrangement and upstream controls on both draw off pipes. Work started on site in September 2022, with planned completion in March 2024 at a cost of around £11 million.
  • Brent Reservoir, in London, which feeds the Grand Union Canal, will see repainting of the valve house tower structure and repairing sluice gate mechanisms. Currently, about 95% of reservoir water volume has been emptied which included extensive silt mitigation measures with frequent water quality sampling and monitoring. To date, over 16,000lbs (8 tonnes) of fish have been rescued and relocated. The total project cost is expected to be around £2.5 million and, in the video below, heritage advisor Phil Emery gives a behind the scenes tour and talks about the fascinating history of the reservoir.
  • At March Haigh Reservoir, West Yorkshire, we are creating permanent access for future maintenance, inspection and operation of this remote reservoir. The work will hopefully be completed this month.
  • At the more-than 220-year-old Wilstone Reservoir, another feeder for the Grand Union Canal near Aylesbury, there is embankment stabilisation and leakage reduction work which is expected to complete by summer 2025.
  • Belvide Reservoir, a feeder for the Shropshire Union Canal, in South Staffordshire, will see the repair and re-pointing of the wave wall, replacing the spillway overflow weir, improving access and mechanical improvements to sluice operation which are all planned to be completed by the end of this month.
  • At Knypersley Reservoir, also in Staffordshire and a feeder for the Caldon Canal, the spillway and draw off tunnel, designed by famed canal engineer Thomas Telford in 1820, require masonry re-pointing which we’ll be working on in August and hope to complete by the end of the year.
  • Reservoir improvement works were completed in 2023 of a new spillway to Startopsend, near Marsworth, a feeder for the Grand Union Canal, drainage works to Killington, east of Kendal which supplies the Lancaster Canal, stability and drainage works to Barrowford which feeds the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, as does the Winterburn Reservoir, near Burnley, where masonry repairs took place. There were also enhancements to the emergency drawdown facility at Trench, in Telford, and an access road to Blackmoss, east of Clitheroe.

Where were you last year?

Just as vital as our water-feeding reservoirs, locks are an iconic part of the waterways. As you probably know, we monitor their operation across our network. This is an essential element in our water resources management and helps us to understand the changing patterns in the use of our 2,000 miles of waterways. We’ve just published our Annual Lockage Report for 2023.

Lockage can be defined as lock usage through the filling and emptying of a lock chamber. This allows the movement of water and the passage of boats. The latest annual lockage totals for each of the sites are included over the last three years and in the latest report, which we’ve been publishing for over 20 years, you can see the most popular locations for lock use on our network, maps showing the average annual lockage by region, and the change in recorded lockage from the previous year.

While the headline is that there was a 2% year-to-year decrease in the number of lockages, the big question is which region had the most lockages? Drum roll please! The Midlands, overall, was the busiest with the West Midlands pipping the East Midlands to the number one spot. Just making the podium ahead of London & South East were our locks in Wales & South West.

Diving into the detail, the West Midlands held six of the top ten busiest locks with Hillmorton Locks 2 & 3, on the Oxford Canal, being the busiest on our network. Marbury Lock, on the Llangollen Canal, also made the top ten as did Lock 6, at Braunston, on the Grand Union Canal, Lock 4, Cholmondeston, on the Shropshire Union Canal and Lock 14, Bradford on Avon, on the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Locks at Berkhamstead

Meet your Council representatives

As you’ll no doubt remember from a couple of editions ago, four new private boating representatives, voted for by you, will join our Council on 1 April. While the names have been announced we thought it’d be good to get to know them a bit better. In the first of a two-parter, you can find out more about Penelope Barber and Fiona Burt.

Headshot of Penelope Barber

Penelope Barber

How long have you been a boater? Since September 1989.

What drew you to boating? I’m the classic “following a break-up” route! I needed somewhere dog-friendly to live, was still responsible in part for the former marital home, so couldn’t get a second mortgage for a property. I fell in love fast with our waterways – the joy of being amongst but apart in busy cities and towns, the freedom of being just a rope and a knot away from a change, the engineering, imagination and courage of design and construction, the slow speed making you really notice and inhale every detail of your surroundings urban and pastoral, the privilege and romance of tying up in the middle of nowhere.

Favourite canal/river? Caldon.

Best thing about boating? Locks. Love ‘em. Except Hatton (unless breasted up). Bosley Flight is my favourite – so far.

Why did you apply to represent private boaters on the Trust’s Council? I was very active in the National Association of Boat Owners and the Residential Boat Owners Association in the 1990s and went on to administer the Parliamentary Waterways Group 2001-2005. I stepped away from boat politics to focus on my career, which continued to include representation, advocacy, lobbying and negotiation.

I trained as accountant and auditor, moving to general management. I have solid knowledge of an exceptional range of sectors and activities, including charities’ governance. Many years volunteering at all levels, including two terms of office as a University Member of Council.

I’m able and confident in communicating with a wide variety of people and perspectives, identifying the crux of an idea or issue to explore.

I am now retired and ready to serve private boaters in debating points of principle, suggesting issues of concern and being a Trustees’ sounding board.

What do you hope to achieve over the next four years? To explore some of the behaviours and decision making styles in all areas of activity, and the attitudes towards people living on boats.

There’s much that has puzzled me and others for years; I hope some practices can be addressed and altered. I’ve paid thousands of pounds in licence and mooring fees, but never feel like a customer – the organisational attitude seems to be that I’m a nuisance.

What are your aspirations for the canal and river network? I am passionate about retaining and maintaining our industrial and social heritage as living and lively navigations. This means ensuring boating, including living aboard without a home mooring, is an affordable aspiration supported by the Trust and that people and assets are deployed effectively.

And finally, what’s one thing that most people don’t know about you? I’m not keen on salt and vinegar crisps.

Headshot of Fiona Burt

Fiona Burt

How long have you been a boater? My first experience afloat was about 45 years ago. My dad was asked to 'boat-sit' by a colleague who had been seconded to America. The narrowboat, Ballinger, was based in Alvechurch Marina just south of Birmingham and one of the perks of the 'job' was free holidays.

By the time he returned, our family (apart from my younger sister) were hooked. There was an old Fellows, Morton and Clayton butty called Malvern under a couple of feet of water in the marina. My dad bought her and reconstructed a traditional timber cabin over the engine (which someone else had fitted). Then my mum sewed miles of canvas. The restoration took a few years; we got used to camping under plastic sheeting supplied by my uncle who was a carpet fitter. At that time, you had to be pretty ingenious to navigate the canal system as much of the network had been left to rot.

What drew you to boating? I don't think I really appreciated boating when I was a child. We were touring the BCN in the '80s while my schoolfriends were all heading for the Costa del Sol on cheap package holidays. It's hard to get a tan on the BCN!

I enjoyed working the locks though and once we had kids of our own, it seemed like a brilliant way to holiday together because everyone could find something that they liked to do. Our eldest son was very active and would cycle ahead to set the locks, our daughter loved baking and would take over the galley, whilst our youngest son was happy reading a book and watching the trees go by.

We hired in parts of the country that we hadn't been able to see on Malvern and often took the grandparents with us. It was exciting to experience the Falkirk Wheel on the Forth & Clyde and get on to the northern canals which weren't possible in a 70' boat.

My husband and I always thought that we would own a boat at some point, but living in Cardiff we were such a long way from the network that it didn't seem sensible. Then Covid hit and his job moved online. He was working from our bedroom and we realised that, with decent wifi, he could work from anywhere in the country.

It coincided with the kids leaving home. We spent nearly a year looking for the right boat and started continuous cruising aboard Lutra Lutra in November 2021. We thought that we would do a couple of years and tour the whole network. This is our third winter and we've nowhere near finished. In fact, we've stopped trying to 'bag those waterways' and become much more laid back about where we cruise. We are, however, keeping track of all the IWA Silver Propeller Sites. We may yet achieve 20 and claim that award.

Favourite canal/river? I love the scenery on the Peak Forest Canal, but maybe that's because we haven't yet made it to the end of the Caldon or the Chesterfield. I've also got a soft spot for Kinver on the Staffordshire & Worcester, because I'm drawn to the sandstone rock houses. We visited before the National Trust restored them. And last year, I'd just started to appreciate the River Trent when Storm Babet hit and we got caught in the floods. Oh, and, of course, everyone loves the Llangollen. Actually, I can pretty much find something to appreciate wherever we go.

Best thing about boating? I love the oxymorons: Boating is a relaxing way to exercise. It's also a purposeful way to go nowhere in particular.

Why did you apply to represent private boaters on the Trust’s Council? We are sociable boaters and have spent the last two years chatting to everyone we meet on the towpaths. These are the people who work and play on the waterways and they have some great ideas as to how to maintain and improve them.

Joining the Council will hopefully provide a way to pass on their opinions and suggestions to the Canal & River Trust. Not all of them will, of course, be workable, but it’s amazing how much knowledge and expertise is out there amongst the private boaters. We don't just pay our licence fees, we really care about the waterways.

What do you hope to achieve over the next four years? I hope to bring some creative ideas to the table; in particular to address the funding gap. I'm passionate about volunteers and volunteering. I've done plenty of volunteer roles in my life, so I know how important it is to make the volunteering worthwhile and make the volunteers feel valued.

I would also like to address some of the communication issues that we have personally experienced with the Trust. And, of course, I want to carry on cruising and enjoying the canal system and meeting new people.

What are your aspirations for the canal and river network? I would love to see the waterways thriving. That means different things in different parts of the network and each canal or river needs to be managed individually. There is no 'one-size-fits-all', which is why it's so important to hear the voices of the local people who are currently using the waterways, as well as seeking to draw in and address the needs of those who are not yet involved, but could be.

Whilst I'm keen to be a strong voice for the private boaters as we're the ones paying the licence fees, I recognise that we are actually only a small part of the waterways community.

And finally, what’s one thing that most people don’t know about you? I'm a pretty straightforward, honest person - there's not much that I keep hidden. But I love an adventure, especially if it involves water. So next time you meet me at the waterpoint, ask about the time I sailed down the Suez Canal with an American, a Bulgarian and two Irishmen.

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.

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

Narrowboats moored on the offside of the canal with snow covered fields and towpath and sun shining through the trees

Smoke Control Areas

With a decent amount of winter still to play out it’s a fair bet that, if you have one, you’ll be using your wood burning stove to make your boat nice and toasty. But, did you know that vessels can now be included in local authority Smoke Control Area rules (subject to local consultation)?

It’s something that every boater will have to get used to. As of 1 September, a Smoke Control Area covering a canal will come into force. The area is in Cannock Chase covering part of the Trent & Mersey Canal and the Cannock Extension. New SCA signs will be installed at the entrance to the SCA (the signs and installation will be paid for by the local council).

A Smoke Control Area is a legally defined area where you cannot emit a substantial amount of smoke from a chimney – this interactive map* from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) shows where they are. You can be issued a penalty by the local authority of between £175 to £300 if you break this rule.

In addition, you must not buy unauthorised fuel for use in a Smoke Control Area unless it is to be used in an exempt appliance. You can be fined up to £1,000 if you break this rule. A lot of wood burning stoves are classed as an exempt appliance – you can find a full list of those classed as exempt here. If your wood burning stove isn’t listed then you are only permitted to burn authorised fuels in Smoke Control Areas – a list of authorised fuels can be found online. Note that different rules apply in England and Wales and the differences are set out when you look at the lists of appliances and fuels.

Two boats in winter with smoke blowing out of their chimneys.

Even when you’re not moored in a Smoke Control Area – some busy spots on the waterways, such as Bradford on Avon, aren’t in a SCA – you should always try to be a good neighbour and limit the amount of smoke you emit. Some top tips from one of our readers are:

  • Keep fuel dry as far as is practical and use the right fuel for your stove.
  • Use smokeless fuels.
  • Only add fuel a little at a time, adding a lot in one go produces lots of smoke, especially if it’s damp.
  • Never burn plastics, chipboard, treated wood (including pallets) and other types of rubbish as they can emit harmful fumes and toxic pollutants.

In summary, wherever you are, try to create as little smoke as possible. If you are in a Smoke Control Area then check that your stove is listed as exempt before using it to burn wood. If it’s not listed as exempt then only use authorised fuels (linked above). Some more hot tips can be found here!

If you’re struggling with the cost of smokeless fuel then help might be at hand in the form of the Government’s Household Support Fund. Your local licence support team can help direct you to the appropriate local authority department.

Finally, there’s great website called where you can check which benefits and grants you’re eligible for.

*DEFRA point out that the data on the map is indicative only and you should always contact the local authority to confirm if you are in a Smoke Control Area. *

Bits & bobs

  • We appreciate all the volunteering efforts that many boaters already do but, if you’ve got a few hours to spare and don’t already then, as mentioned in the last edition, our volunteer recruitment drive is still underway and we’d love to have you as part of our team.
  • Do you have a winter mooring? If so, and with the exception of Salthouse Dock in Liverpool, you have just under three weeks left on your mooring. If you purchased a winter mooring permit, the latest date on which it is valid is 29 February 2024 and, after which point, your normal cruising requirements resume.

Happy boating, Damian

Last Edited: 12 February 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