Boaters' Update 21 May 2021

Welcome to the latest, bumper, edition. Read the statistics behind the return of boating, museums reopening, how our joint ventures regenerate waterways and help fund maintenance and how you can help stop alien invaders. The usual roundup of news, stoppages and ways to get involved can also be found.

Boats traveling down Slough Arm, family walking on towpath Slough Arm, Grand Union Canal

Welcome to the latest edition. Earlier this week we all took another step towards life returning to some semblance of normality. As well as being able to cruise freely and stay on your boat overnight, you can now mix indoors on your boat with up to six people, or more than six if from just two households.

This will be great news for the many of you who haven’t wasted any time in getting back on the water and below you’ll see that lock usage has risen dramatically (along with a reminder of how to save water for the, hopefully, many months of boating to come this year).

This latest step in gradual ‘unlocking’ also means that some of our attractions and offices have reopened – there’s more on this below. Talking of our properties, this edition also continues the discussion about how we use our investments to fund waterway maintenance, this time focussing on our joint ventures.

Finally, next week is Invasive Species Week and you can read what you need to do to stop their spread.

As always, the routine round-up of news, stoppages and ways to get involved can also be found below.

Stay safe, happy boating,


In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 7 May – Let’s Fish! is back. Made possible with the support of players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we are hosting around 350 family friendly Let’s Fish! sessions this year (open to everyone aged six and over).
  • 7 May – A new waterside community orchard and woodland has been planted along a canal towpath near Bolton, on a slope between the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal and the River Irwell, to improve biodiversity and help protect the area from flooding.
  • 14 May – Work is about to begin on a two-year maintenance and repair project at Slaithwaite Reservoir which feeds the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.
  • 17 May – We announced that the Stop House at Braunston will remain in our ownership and that we seek to lease it to a third-party to generate a financial return that can be used to directly fund our waterway maintenance programmes.
  • 20 May – After a successful virtual Crick Boat Show in March, and an increasing likelihood that most restrictions will be lifted in the next couple of months, tickets have gone on sale for an ‘actual’ Crick Boat Show over the third weekend in August.


Lockdown easing sees boating life return

Now that ‘normal’ boating has been permitted since 12 April, we’ve been able to crunch the numbers to see how we’re progressing towards pre-pandemic levels of activity. In brief, the answer is very nicely!

At the same point last year, we were still very much in the thralls of the first lockdown, where only essential boat movements were allowed, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there’s been a 666% increase in lock usage. Looking further back, to 2019, current lock usage is 28% lower. This also shouldn’t be a surprise – many boaters have just returned to your boats for the first time and will be doing all the post-winter jobs that, ordinarily would have been done in February and March.

The other factor is uncertainty. After 14 months of false starts, where we thought we were on the road to normality only to end up locked down again, we can be forgiven for not planning too far ahead so I suspect some of you have been waiting for more concrete guarantees before setting out on a long cruise.

There are some geographical differences too. In our Wales & South West region lock usage is nearly at pre-pandemic levels with 84% of 2019 lockages being recorded. Whereas in our Yorkshire & North East region it’s 36% of 2019 levels (although we’re also contending with a breach on the Aire & Calder – a £3 million repair plan has been developed and we hope to have it complete by mid-August).

Getting busy

With the potential for a busier-than-ever year, maybe even with record numbers on the cut, it’s important that wherever possible we all take steps to conserve the precious, and essential, water resource. As you a boater, it’s always handy to refer back to the THRIFT mnemonic:

  • Two in a lock? Share locks
  • Help keep it in. Make sure gates and paddles are shut
  • Report any leaks to us
  • Invite oncoming boats through. Don’t empty or fill locks if someone else can make use of the water
  • Find another favourite. Explore less busy parts of our network
  • Think ahead. Plan cruises to minimise use of locks

As well as us all doing our bit to conserve water, and because it’s likely to be busy out on the cut this year, please also remember to be patient and respectful of other boaters, towpath users and our staff and volunteers.


Waterway museums reopening

Forget a pint indoors. Forget a slap-up meal indoors. Cinema? Nah. What you’ve really been waiting for is the chance to immerse yourself in waterway history and now you can!

The National Waterways Museum Gloucester seating areaEarlier this week both National Waterway Museums – at Gloucester and Ellesmere Port – reopened to the public. You may have visited one, or both, before but there have been changes that make a return worthwhile.

At Gloucester, while the exhibition galleries have been quiet, the team has been busy. Museum volunteers have been delving into the archives to prepare an exhibition of photos and videos showcasing Gloucester Docks and the museum through the decades. The exhibition will be housed in the museum’s floating gallery – the barge Sabrina 5.

It’s hoped that the museum’s own Dunkirk Little Ship, Queen Boadicea II, will back in action later in July. The historic boat has had a major make-over, with new seating and bar area ready for visitors to enjoy refreshments while listening to the brand new commentary on this leisurely 45 minute trip along the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal.

National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port, with the canal in the foregroundIn Ellesmere Port an amazing new floating garden, audio trail and extra outdoor café seating have been added to the fantastic boating displays on offer at the seven-acre, former docklands site, on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal and the Shropshire Union Canal. On Saturday 29 May, they will also be joined by an extensive new children’s play area.

Initially the museum will be open four days a week, Thursday – Sunday. And on most Sundays throughout the summer, starting on 27 June, the museum will be transformed into a living heritage ‘Canal Town’. This will give visitors the extra special experience of being transported back in time to the global port heydays of the late 19th century. Old ship warehouses, Victorian toll houses, worker cottages, locks, docks and stables will be brought alive by special set-dressing and volunteers offering free guided tours, storytelling, street games, family history, dressing-up and children’s activities.

Cambrian Wharf office reopening

After being closed for over a year, we’re delighted to let all of our customers know that our central Birmingham hub Cambrian House is now back open. Situated between Farmer’s Bridge top lock and Old Turn Junction, round the corner from the National Indoor Arena, there’s lots of reasons to pop in when you’re in the area:

  • Help – with local facilities and attractions, regional volunteering opportunities,
  • Chat – let us know what you’ve seen out and about on our waterways: problems needing sorting, opportunities for us to follow up etc.
  • Sign up -  for events (inc Let’s Fish!) or as a volunteer
  • Buy – Trust facility keys, pump-out cards, licence and other payments, ice creams, maps, canal-themed gifts, herbs and wildlife-friendly plants grown in our Wild in Birmingham greenhouse.  Please note we’re currently only accepting card payments

Open from 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday, we’ll soon be open again at weekends too, thanks to our small but committed group of Visitor Welcome Volunteers. 

Cambrian is just one of our network of Welcome Stations across the West Midlands and, this summer, you can expect a warm welcome at:

  • Coventry Basin
  • Fradley Junction
  • Harecastle Tunnel (south portal)
  • Hatton Locks
  • Hawkesbury Junction
  • Stourport Basin

Other Trust offices around the country have their own opening plans so please contact customer services to confirm before making a trip to an office.


Joint ventures – regenerating waterways and adding value

In a previous edition I gave an overview of our investment strategy, explaining that our ultimate aim is to grow the capital value and, importantly, income from these investments.  This is so that the Trust can continue to spend as much money as possible on looking after your waterways in real terms over time and helping to keep boating as affordable as possible.

Joint venture pic oneA smaller, but no less significant, part of this strategy is the redevelopment and regeneration of waterside property and land. Turning a run-down piece of land or historic building into an attractive waterside location can create another source of income, incorporate better boating facilities and can also attract more people to the waterways who, in turn, get to experience the wellbeing benefits of being by water.  Hopefully one day, they might get into boating or support our work in other ways by making a donation or volunteering their time.

To enable us to deliver these projects we've entered into a number of joint ventures with public and private partners. These partnerships have delivered big results over the years.

Let’s take Aldcliffe Yard in Lancaster as an example. The site, which sits within a conservation area, was a former British Waterways office and yard, and includes two Grade II Listed buildings which had been lying empty. The development consisted of a sympathetic refurbishment of the listed buildings and construction of brand new three and four-bedroom houses.

Several of the homes were completed using a trail blazing ‘custom build’ approach to house building. Buyers bought their plot outright and controlled the design and internal layout, but the house was constructed by the development project’s professional builders.

Supporting the Government’s policy to promote self-build and the conversion of redundant buildings, Aldcliffe Yard was even featured on a BBC Panorama programme in March 2015 as an exemplar scheme for doing its small bit to help solve Britain’s housing shortage.

Another, more boating-centric, example can be found at Hayhurst Quay in Northwich. The site previously comprised redundant and derelict commercial buildings, a mooring scheme in need of investment and improvement, and a derelict floating hotel. The collective impact of this was an unattractive, underused and unloved section of river through the town.

Development of the site has created a well-used public waterfront space for the town and successfully integrated with a new marina providing 40 moorings and a new waterside food store. The new open space also creatively incorporates heritage features, such as the historic slipway, within its very fabric, to strengthen its links with the water and its historic boating past. 

Phase Two of development will provide extra residential care accommodation for older residents. As well as a waterfront restaurant unit offering views over the river, marina and swing bridges.

Northwich isn’t the only place where, over the coming years, you’ll see more regeneration of waterside places which will enhance your boating experience as well as providing a valuable financial contribution to our work.

Among others, we’re working in collaboration with Birmingham City Council and private developers to deliver the regeneration of Icknield Port Loop, a formerly derelict industrial site extending to approximately 43 acres (18 hectares), to the west of Birmingham city centre. The scheme is already underway with the first phases of homes built and occupied alongside a new waterside park in a development which will eventually comprise around 1,150 new homes, plus retail, employment and leisure uses, along with community facilities and improved moorings.

Please do drop me a line if you have any questions about our joint ventures.


Canal & River Trust launches awareness campaign to stop alien invaders

Next week, 24 – 30 May, is National Invasive Species Week. It’s definitely not a celebration as non-native plants and animals can cause serious damage. They out-compete native wildlife, damage eco-systems and spread disease. They can also block waterways, forming a thick green carpet which restricts navigation, clogs up propellers and damages boats.

To stop the spread, everyone who uses the waterways, either for work or leisure, is asked to follow DEFRA guidelines to ‘check, clean and dry’ (guide below) all their equipment and personal clothing every time they move between different stretches of a canal, river or lake.

Pennywort chokesTo help explain this important message, we’ve produced three films aimed at giving detailed top tips to waterway workers, boatyards and marinas, as well as boaters, rowers, paddle boarders, canoeists, anglers and walkers.

Trust ecologist Tom King said: “The covid lockdown has resulted in many people discovering the delights of our waterways. However, with this use comes the extra challenge of making sure the problem of invasive species doesn’t become an even bigger problem.

“Plants like floating pennywort or curly waterweed grow so quickly and thickly – up to 20cm a day – they block the water. This makes it hard for powered boats, sailing boats and even paddle sports to move. Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed and giant hogweed can take over riverbanks in the summer and crowd out other plants, often dying back in the autumn, leaving riverbanks bare and exposed to erosion and flooding.

American Signal Crayfish coming out of water onto grass“Underwater, North American signal crayfish and small invertebrates, like freshwater shrimp, zebra mussels and quagga mussels, can cause enormous damage to local biodiversity. The mussels grow inside pipes and water-cooled engines, which then results in big costs and inconvenience to clear them out.

“Quagga mussels have even been found in an isolated Anglian Water reservoir in Lincolnshire. The nearest other known place with quagga mussels is London - over 140 miles away. They must have hitch-hiked on a person, their equipment, tools or machinery. Some species can survive for up to a week in damp equipment.    

“Please come and enjoy our wonderful blue spaces, but do your bit to stop the spread of non-native plants and animals. Whether you’re a boater, angler, canoeist, paddle boarder or walker, please follow the three simple steps of ‘check, clean, dry’ every time you move between waterways.”

Check, clean, dry

Of course, it is difficult to clean a boat of INNS as it usually stays on the water. That said, there are some general rules you can follow while moving around and especially if you go on to other waterbodies. You can help stop the spread:

  • Check the boat, equipment and clothing for mud and live organisms - particular in areas that are damp or hard to inspect.
  • Clean everything as thoroughly as you can, pay attention to fenders, prop and the lip around the boat.
  • Dry, drain water from every part of your boat, and dry everything for as long as possible before using it elsewhere. Some species can live for many days in moist conditions. Make sure you don’t transfer water elsewhere.
  • If you are getting your boat lifted out of the water, for reblacking or transport, please ensure that ALLthe hull is jet washed including the bottom. This should be done as soon as it comes out of the water.

If you ever do take an INNS out of its habitat, under the law it is illegal to put it back. This applies even if that INNS is common in the area. An INNS taken out of its habitat must be placed in a location that prevents it getting back into that habitat or another e.g. floating pennywort will quickly dry out if left on dry land and Himalayan balsam will quickly die if pulled out and placed on a hard surface. With animals there is no requirement or expectation to kill them, just to stop them spreading or returning to the water.

Find out more about how you can stop the spread of invasive species.

There is also more information on the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat website, supported by DEFRA.


Get involved

Many boaters go the extra mile in helping to keep canals and rivers in good condition by volunteering, donating, or just picking up the odd piece of discarded litter. In whatever form your volunteering takes, we’d like to take the opportunity to say thank you. Your support helps make life better by water.

As you’re such an integral part of what makes waterways so wonderful, I thought you’d like to know about other ways you can get involved:

  • The results of our annual Boater Survey have now been published. Thanks to everyone who took part earlier the year. We’ve now started our summer surveys and the first wave has gone out this week so do please check your inbox. It’ll be from an email address like this: Another wave will go out at the start of next month.


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 anything that’s happening that may affect you if you’re planning to get out on your boat this weekend:

When any 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. You can set up your smartphone to automatically notify 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 just get in touch.


Last date edited: 21 May 2021

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The boaters' update

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