Boaters' Update 5 Nov 2021

Welcome to the latest edition. I'll keep this brief as there's a lot to get through - recent work for boaters in the West Mids, Boater and Annual Reports, greening your boating, great news for Welsh canals and a shout out for your help! Oh, of course, there's also the latest news and stoppages...

Fireworks over Anderton Boat Lift Fireworks over Anderton Boat Lift

Welcome to the latest edition. The clocks have gone back, the first frosts have been laid and our winter works programme has started! In the first article you can read about some of what we’ll be doing this winter in the West Midlands as well as what we’ve been doing recently.

The second article starts with a video message from chief exec, Richard Parry, who, as we publish this year’s Boater and Annual reports, reflects on the challenges (and achievements) of the past year and looks ahead at those to come.

Following that, and very much front of mind at the moment, read about how to make your boating greener which is swiftly followed by some fantastic news for Welsh canals, 2022/23 boat licence fees and, finally, we’d like your help in gathering information on facilities and services to bolster our store of useful information for disabled boaters.

As always, a round-up of news and stoppages can also be found below.

Happy boating,

Damian

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 22 Oct – We received our second round of funding from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund, which will support seven major heritage projects across the country.
  • 28 Oct – We published our 2020/21 Annual Report & Accounts. More on this below.
  • 29 Oct – Welsh canals to receive over £20 million from UK Government. More on this below.

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Working for boaters in the West Midlands

As you’ll have seen in recent editions we’ve been working hard to fix and improve the things that you, boaters, need when they want to enjoy some time afloat. It’s been no different in the West Midlands and in the following article you’ll find out not only about the maintenance we’ve been doing but all the other things that contribute to making your time on the water as good as it can be.

Similar to other parts of the waterway network, when boaters in the West Midlands get in touch about a piece of waterway kit it’s usually a lock (over half of these type of calls have been about locks in the last month or so). With this in mind let’s start with that topic.

Locks

Void below below stand Droitwich Barge Canal beforeIt doesn’t matter if you haven’t been boating in the West Midlands recently. No matter where you are you’ll probably have seen us out greasing lock gears, fixing paddles and generally trying to keep locks operational in what has been a busier-than-usual year for boating.

Not every job is quite so visible though. You may remember the issues at Oxclose Lock, on the Ripon Canal, back in the summer. A void was found beneath the lock chamber which needed around 100 tonnes of gravel Void below below stand Droitwich Barge Canal afterto fill and seal. More recently, a sinkhole appeared nearby which required five tonnes of stone and two of soil to fill.

While not on the same scale, but equally in need of repair, was a void found below the paddle gear stand at Lock 4 on the Droitwich Barge Canal. 

As you’ll know, during the busier times on the cut – pretty much from Easter until the October half-term – our focus is on keeping navigations open as much as we can. When it’s quieter, as it is now, we get the big toys out and do some of the major jobs. A few examples you’ll see in the West Midlands this winter are:

  • Gate replacements at Lock 3, Ryders Green, Walsall Canal
  • Resin grouting behind lock walls at Lock 14, Cheddleton Bottom Lock, Caldon Canal
  • Gate replacements, chamber brickwork and ladder improvements at Lock 2, Minworth, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal
  • Gate replacements, chamber brickwork and ladder improvements at Lock 2, Stourton, Stourbridge Canal

Not locks

Have you ever met a boater who levitates over the towpath and off in to town? No? Nor have we! This is partly why we spend time, effort and money on the upkeep and improvement of towpaths – a cruise would be less enjoyable if you could only ever moor up next to a litter-filled muddy puddle.

Litter picking on the Wyrley & Essington CanalWe've seen a huge increase in litter and plastic on our canals and that’s why we launched our #PlasticsChallenge (supported by the likes of Deborah Meaden and Tony Robinson!). Sadly, it’s an issue in the West Midlands too so, volunteers working with our Kickstarter colleagues – young people working with the Trust as part of the Government’s Kickstart scheme - have been helping to clean up the Wyrley & Essington Canal in Walsall and Wolverhampton.

Area Operations Manager, Aaron Atwal, said “It’s great to bring together such a diverse range of people and teams to make a real difference to the local environment.” 

Frustratingly, there’s recently been a large amount of inconsiderate, and illegal, fly-tipping. The local operations team would rather the time Llangollen Canal new towpath surfacethey spend clearing it, around 30 hours a week, let alone the cost, about £30k this year (just around Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Sandwell), be spent on making the boating experience better. 

As well as clearing up after those too lazy and inconsiderate to properly dispose of their waste, we continue to proactively improve towpaths to provide better routes for boaters, and others, to places of interest. On the Llangollen Canal the towpath works, between bridges 13W and 17W St Martins, are coming along nicely! They’re being done to make the towpath wider, improve drainage and produce a more accessible routeway. 

Filling holes on the Trent & Mersey CanalAs you’ll know, in some places in the West Midlands, there’s a bit of bank between the water’s edge and the towpath. And in Stone, Staffordshire, we are lucky to have such an enthusiastic bunch of volunteers who, poetically, used stone to fill in 35 holes along the towpath margin so that it’s easier for boaters to moor up along that stretch of the Trent & Mersey Canal. 

Other invaders

While keeping the cut clear of litter and fly-tippings is part of the battle, more organic invaders, the Water Fern (Azolla) and Floating Pennywort, also needed tackling.

Walsall Canal before weevilsEnvironmental scientist, Charles Hughes, set about conducting Floating Pennywort treatment at Jacob’s Cut Feeder off Bittell Reservoirs (Site of Special Scientific Interest). As part of the £600,000 Invasive Species project funded by Severn Trent water. In the process we cleared significant amounts of Floating Pennywort on Jacob’s Cut which improves water supply for boating on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

Walsall Canal after weevilsOn the Walsall Canal, the Azolla was rapidly reproducing. It’s an aquatic non-native invasive species that can cause havoc, occasionally achieving 100% cover over the water surface as a carpet and sometimes up to 30cm thick. To deal with it, Charles Hughes and his team released 2,500 weevils as a biocontrol agent. You might think that the 2mm-long weevils (Stenopelmus rufinasus) consume a relatively small amount of Azolla and you’re right! However, they breed to produce very large populations which, together, will feed extensively, until sections of Azolla start to die and sink to the bottom, where it decomposes. The transformation is almost miraculous! The before and after photos above right are amazing!

Customer Surgeries

If you’ve been in the region recently you may have seen our Boat Licence Support team hosting waterside surgeries ready to answer any queries you may have, whether boating or canal related.

Market Drayton customer surgeryThe most recent one, held at Market Drayton, proved to be a great success. You can never tell what the weather will do, but we were pleased that it was a mighty fine day at the Ginger & Spice Festival where licence support supervisor, Helen Underhill, and licence support officer, Liz Sollars, held an open surgery.

Many boaters, and boat traders, stopped by with questions, or for just a chat, and went away with leaflets on carbon monoxide safety and a map of the region. If you didn’t make the last one then don’t worry, we have more planned (as well as regular online events):

  • Tuesday 23 Nov at Diglis on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, 10am till 2pm
  • Monday 6 Dec at Fradley Junction on the Coventry/Trent & Mersey Canal, 10am till 2pm

If you can’t see us in person then there’s always the opportunity to join us for dedicated boat licence support sessions on our regional Twitter account on the following dates:

  • Tuesday 4 Jan 2022, 10am till 2pm
  • Tuesday 1 Feb 2022, 10am till 2pm

Otherwise, our Cambrian Office, at the top of Farmers Bridge flight in central Birmingham, is open until Christmas Eve, and we have brand new stock for boaters! Whether you need Christmas gifts or essentials such as pump out cards, keys - we have you covered. We’re open 9am till 4pm Monday to Saturday so do pop in and see us!

Please also note that we have exciting plans to refurbish Cambrian in the run up to the Commonwealth Games, so we will be closing from January to March – look out for a fresh announcement closer to the time.

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2021 Boater Report and Annual Report published

The last 12 months have been, to put it mildly, unprecedented and unpredictable. The new edition of your annual Boater Report looks back on those turbulent times, some of the work we’ve done and how it’s been funded.

Before reading on though you might like to watch this video message from chief exec, Richard Parry, who talks about the past year, as well as the challenges that lay ahead, and explains that boaters are, and will continue to be, a vital part of the waterway network.

This year the Report highlights examples of the work we do to keep the waterways safe and open for navigation. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, this included the completion of almost 100 major projects, on top of 282 planned repairs and 68 arising and emergency repairs. In total, we replaced 92 lock gates and spent £6.5m on dredging and £8.9m on vegetation management. 

Our income is derived from a variety of sources, around a quarter coming from the return on its investments, and a quarter from the annual Government grant. Boat licences and income from boating businesses play an important role, contributing around a fifth of the total, while commercial income from utilities and water development accounts for around the same amount. Income also comes from lottery funds, corporate and local authority partnerships, and donations from the public.

In 2020/21 our income was broadly in line with the previous year at £215.4m (2019/20: £216.1m). This reflects the actions taken in recent years to ensure that income, vital for looking after the ageing waterways infrastructure, is secure. Whilst overall spend on charitable activities decreased year-on-year by £10.8m to £183.3m, partly the result of provisions for Toddbrook Reservoir made a year ago, underlying expenditure on core maintenance, repairs and infrastructure works continued to grow.

However, over the past year, the Trust’s role in supporting boaters’ welfare became even more significant. The Report details some of the progress we have made with statutory partners and agencies, making access to universal credit and health services easier for those living afloat, as well as expanding its safeguarding team.

The Report will be provided as a PDF which will be included as a link with licence renewals and new boat licence applications. If you’d rather not wait until your licence renews, you can read the full Boater Report here.

Annual Report & Accounts (and details of our Annual Public Meeting!)

Last week we also published our 2020/21 Annual Report & Accounts. With a broader perspective, they too document a year dominated by Covid-19, from the pandemic’s operational and financial impact on the Trust, to the lifeline the waterways and towpaths provided throughout for millions of people across England and Wales. The Report also looks ahead to the 2021/22 Government Grant Review and demonstrating the waterways’ benefit to the nation.

The challenges in 2020/21 did not stop at the pandemic, with extreme weather and floods continuing to cause emergency works, with a breach, covered in earlier editions, on the Aire & Calder Navigation outside Goole in December, followed by Storm Christoph early in the new year causing extensive damage across the North West. This coincided with the year-long re-build of Figure of 3 Bottom Lock, damaged during flooding in early 2020. 

In total, extreme weather events cost us over £5m in unplanned works. We have taken considerable steps forward in the stewardship of our reservoirs, with a strengthened team and a major review of all high-risk assets (with a high consequence of failure) that will lead to a significant uplift in planned expenditure to further strengthen their resilience over the next few years.

Playing a key role

Allan LeightonAllan Leighton, our chairman, comments: “Our canals, rivers and towpaths have played a key role for so many people in the face of the national pandemic. During those times when people were restricted to their immediate area, our local waterways – on the doorstep for millions – provided the spaces that people desperately needed, to exercise and connect with nature.

“The role of our network as a cornerstone of a ‘natural health service’ has been fully vindicated by its value to so many people, seeking respite from the mental stress and physical limitations of the lockdowns. They provided vital access to the outdoors, to green and blue spaces, particularly critical for those living in densely populated towns and cities where access to the natural environment was so limited and so many don’t have access to a back garden.

“The estimated total number of visits to our waterways rose to nearly 750 million in the year, demonstrating the significant reach of our natural network, and its impact on the nation’s health and wellbeing.”

This year the Annual Public Meeting will be hosted online on 22 November at 2pm with people able to view and submit questions to our chief executive and chair. For more information please visit this webpage.

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Going green on your boat

Unless you’ve been hibernating it will have been nigh on impossible to avoid coverage of the news coming out of the ongoing COP26 (the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties) in Glasgow. Pledges such as ending deforestation and slashing methane emissions by nearly a third by 2030, among others, have already been announced.

Boats moored on towpathWith such a focus on the battle to combat global warming it’s the perfect time to consider what things, as a boater, you can do to help the fight. It’s a subject we discussed a few years ago in Boaters’ Update, and we’ll revisit some of what you said, but first we’ll look at what is probably the biggest polluter when it comes to boating activity – your engine.

You may recall that back in April we talked about the Government’s Clean Maritime Plan that states that by 2025 there must be a plan in place to ensure that all vessels (including those on inland waters) are able to meet the zero emissions by 2050 target.

In the same article we featured Rob Howdle and Caroline Badger’s boat building company, Ortomarine, which is dedicated to reducing boating’s carbon footprint. They described how a mini flotilla of Ortomarine boats were taking part in a trial with a goal of documenting and publishing, real life performance figures for their latest serial and parallel hybrid designs. The results are in!

The trial involved traditional diesel powered, HVO diesel powered (more on this below) and two types of hybrid powered boats. The full, detailed, 60-page report is available online and it’s a good read but, to cut to the chase, the most efficient form of propulsion were the Serial Hybrid systems (where there is only an electric engine as opposed to a Parallel Hybrid system which has both electric and diesel engines) which can reduce the fuel burned to one third of a standard diesel installation.

HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) as fuel

There is, of course, a cost in installing a Serial Hybrid system but the trial also showed that, even if you don’t refit to some sort of hybrid system, you can reduce CO2 emissions by 90% compared with normal diesel fuel by using HVO fuel.

Just this week the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) published its verdict after trialling HVO in a variety of boats. In summary, and the short to medium term, the IWA believes that HVO is a viable alternative that almost all boaters can use immediately and, in turn, drastically reduce emissions and improve fuel consumption.

Jonathan Mosse who leads on alternative fuels for IWA’s Sustainable Boating Group says, “While we all agree that electric drives in one form or another are most certainly the future for inland waterway craft, these are still a long way off for most of the existing fleet. For the foreseeable future, the reality is that the vast majority of engines and generators will still be diesel-powered. We need to urgently find a way to change to a more sustainable fuel for our boats, something that not only reduces carbon emissions but also protects the unique waterways environment. We believe we have found the answer in HVO. We also believe that the time to change is now.”. More details on the IWA’s trial can be found on its’ website.

Small changes, big impact

Changing the way you propel, or fuel, your boat may have the biggest, positive, environmental impact but there are also other things you can do. Back in 2018 you suggested some tips to make boating greener which can be broadly summarised as:

  • Catch the first litre or so of water when going for a shower and use for rinsing in the kitchen - it’s too cold to shower in!
  • Use washing up water to flush the loo (less grey water in the canal too).
  • When cleaning the boat outside, use canal water rather than gallons of fresh water from a hose at a water point.
  • Bamboo toothbrushes (available on The Onion Barge), no plastic on veg, Bees Wax Wrapsinstead of clingfilm – look for ways to reduce plastic use and swap for more environmentally-friendly products.
  • A way all boaters can engage with and improve the canal environment is to have a string bag and a fish landing net on board. While boaters travel and admire the countryside if they notice rubbish and plastics floating in the edges of the canal stop and pick it out with the net.
  • Use of water-based epoxy paint systems which reduce the time between painting coats and lowers the amount of hazardous chemicals introduced into the water system.
  • Pick up litter whenever you stop
  • Install solar hot water system to heat water during the summer instead of running the engine.
  • Install solar panel and/or wind turbine for battery charging.
  • Remove log burners and replace with alternative electric or gas heating.
  • When replacing/buying new electrical appliances go for the most energy efficient.

A lot has changed in the last few years so if there’s more you’d like to see added to the list above then do please let me know.

What are we doing?

We’ve already begun work, with external experts, on a net-zero strategy which we’ll publish next spring. We’re also working with partners on a range of projects that support the Government’s decarbonisation agenda and tackling the physical effects of climate change.

Heating and cooling. Water-sourced heat pumps have the potential in the UK to heat and cool a quarter of a million waterside homes, as well as other commercial buildings, saving well over a million tonnes per year of CO2 entering the atmosphere compared to more traditional energy sources. The technology is helping to heat and cool buildings at large commercial sites such as GlaxoSmithKline’s canal-side headquarters in London, the Hepworth Wakefield art gallery, the Mailbox shopping and media centre in Birmingham, York’s Guildhall, and Dollar Bay and Baltimore Tower in London’s Docklands. The Trust is also involved in big infrastructure projects like Nottingham’s District Heating Network where waterways are used to cool the generation plant.

Low-carbon energy. The Trust’s waterways support hydro schemes generating around 21MWh per year, the equivalent energy for around 10,000 homes, with the potential to create a further 17MWh of hydro power for adjacent buildings and developments, particularly those located near weirs and locks.

Low carbon transport. In order to reach net zero emissions by 2050, the UK urgently needs to improve the country’s active travel infrastructure to promote walking and cycling. The Trust has worked with many local councils and developers in recent years to lay all-weather surfaces on towpaths to provide off-road routes for sustainable transport into our towns and cities, with year-round access also encouraging people to stay local and discover the waterside destinations on their doorstep. In addition, thousands of tonnes of freight are moved every year on the Trust’s canals and rivers, where lower carbon emissions make them a green alternative that removes hundreds of articulated lorry journeys from the roads.

Water supply and land drainage. Three of the UK’s five wettest winters on record have occurred in the past eight years, causing flood damage as intense storms follow in close succession. The Trust’s waterways accept over 2,500 drainage discharges, relieving the strain on overflowing urban surface water systems. The network offers the opportunity for new sustainable urban drainage schemes to connect to the Trust’s waterways to remove surplus surface water. Conversely, increased temperatures, due to climate change, will exacerbate summer water stress in coming years. The Trust’s waterways can play an important role in transferring water across England and Wales, from areas with a surplus of water, to those with higher levels of water stress such as London and the south.

Nature recovery.  Many waterside habitats have become fragmented or have vanished from the countryside entirely, making canals especially valuable habitats and much-needed corridors for wildlife. For some species, the Trust’s waterways are among their last remaining strongholds, and, for many others, they provide vital resources now scarce in the wider countryside. Canals and rivers are helping to slow the loss of wildlife in the UK, helping to connect isolated natural habitats, so wildlife can spread, recover, and thrive again.

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Welsh canals to receive over £20 million from UK Government

Newyddion gwych (read this entire piece in Welsh)! The Montgomery Canal and Llangollen Canal have secured over £20 million in funding from the Government’s UK Levelling Up Fund!

The funding, which will restore a stretch of the Montgomery Canal in Wales, and deliver visitor improvements along the Llangollen Canal, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, is the largest single investment made in improving and securing the long-term future of canals in Wales.

The investment

Sunrise photo with iced up boat and canalThe projects will be delivered in partnership with Powys County Council, Wrexham County Borough Council, Denbighshire County Council and a range of partners and volunteers. The investment will benefit local people and the thousands of boaters and visitors who come to visit Wales each year, as well as economic benefit to shops and restaurants in neighbouring towns and villages.

The funding will restore a four mile stretch of the Montgomery Canal from the Wales England border at Llanymynech to Arddleen. The project will involve dredging the canal and the replacement of Walls and Williams bridges to once again allow boats to navigate. Two new nature reserves will be created to protect the important wildlife along the canal.

Along the Llangollen Canal, access to the 11-mile UNESCO World Heritage Site will be improved to allow greater movement of visitors to the area encouraging cross border tourism. The project will include improvements to Trevor Basin and the footpaths around the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a new footbridge over the River Dee, improving the footpath to the village of Cefn Mawr and installing new interpretation signs.

A huge boost

Richard Parry, our chief executive, said: “This funding is wonderful news and is a huge boost for our Welsh canals. The Montgomery and Llangollen canals are visited by thousands of boaters and tourists from across the world who visit to experience how beautiful the canals are and to spend time along these historic waterways.

A beautiful view from the board at Lyneal on the Llangollen Canal“We’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us and we’ll be working with our partners and volunteers to deliver these two huge projects which will further transform the canals, bring economic benefits and boost tourism for Wales – we can’t wait to get started.”

The Government’s £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund contributes to the levelling up agenda by investing in infrastructure that improves everyday life across the UK, including regenerating town centre and high streets, upgrading local transport, and investing in cultural and heritage assets.

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Boat licence fees for 2022/23

Income from boating activity provides vital funds to enable us to continue to care for 2,000 miles of waterway. From 1 April 2022, headline private and business boat licence fees will rise by 4%.

Why are we increasing the fees?

Income from private boat licences accounted for around 10% of our annual income last year and helps ensure that the vast amount of work necessary for keeping the waterways available to boaters can be carried out. As our navigations and our associated historic infrastructure become older, and the changing climate brings more extreme weather, it is necessary to spend more money to care for them and keep them in working order. 

We continue to keep licence price increases broadly in line with inflation forecasts to shield boaters from a more substantial contribution to the full costs of looking after the network.

Gold Licence holders will be advised of any changes to their licence fees following the results of the Environment Agency’s consultation on boat registration charges, expected before the end of the year. From 1 April 2022, Gold Licence holders wishing to visit the Middle Levels will need to purchase an Anglian Pass from the Environment Agency.

The changes

From April 2022 we will continue the phased introduction of additional pricing bands for boat widths over 2.16m (7ft 1”). This means that licence fees for boats over 2.16m wide will be subject to an additional 5% in addition to the 4% annual rise from 1 April 2022.

These changes to the structure of licence fees were announced in 2018, following the Trust’s national consultation, and ensure that the financial contribution made by boaters towards the cost of looking after the waterways is spread fairly across the boating community. The changes for wider vessels have been applied over a five-year period from 1 April 2020 to avoid a sudden impact on any boaters.

More information on boat licences, including discounts, can be found on our boat licensing page

We publish a Boater Report showing how the charity uses income from boating, and other sources, to maintain the canals and rivers for navigation: as a charity all funds raised are reinvested in maintaining the network.

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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 what may affect you if you’re planning to get out on your boat this weekend. Please note that we’ve now entered our winter works programme where you’ll see us doing some of the bigger jobs around the network while there’s less boating activity:

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 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 just get in touch.

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Accessibility information for disabled boaters – your help needed!

As a boater you’ll know just how rewarding and fulfilling time spent on, or by, water can be. We want as many people as possible to experience it and we have an equality policy that, under the Equality Act 2010, sets out our approach to making sure everyone can access and use our waterways.

With this in mind we’d like your help to bring together the information that those with accessibility issues will want to know. We have some guidance on our website already but would really appreciate it if you could send in the following:

  • moorings with good accessibility for getting on and off boats
  • moorings with good accessibility to the local attractions/town centres

We need location, towpath surface information, accessibility information and if there are disabled toilets nearby. Information on nearby car parking is also needed and, importantly, landscape photos (as shown here). If you’re able to help then please send us the details and photos and we’ll get them up on our website. The same applies for boat builders who adapt for disabled boaters – if this is you, or you know of one, please get in touch. Thanks!

As a slight aside, Tracey Clarke is one of the founding members of the Facebook Inland Waterways Accessibility Forum (IWAF) and is now on our Council representing disabled boaters. Tracey has a slot at the next Council meeting (in March 2022) and would welcome any topics, via the IWAF page, that disabled boaters would like her to raise.

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Happy boating,

Damian

Last date edited: 5 November 2021

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