The Shropshire Union Canal: Emergency Appeal

Part of the Shropshire Union Canal has collapsed and needs urgent repair. We've started an appeal to help with the restoration of this much-loved waterway.

Middlewich breach from the air Middlewich breach from the air

What's happened?

Part of the Shropshire Union Canal has collapsed, causing water to drain from the canal. While events such as this are rare - they are very expensive to repair. Our emergency engineers were quickly on the scene, but the collapse has impacted people and wildlife and we need to rebuild as quickly as possible.

How you can help?

We've launched an appeal - the Shropshire Union Canal: Emergency Appeal - to help people who use the canal - whether it's using the towpath to get to work or school, visiting to get some peace and quiet or boating on the 200 year old waterway - to do so again.

You can support our appeal:

  • Online: by going to our JustGiving page now
  • Text: LEAK515 to 70070 to give £5 (you'll be charged £5 + one message at your standard network rate)
  • Donate by post: FREEPOST RSXX-XSGE-KKUE, FAO: Shropshire Union Appeal, Canal & River Trust, Station House, 500 Elder Gate, Milton Keynes, MK9 1BB

Your generous donation will go toward restoring this beautiful and treasured canal.

Latest updates on the Middlewich breach

26 July

Traffic Management Plan

To progress the repair work following the breach at Stanthorne Aqueduct on the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal, deliveries of stone by road will be required. To improve safety and control the movement of vehicles along Coalpit Lane, a Traffic Management System will be put in place. This will include traffic lights over Normans Bridge, where Coalpit Lane crosses the canal. The plan shows the Traffic Management measures that are to be implemented.


View the Traffic Management Plan


22 June - a few days after the embankment collapse, about 15 boats were re-floated and relocated, but this final narrowboat was just a few metres from the giant 70 metre hole. In the video below, our project manager explains how the Trust had to construct a special temporary access road in the canal bed to reach the stranded boat and the breach site.

The specialist low loader, equipped with a crane, drove into the canal bed and lifted out the boat. It was then transported on the low loader to a nearby marina.

Preparatory work to repair the canal breach is progressing well. The main repair project is expected to start in mid-July and last until the end of the year.

31 May - The Trust is delighted to inform that site work in preparation for the repairs to the breach is now complete. Just as critical as the work on site, the development of the design work prior is essential to the overall success of the repair. As the material itself will be brought by road, a traffic management specialist will be recruited to assess the safest route manageable to site. Once fully assessed, the plan will be submitted to Cheshire West & Chester Council for approval.

The next phase of work has begun this week and will be to construct the access, compound area and ramp into the canal bed, liaising with Natural England to mitigate ecological impacts and get ecology related licences in place. It’s also fundamental that the Trust liaises with the Environment Agency, discussing the possible environmental issues and extensive site investigation works that are to follow.

Further information

On Thursday 17 May, 26 young women from the Middlewich Guides met with Development & Engagement Manager, Ani Sutton, to find out more about the Trust and the breach itself.

The Trust has progressed their education programme by inviting local Middlewich primary school, St Mary’s, to visit the breach site. The programme began with the entire school taking part in an assembly, whilst the Year 6 class continued with a workshop around Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). On Friday 25 May, the Year 6 class visited the breach site, where kitted in volunteering clothing including Hi-Viz and hard hats, they listened in closely to Senior Project Manager Andy Johnson. After half term, they will continue their learning by taking part in a project – culminating in their ideas of how to ‘fix’ the breach. Regional Engineer, Sally Boddy, will be attending St Mary’s Primary School to take in the ideas.

In the afternoon of 25 May, Middlewich Town Mayor William Walmsley and Councillor Bernice Walmsley visited the breach. Accompanied by Andy Johnson and Ani Sutton, it was an opportunity for the members of the Middlewich Town Council to understand the extent of the breach, the environmental factors and to consider methods for preparation to fix it. Recently, the Trust has received contact from Member of Parliament for Congleton, Fiona Bruce MP, who has shown an interest in visiting the site later in the year.

Middlewich Town Councillors Middlewich Town Councillors

Inland Waterways Association (IWA) member and boat owner Gillian Watson, will be hosting a garden party/plant sale on Saturday 9 June, to raise funds for the emergency appeal. Gillian’s garden overlooks the canal, nearby the site of the breach. The Trust Fundraising Team will be doing all they can to support Gillian in her quest to raise for the appeal. A special thank you from the Trust to Gillian for her fantastic efforts!

11 May - Everyone here at the Trust would like to thank you for your support since the Middlewich Branch breach in March. With a special mention going to Chas Harden Boat Hire, who have a donation bottle to fundraise for the appeal. Thank you! 

Ani Sutton, development and engagement manager, recently took part in an interview with BBC Radio Stoke. The first discussion was regarding the design, and how investigation work had been incorporated to support it. We're looking to have design plans completed and in place by the end of May or the beginning of June.

The following works have been completed:

  • access track to breach area stoned up
  • haul road across the field is now complete
  • compound area complete ready for us to mobilise for the repair work
  • access ramp into canal bed now complete. This marks the starting point for accessing the works along the canal bed

We're continuously monitoring the wildlife to make sure we protect the birds and creatures that live along the canal from any danger or possible threat while repairs are ongoing.

Lastly, the current target is to mobilise the entire area for major repair works to begin in mid-June.

Other work

Due to the fascination the breach has drawn, we're inviting a local school to the site as part of educating the local community on the current repairs and the breach itself.  

In early May, three members of our team held an ‘open meeting’ at the local Morrisons supermarket, encouraging people holding their own local fundraising events to tell us what they’re doing, and if they could benefit from support. Carol Buchan (fundraising co-ordinator for the North Region) has been in contact with a canalside resident who plans to host a coffee morning and plant sale in their garden soon – a fantastic help.

Across the last few months, our colleagues, Shelly Cordner (major donor fundraiser) and Lucie Unsworth (national youth engagement manager) have been looking at ways to get young people involved in the support of the breach. Suggestions include support in tidying the area, vegetation management and planning a fundraising event at Victoria Hall, Northwich, which has been offered free of charge by the local town council.

26 April – On Tuesday 24 April, our staff met with local fundraisers to see how they can support local fundraising efforts. Having experienced this serious breach on the Middlewich Branch, its provided a fantastic opportunity to support other local fundraisers who need the help in their respective areas.

Furthermore, we are doing everything we can to ensure that the progress being made is constant.

The continuous support is gratefully received – it’s been overwhelming. Thank you to everyone who's been involved so far.  

18 April - Our contractors have installed a stone access road. Next, they will install the temporary stone ramp to allow construction vehicles access to the bed of the canal.

The design to repair the breach is progressing well. The topographic survey information shows that 2,800m3 of the embankment has been washed away – that's over 200 lorry loads - and it will need to be replaced. Our engineers are assessing the condition of the arch of the aqueduct, currently there has been no structural damage to the arch, however due to the loss of ground, a careful assessment is needed to confirm whether construction vehicles can or cannot cross it.  


Badgers around the breach

Due to badger setts on the opposite embankment, we'll face significant constraints on delivery of materials. The main active badger sett is not directly affected by the breach repairs itself, but is close to the access route and western section of lining. It means we will need a disturbance licence. We’re installing cameras to monitor any badger activity and applying for necessary licences.

We're hoping to confirm realistic budgets and timescales by the end of May, but at the moment our best estimate is that repairs will take six months from June at a cost of between £2m and £3m.

17th April - We provided a live broadcast on the morning show of BBC Radio Stoke. This included details of how the breach has impacted the local community and the range of different canal and towpath users. In addition, thanks was given to everyone who had offered support of volunteering and contributions to the fundraising appeal.

4 April - the Canal & River Trust's chief executive, Richard Parry, visited the breach to meet with the engineers, project manager and our contractors to see how the plans for works are progressing.

Richard was very impressed by the support shown by the local community, as are the rest of us in the Canal & River Trust!

If you are organising a local event to raise funds for the breach and would like our support - please do get in touch.

29 March – thank you for the fantastic response from the community -  with offers of volunteering, free use of meeting rooms, and of course, the people who've helped in fundraising.

The updates so far...

  • A fish rescue moved 300lb weight of fish to the Trent and Mersey Canal
  • Around 20 large trees were removed from the embankment and the River Wheelock
  • A dam has been put in place across the canal bed at Middlewich Aqueduct
  • 4 pumps have pumped up to 865,000 litres of water back into the canal to help the stranded boats move onto the Trent and Mersey Canal
  • Ecologists have completed a survey looking at the breach's impact on the local wildlife
  • 4 truckloads of debris were collected and removed.

We're in consistent contact with boaters who've been affected to keep them up to date on progress. Our waterway chaplains have been at hand on site, offering help to boaters that live on board.

Also, our team has been working extremely hard to update all local residents, as well as local landowners. It’s been one of our priorities to advise local schools of the safety precautions to make sure they understand the current situation regarding the breach.

Safety signs and barriers are now in place around the site.

Middlewich Branch breach dam

23 March - Principal engineer, Mark Durham, talks about what we've been up to on site over the last couple of days.

21 March - volunteer group SUMBA (Shropshire Union Middlewich Branch Association) worked really hard alongside our local customer operations team clearing as much rubbish as possible from the bed of the drained canal. You can see from the photo just how much has accumulated in this short stretch.

We've installed a portadam downstream of Stanthorne Lock to start the process of re-watering the section. This will be done using three, six inch pumps which will pump water from the Trent & Mersey Canal by Wardle Lock to enable the stranded boats to be re-floated and allow them access onto the Trent & Mersey Canal. The pumps will be arriving by boat today and it is anticipated that pumping will start on Thursday morning. 

Middlewich Canal Bed Rubbish Middlewich canal bed rubbish

19 March - project team manager, Clive Mitchell, was on site of the breach and gave a brief update in the short video below on the damage.

17 March - fast action by emergency staff has resulted in nearly 10,000 fish being rescued from the stretch of canal

16 March - our emergency engineers were on site all night dealing with the breach

The Middlewich Branch connects the Trent & Mersey Canal just south of Middlewich town to the Shropshire Union Canal at Barbridge Junction, a distance of about 10 miles. Constructed in 1827, it is nearly 200 years old.

Last date edited: 27 July 2018