The Shropshire Union Canal: Middlewich Emergency Appeal

Part of the Shropshire Union Canal has collapsed and needs urgent repair. Please donate to our urgent appeal as we start the restoration of this much-loved waterway.

Middlewich breach from the air Middlewich breach from the air

What's happened?

Part of the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal collapsed in March 2018, rapidly emptying the canal. Our engineers were quickly on the scene, but the collapse impacted people and wildlife. We're now starting to rebuild as quickly as possible.

How you can help?

We 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

16 November - The next phase of the works is to install 220m of waterproof lining. This will then have a protective concrete layer installed over it. The weather will be critical to timely completion of these phases and, hence, our aim to have the navigation in water for Christmas. The waterproof liner needs to be installed in the dry and temperature is critical for the protective concrete lining. 

Weather permitting, these will be completed early December. This will be followed by removal of the access ramp constructed to allow access for excavators, dumpers etc into the bed of the canal. There will then be a staged refill of the canal and a short period of testing at each stage programmed for the middle of December. At the same time as the refill and testing stage, the new towpath will be constructed, fencing installed and topsoiling/seeding completed. Following a successful staged refill and testing period, the dam constructed towards the Middlewich end of the works will be removed.

This will take us right up to Christmas but while the programme remains tight and current activities are weather dependent, everyone is working hard to get the canal back in water for Christmas.

We'll still be working at the site through January to complete demobilisation and reinstatement, but the canal and towpath will be open during this time.

3 October - With the good weather over the summer, good progress has been made. We've rebuilt the collapsed embankment up to a level roughly equal to the level of the bed of the new section of canal. And we're currently constructing the new canal walls either side of the canal. We'll follow that by completing the embankment to bring it up to towpath level. We'll then reline the canal to make it waterproof.

Some of the future works need reasonable weather to be completed, but we are currently still on for opening the canal again for Christmas.


Middlewich Breach Middlewich breach track

17 August - work begins - see our latest press release 

26 July - a Traffic Management System was added along Coalpit Lane. This includes traffic lights over Normans Bridge, where Coalpit Lane crosses the canal. This plan shows the traffic management measures that are to be implemented. 

22 June - the final narrowboat, just a few metres from the giant 70 metre hole, was removed to safety. 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.

31 May - site work in preparation for the repairs completed. As the material itself will be brought by road, a traffic management specialist is recruited to assess the safest route manageable to site. 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.

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.

17 May - 26 young women from the Middlewich Guides met with development and engagement manager, Ani Sutton, to find out more about the Trust and the breach itself.

We've 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, while the Year 6 class continued with a workshop around Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). 

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.

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 – 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.

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.

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. 

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: 19 November 2018