The charity making life better by water

Digging into dredging

Every winter our charity spends millions of pounds repairing, restoring and maintaining waterways, so our canals, locks, bridges and tunnels stay open and working each summer. Around £7m a year is spent on one of the most crucial tasks; dredging the bottom and edges of canals to clear them of silt. But why do we need to do it and how does it all work? To find out, Waterfront filmed our dredging teams at work on the Peak Forest Canal at Marple, near Stockport.

It was a bleak, wet and windy day, but rain didn't stop play as the dredger worked all day to fill ten floating hopper-loads with mud, and an onshore digger loaded them onto trucks to take them away. Ramblers, dog walkers and locals all stopped to take a look and ask questions as the eight-week operation continued.

Although all dredging helps to maintain the navigation, the main aim of the work here at Marple is to keep enough water in the locks throughout the summer.

Over many years, the pounds and ponds between each lock gradually silt up, reducing the amount of spare water left to fill each lock. Dredging out that silt increases the capacity of each pound and side-pound, so the locks don't run out of water.

Water availability is a particular problem on the Peak Forest Canal at the moment due to ongoing repairs to one of its feeder reservoirs at Toddbrook. So doing this work now will help to maintain navigation during the summer months.

Marple is just one site of many across our canal and river network that has planned dredging works over the next few months. The Staffordshire & Worcester Canal, the Ribble Link in Preston and the River Weaver are all currently having dredging works carried out this spring. And with dredging operations planned out for the next ten years ahead, it's good to know that there's always work going on behind the scenes to keep our waters flowing.

Montgomery Canal dredging works

Last Edited: 01 April 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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