Restoration renaissance

Once the lifeblood of industry, many of our canals sadly fell into disuse and disrepair in the early part of the 20th century. Much of our beautiful canal network would not be with us today without the canal restoration movement that rescued so many waterways in the following years. But the work of these volunteers and enthusiasts is far from over. Today, we continue to support them as they bring beautiful lost waterways back to life.

Disused canal covered in grass with a bridge in the background Our support for canal restoration goes on

Our restoration work, supported by co-ordinator Katie Woodroffe, sees close partnerships with many canal societies and charities on projects up and down the country. In partnership with our colleagues at the Inland Waterway Association and Waterway Recovery Group, we help to guide, mentor and encourage local groups. From helping secure funding, to offering technical expertise and advice and supplying specialist construction and engineering training, we do all we can to provide ongoing support.

As this fascinating interactive guide shows, we’re aware of nearly 100 potential or ongoing restorations, from Manchester, Bolton and Bury in the north, to Derby in the Midlands and Portsmouth and Devon in the south.

While some of these canals may remain isolated from our full canal network, many have the potential to connect up and extend our navigable network in years to come. It’s not something that can be achieved overnight. It can take years, even decades to bring a waterway back to life, as the society behind the restoration of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal found out. But as Katie explains: “Every restoration adds value to the local area.”

A small group of people work restoring the banks of a canal Restoring the Swansea Canal

Bringing people together

In South Wales, the Wales & South West team are working closely with the Swansea Canal Society to restore parts of the Swansea Canal, a 16.5-mile thoroughfare originally built to serve collieries on the Tawe Valley.

Over the past 50 years, large sections of the canal have been filled in to accommodate new roads. Now, local volunteers are working tirelessly to restore it to its original state, with the aim of linking it up to the Neath and Tennant Canals to create more than 35 miles of navigable waterway.

But the work we’re doing in places like Swansea has implications far beyond the boating fraternity. As Katie tells us: “Not only are we looking at restoring the waterways for boaters, we’re also thinking about the wider picture and the benefits that we can bring to the environment, local communities, businesses and schools. Everyone in the community can benefit from a canal restoration.”

A small group of men work on restoring a canal at a bridge Restoring the ‘missing mile’ of the Stroudwater Navigation with a new bridge under the A38

It’s a similar story in the Cotswolds. Here, our team are working closely with the Cotswold Canals Trust to restore the link between Stroud and the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal at Saul Junction. Upon completion, six kilometres of historic canal will have been restored, and Stroud will be reconnected with the inland waterway network for the first time in over 50 years.

Get involved

We’re involved in dozens of projects like these across England and Wales. In the last 20 years, thanks to the hard work and dedication of countless volunteers, more than 200 miles of canals have been restored; rejuvenating local communities, protecting wildlife and helping people lead more active, healthy lifestyles.

To ensure we can continue to support these wonderful projects, we need your help. As Katie tells us: “We encourage anybody to get involved, whether it’s doing a bit of admin work or actually climbing into the canal and getting your hands dirty. There are all sorts of ways people can help.”

Last date edited: 29 July 2021

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