The charity making life better by water

Rising to the challenge

Our charity’s Annual Report & Accounts for 2021/2022 celebrates how canals are bouncing back after the pandemic and helping millions of people find wellbeing by water. The report also explains how, in the face of a changing climate, we’re investing millions of pounds to strengthen our ageing and vulnerable canal infrastructure. It’s a huge challenge with inflation biting into our budgets, but one we must rise to with the continued support of donors, partners and the government.

Cyclist in a helmet on the towpath passes boats and a Canal & River Trust speed sign with a green smiley face and the words 'Thank You'.

You can read the report in full here, but if you're short of time, Waterfront has pulled out five big take-outs from the report for our Friends.

**1. Our canals and rivers are more popular than ever

In May 2021, as our waterways fully opened for navigation after the pandemic, boat movements reached near record levels as owners made up for lost time. Boat hire companies reported full order books and people flocked to our towpaths to enjoy time outdoors. 49% of the eight million people who live within 1km of our canals told us they use them regularly. Our canals prepared to welcome people to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Coventry's City of Culture celebrations, and many waterway festivals right around the country were able to restart.

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2. The quality of our waterway spaces is improving all the time

Despite the restrictions of the pandemic, we still managed to deliver a full winter works programme, investing £43m throughout late 2021 into early 2022. We carried out over 160 large-scale works across our waterway network, replacing lock gates, repairing masonry and brickwork, fixing leaks, and building the resilience of our reservoirs. Meanwhile, we secured millions more to improve towpaths from Leicester to Gloucester to the Llangollen.

After completing the restoration of ‘at risk' heritage sites such as Birmingham's Roundhouse and Burnley's Finsley Gate, another seven major heritage projects have benefited from a £1.4m grant from Historic England. And our canals are growing greener all the time. Having planted over 14,000 trees along our canals this year, we're working hard in London, Nottingham, Manchester and elsewhere to bring back more wildlife across the network, particularly in our cities. That's partly why another 125 miles of canal secured a Green Flag award, for both wildlife and people to enjoy.

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A young person sitting in a canoe

3. Millions of people benefit from time by water

As we work to make our waterways stronger, greener and safer, millions of us have enjoyed time by water, thanks to your support. With the help of partners like Sport England and the People's Postcode Lottery, we've strengthened connections in many of the deprived communities that our waterways run through.

We've also reached out through our popular Let's programme of events to bring more people down to water. For the first time ever, we've quantified the benefit of our wellbeing programmes. Our consultants concluded that we deliver returns worth billions bringing health and happiness to the nation.

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4. Our ageing network is under pressure in a changing climate

Another long dry summer has shown the vital importance of our huge investment in our reservoirs. Over the next decade, we'll be investing further tens of millions of pounds to make sure some of the oldest reservoirs in the country meet modern safety standards and can cope with a changing climate. All this is happening at a time when exceptional weather events are increasing the number of costly emergency works we must deliver on our 250-year-old network. This is putting pressure on our limited resources, especially as rapid inflation erodes our grant from the government over the next five years.

Repairing of Bingley Five Rise Locks

However, with the right investment, canals can help our nation mitigate the effects of climate change. We need to keep our waters flowing to cool cities in summer, heat homes in winter, provide low-carbon energy, move water from areas of plenty to areas of drought, offer greener, sustainable transport routes and connect wildlife habitats to help address biodiversity loss.

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5. With the future far from certain, we face a critical year ahead

Having celebrated our 10th anniversary this summer, the report confirms that our charity continues to work with the government on a review of our Grant Funding from 2027. It is clear that, even with the vital contribution of supporters like you, our volunteers and other generous donors, we still need continued support from the government to maintain our waterways, stop their decline and unlock their full potential to help ‘level-up' the nation.

Our outdoor spaces are vital to so many people, particularly those living in areas of high deprivation and high levels of health inequality. It's vitally important to ensure our waterways are safe to use and resilient to a changing climate. As the Report concludes: “The Grant Review this year is of critical importance for all who care about our inland waterways and a good outcome is essential if their future is to be secured.”

Last Edited: 05 October 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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