The charity making life better by water

The science behind the beauty

The beauty of the canals that criss-cross our nation is how they help to bring stunning scenery right to the doorsteps of millions of people. Particularly to those living in big cities, who might not otherwise have access to green space or the wellbeing we can all find by water. But what is it that makes our canals so attractive? And why do they have such a powerful effect on our mood? To help us find out, our hugely popular ‘Rate this Scene’ game is returning this autumn.

Trees in autumn colour by the canal

When our charity launched ‘Rate this Scene' in 2021, it proved what we already suspected – our supporters simply love to see stunning canal pictures. Over 11,000 people cast than 780,000 votes to rate canal scenes on a scale from one to ten.

The images we're sharing in this article today were among the most popular. Stunning natural landscapes, amazing sunsets, restful reflections in the water, all seemed to add to people's enjoyment of their local waterways. As did charming boat traffic, historic locks and bridges and beautiful wildlife.

Using the data from Rate This Scene last year, University of Warwick scientists have, excitingly, been able to predict with some accuracy, how scenic particular photographs of canals are. However, we still have some way to go to improve precision so these learnings can be relied upon to help protect and improve our waterways.

As we reported recently, 565 miles of our 2,000-mile network now proudly fly a Green Flag for the quality of the green space they provide. But our ultimate ambition is to attain this accolade for every single mile of our canals. To deliver that, we simply need to know definitively and scientifically, what you, our Friends and supporters, want to see. And also: what you don't.

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That's why Rate this Scene is back, refreshed and upgraded with many of the thousands of images our supporters uploaded during the last campaign. Why not join in the fun now with the tens of thousands of people who have already contributed to this ground-breaking research?

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By encouraging the nation to play Rate This Scene, we hope more people will discover the joys of being by water. And the insights you give us could offer some explanation for the findings in our Urban Mind study which showed that spending time by canals and rivers is linked to greater feelings of happiness and wellbeing than spending time in other green spaces.

Although the main objective of Rate This Scene is to discover the secrets of scenic beauty, it is far from a typical beauty contest. It is just as vital for us to study the photographs and locations that people find less attractive, as this provides the essential contrast data that University of Warwick scientists need to apply the learnings from Rate This Scene to other canal photos and locations accurately in the future. To understand what features make canals so beautiful, we need to know what people find beautiful, and also, what they don't.

The emerging evidence base from Rate This Scene could help us to persuade even more local community groups and authorities to work with us to upgrade towpaths, remove graffiti, fly tipping and litter, and green our urban waterways to create safe and inviting spaces for local people to visit and enjoy. Over the course of the last decade, 25% of our towpaths have been upgraded for active travel, encouraging more people to access the untapped beauty on their doorstep.

So please play your part and support our citizen science campaign that could ultimately help make our canals even more beautiful than ever.

Last Edited: 05 October 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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