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Cleaner water spells good news for Midlands' canals

Work to protect kingfishers, otters, dragonflies and other aquatic life has received a welcome boost after a project to improve water quality on canals and rivers across the Midlands won a national award.

The project, carried out by a team of 30 volunteers from across the Midlands, has been announced as a winner of the Canal & River Trust's 2015 Waterways Alive Awards.

Surface water can carry pollutants

The volunteers have been working with the Canal & River Trust's environment specialists to log and map 700 separate points where water drains into canals and rivers across the Midlands – each one a potential point of pollution which can be damaging for local wildlife. The aim was to avoid any potential pollution incidents and, in doing so, protect important, and much loved, species.

Surface water from rainfall can carry pollutants including oils, chemicals, silt and sewage into canals and river, polluting the water and harming wildlife.

The volunteers visited over a dozen canals in the Midlands, equipped with iPads and tasked with observing, photographing and recording anything that could potentially drain into the canal. The data was then analysed to identify the source of each drainage point and build a picture of possible future pollution or flood risks.

Yellow fish

As a result of the volunteer's work a pollution prevention plan is now being put in place. Working with local businesses and landowners, a yellow fish is stencilled next to drains leading to the canal, acting as a striking reminder that what enters the drain ends up in local waterways. It's an extension of the Yellowfish initiative originally created by the Environment Agency to educate school children and local communities.

Alex May, environmental scientist for the Trust said; “Once heavily industrial and largely devoid of wildlife, the Midlands' canals have been rejuvenated in recent decades and now provide vital habitats for a wide range of wildlife. A lot of effort has gone into improving our canals and rivers and attracting important species such as otters back into the heart of even the most urban of areas.

Keep our waterways special

“This of course makes them great places for people to escape to and so this project is all about educating people and encouraging them to think carefully about how they dispose of things so that we keep our waterways special for everyone to enjoy.”

Peter Mathews CMG, chair of the Canal & River Trust's West Midlands Waterway Partnership said; “We're delighted that the project has been given this award, it's a great recognition of all the hard work the volunteers put in. This important benefit for the region's canals couldn't have been done without them."

The Waterways Alive awards celebrate exemplar work by employees and volunteers across the Canal & River Trust's 2,000 miles of waterways across England & Wales. To find out more about wildlife on the Midlands' canals or to take part in the Trust's Great Nature Watch go to

Canals surveyed as part of the project include:

  • Walsall Canal
  • Wednesbury Old Canal
  • Birmingham & Fazeley Canal
  • Wyrley & Essington Canal
  • Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal
  • Old Main Line Canal
  • Grand Union Canal (Birmingham sections)
  • Grand Union Canal (Leicester Line)
  • River Soar
  • Trent & Mersey Canal
  • Caldon Canal
  • Coventry Canal

Last Edited: 23 July 2015

photo of a location on the canals
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