TV presenter and historian Sir Tony Robinson is backing a campaign calling on people to rediscover, and bring back to life, thousands of miles of derelict historic canals that helped make Britain the world’s first industrial nation.
As part of the campaign we're publishing an online map, which will inspire people to unearth more of their local history and help save the canals that shaped where they live. The map enables people to find their nearest lost canals, explore their history and get involved with local restoration groups.
Over 200 miles of canals have been restored since the turn of the millennium and a new published report by the University of Northampton highlights the economic and social benefits a restored canal brings to a community.
The report shows how historic canals can once again bring prosperity to communities, boost property prices and help people to lead active, healthy lifestyles and the Trust, alongside the Inland Waterways Association, wants to see more people get behind their local restoration efforts.
At the height of the industrial revolution the nation boasted over 5,000 miles of waterway helping to transport goods and raw materials across the country. They were the envy of the world and helped to establish Britain as an industrial powerhouse. Sadly over time, with the growth of road and rail, sections of the network fell into decline and were almost lost completely but for the intervention of dedicated and visionary volunteers in the mid-1900s.
Sir Tony Robinson says: “The waterway network is part of the fabric of our nation but it’s easy to forget that not so very long ago some of our most popular canals were almost lost forever.
“The fact that we can still enjoy them now is thanks largely to the vision, dedication and sheer hard work of volunteers in the 60s and 70s. These inspiring men and women just wouldn’t take no for an answer and worked on the basis that nothing was impossible. We need to recapture that same spirit within our communities to support today’s volunteers in bringing more of these once proud waterways back to life.”
Richard Parry, chief executive of the Trust adds: “Canals have played a major part in shaping the country we live in today and it’s alarming to think that we once almost lost them forever – just imagine Birmingham, or even somewhere like Bingley, without their canals.
“Sadly there are still too many miles of precious canal in need of restoration but the lesson from the canal restoration movement of the last 50 years shows just what can be achieved if enough people get behind an idea. We want more people to appreciate the importance of these historic canals and play their part in supporting and championing the heroic efforts of local canal restoration groups.
“In doing so more lives will be touched by canals, more communities will feel the benefits that rejuvenated canals can bring in terms of regeneration, jobs and leisure opportunities, as well of course as corridors for wildlife and that can only benefit everyone.”