The charity making life better by water

Threats to our canals and rivers

Many of our canals, aqueducts, reservoirs and lock gates are hundreds of years old.

They’ve fuelled our industry, witnessed the building of railways, and been at the heart of our communities for generations. Today they continue to provide millions of people with a place to reconnect with nature. But they’re also vulnerable. Time is taking its toll, as is our increasingly volatile weather.

Canal water floods over the towpath and lock

Canals and rivers don’t have to face these threats alone. With your support, we’ll continue to protect them, ensuring they survive for hundreds more years to come.

Climate change

What's the challenge?

The UK is facing a climate emergency. And the effects of rapid climate change are being felt along our canals and rivers. Storms and flooding cause damage to riverbanks, breach canals and collapse the sides of reservoirs. In contrast, drought interrupts the flow of water and can result in the closure of parts of the canal network.

The incredible wildlife that calls our waterways home is also under threat. As temperatures rise and our seasons become more unpredictable, animals and plants face increasing pressures. Habitats become unsuitable, extreme weather events disrupt life cycles, and some species are pushed to the limits of survival, unable to adapt to the fast pace of change.

What's the solution?

With careful and ongoing maintenance, we can stay one step ahead. Our expert engineers respond to emergencies and undertake an extensive programme of repairs and upkeep, rain or shine. We’re also creating new homes for wildlife all the time, as well as improving the condition of critical waterside habitat.

Fragile and ageing network

What’s the challenge?

No two locks on our canals and rivers are the same. They need expert skills and knowledge to maintain them, as do our boat lifts, tunnels and opening bridges. And time is not on our side. Wood rots, iron corrodes, and the brick, timber and moving parts that make up our network see constant heavy use.

The demands on canals and rivers are also changing. There are more boats on our canals today than at any other point in their history. More people are also enjoying our towpaths than ever before. Bridges built hundreds of years ago must now support articulated lorries, and towpaths designed for horses need to make space for ever increasing numbers of cyclists, dog walkers and joggers.

What’s the solution?

We act as custodians and guardians, not only of our canals’ oldest structures, but also of the critical national infrastructure our network hosts. Broadband, gas and (of course) water all make their way to our towns and cities beneath towpaths and waterways. By managing both the old and new sensitively, we aim to balance the needs of everyone who uses and enjoys our canals.

Funding gap

What’s the challenge?

In July 2023 Government announced a new funding settlement, spanning from 2027 to 2037, to follow on from our current grant agreement. Whilst we welcome this further long-term commitment to the nation's historic waterways, the amount awarded represents a steep reduction in funding of over £300 million in real terms over a ten-year period. A reduction that will have devastating consequences on our canals and the people and wildlife who rely on them.

Such a steep reduction will inevitably result in a decline in the overall condition of our waterway network, and, alarmingly, the possibility of canal closures. It puts at risk invaluable natural habitats, historic infrastructure and cherished public spaces.

What’s the solution?

As a charity, we urgently need greater donations and more volunteers – and an ongoing commitment from Government to work in partnership with us to ensure the nation’s canals survive and prosper.

Last Edited: 26 October 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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