Our waterways and towpaths are rich in vegetation, which needs careful management to allow people to enjoy the canals and rivers while letting wildlife thrive.

Chesterfield Canal SSSI - green bank protection

In terms of what we spend, vegetation management is second only to our major engineering programme, with about £7 million allocated to it each year.

About 50% of what we spend goes on towpath and navigation channel maintenance, like cutting grass and making sure trees, hedges and reeds don't impede the towpath or navigation. The other half of the vegetation budget is spent on things you won't necessarily notice. We need to clear vegetation from tunnels, culverts and bridges regularly to extend their life and save us money on costly repairs.

We use a contractor to look after our vegetation management, whose schedule is decided by officers in our local waterway offices.

Our approach 

Our approach to the management of vegetation along our waterways is to prevent its growth from impeding navigation and/or the use of towpaths whilst maintaining the ecological, landscape and heritage benefits it brings to the waterways. The information below is a summary of our approach to vegetation management. We want our general approach to vegetation management to be available for people to see. However, as we have such a large and diverse network of waterways it is not easy to provide consistent and concise rules to what needs doing, when and where. There are lots of pressures and important interests along our varied waterways that we need to consider. We will try and work to a framework and tailor the management depending upon local need and knowledge. Our long-term aim is to have this information available online for people to see and provide feedback.

The Corporate Ten-year Strategy sets several key targets for 2025 that vegetation management contributes to:

  • Our waterways and towpaths will be safe to use and enjoy and safe places to work and volunteer:
  • 95% of the network will be easy to navigate by different forms of powered and non-powered craft, meeting our published navigation standards. All our principal assets will be managed efficiently and safely, with at least 85% of principal assets condition graded C or above, with fewer than 3% of our flood management assets graded D/ E;
  • Our waterways and towpaths will form part of the wider green infrastructure network and will be valued as havens for people and wildlife, with a 10% increase in net habitat gain over the strategy period.

Vegetation management 

Our Vegetation management is undertaken at various fixed times of the year, depending upon the activity. For example, our grass cutting is done from spring onwards, but not during winter. While our offside vegetation works are done during autumn and winter. If we need to change the vegetation specification for management at a site for a specific reason, we have a fixed time in the year when we are reviewing next year’s program where we will make those decisions.

We will take information from customers and staff throughout the year, but nothing may change until the next year when we have considered the program and implications for costs and deliverability. In some instances, issues we experience are to do with things like weather or access that impacts the delivery of our vegetation management and not that our planned management is wrong.

Last date edited: 11 November 2020