Vegetation

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

Chesterfield Canal SSSI - green bank protection

We spend approximately £7 million on vegetation management each year. In terms of expenditure, it is second only to our major engineering programme.

Around 50% of what we spend goes on towpath and navigation channel maintenance - 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 people don't necessarily notice such as regularly clearing vegetation from tunnels, culverts and bridges to extend their lifespan and reduce the need for costly repairs.

We use a contractor to look after our vegetation management. Their schedule is decided on by our local waterway teams.

Our approach 

Our approach is to prevent vegetation growth from impeding navigation and/or the use of towpaths whilst maintaining the ecological, landscape and heritage benefits it brings to the waterways. Below is a summary of our approach to vegetation management. As we have such a large and diverse network of waterways, it is not always possible to provide consistent and concise rules as to what should be done, when and where. Our waterways pass through towns, cities, villages and the countryside and there are lots of different aspects to take into account. We try and work to a framework and tailor the management to the 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 different times of the year. 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 the next year’s program where we will make those decisions.

We take information from customers and staff throughout the year, but changes may not be made until the following year once we have had an opportunity to consider the programme and implications for costs and deliverability. In some instances, we experience difficulties due to such things as the weather or access, and this impacts on what we do, when or how we do it.

Last date edited: 7 March 2022