Mowing the grass

We want to provide a towpath that’s safe for all users and enhance biodiversity wherever we can. By getting our grass cutting schedule right we can create towpaths that give you a great place to spot wildlife along with towpaths you can comfortable walk, cycle and spend time on.

Cutting the grass Cutting the grass

Every year we cut 24 million square metres of grass. That’s the equivalent of mowing the Principality of Monaco 12 times. It costs us £2.1 million.

The way that mowing is managed depends on the type of towpath. We look at the waterway character, surface type, structure, width, type of edging, location and level of use when we set our mowing schedule.

We look after 2,000 miles of canals and rivers and there’s no such thing as a standard towpath. Ultimately, the decision on how a towpath is managed is a local one, based on good knowledge of the towpath types and uses, safety issues and any areas of biodiversity value.


Thoughtful vegetation management can reduce risk to visitors. Cutting vegetation can expose risks such as steep banks and trip hazards, alternatively tall vegetation can be used as a natural barrier.

In areas used by higher numbers of visitors such as at formal moorings and around benches, we’ll focus on nettles, thistles and brambles. Extra mowing is undertaken where there is a need to maintain sight lines - particularly on bends, at approaches to locks, bridges and narrows.

Areas around locks, moorings and access points need more intensive management.

Cutting through the vegetation to the water’s edge at key points can allow anglers safe access. Where tall waterside towpath vegetation can be an issue, cutting to the water’s edge will allow boaters safe, informal moorings, where they can embark and disembark safely. We will only do this where it’s suitable to moor.


While the safety of our users comes first, we’re always looking to take advantage of opportunities to enhance the wildlife habitat of the waterway corridor. Our towpaths provide a continuous corridor to move along, unlike many other habitats in Britain, which are being increasingly dissected and fragmented.

We maintain the aquatic margin except at key points such as moorings or when woody vegetation is an issue. Good hedgerow management can allow grassy margins to extend while creating a more effective boundary of high wildlife value.

Within SSSIs we discuss and agree the mowing regime with the relevant statutory nature conservation organisation. Local contact is arranged through our heritage and environment teams. Mowing regimes may also need to be modified where protected or rare species, such as water voles, are present.

We undertake an environmental assessment for all waterway lengths annually.

Common mowing schedules

Grass cutting: urban areas, all moorings and lock sidesTypically urban areas, all moorings and lock sides

Cut full width to 50mm high typically every 2-3 weeks throughout the season.

Cut full width to 100mm high at least once every year

Grass cutting: urban / rural fringe with a hard edge

Typically urban / rural fringe with a hard edge 

Cut to 50mm high from water's edge, extending to 0.5m to the rear of the towpath, typically every 3-4 weeks throughout the season, retaining rear verge. Cut around bench to 100 mm high. Cut full width to 100mm high at least once every year

Typically urban /rural fringe with soft bankGrass cutting: urban /rural fringe with soft bank

Cut 0.5m either side of the towpath for typically every four to six weeks throughout the season. Cut around bench to 100 mm high.  Cut full width to 100mm high at least once every year.

Typically rural locations with soft bankGrass cutting: rural locations with soft bank

Cut to 100mm high, trodden towpath and 0.5m either side of the towpath, typically every 6-12 weeks. Cut full width to 100mm high at least once every year


Last date edited: 17 April 2018