We look after 2,000 miles of canals and rivers and there’s no such thing as a standard towpath.
We want to provide a towpath that’s safe for all users and enhances biodiversity wherever we can. It won’t all be maintained to lawn-like standards because this may actually be unnecessary for safe use and would be detrimental to the character of the waterways and to their wildlife. By getting our grass cutting schedule right we can create towpaths that give you a great place for a comfortable walk, cycle and to spend time on, but also a fantastic place to spot wildlife along.
Every year we cut 24 million square metres of grass. That’s the equivalent to mowing a town the size of Bedford or city the size of Chelmsford or Worcester each year. We cut the grass starting in spring and on a cyclical basis until autumn. It costs us nearly £2 million a year and can be looked at as our most expensive vegetation management activity.
The way that mowing is managed depends on the type of towpath. We look at the local waterway character, surface type, structure, width, type of edging, location and level of use when we set our mowing schedule. We try to maintain at least 1.6m cut width, or 0.5m either side of a surfaced towpath. Some towpaths are too narrow for the 1.6m wide aim, or do not need us to mow the grass as much.
We'll aim to cut the whole width from the boundary to water’s edge once a year, and will aim to make sure moorings, bridges and locks are cut to a higher specification to allow everyone easy access to our waterways. In certain places, we may reduce the number of cuts, but only where this will not impact access or the protection of our bridges or locks etc, so benefiting biodiversity. We'll also try to limit cutting under hedgerows to allow wildflowers to flourish. These areas will still be cut once a year as part of the full width cut.
Where tall waterside towpath plants and grass can be an issue, we cut around a 100-metre length layby to the water’s edge every 1km to allow boaters safe, informal moorings.
This ‘to the edge’ cut is a guide and will only be carried out where it is appropriate, where other vegetation does not block the edge and where there is a hard edge. Where there is no official hard edge, we may also cut the laybys if needed but we will not make mooring official or undertake additional works such as dredging or hard bank protection.
In some places, we also cut through the vegetation to the water at key points to allow anglers and other waterway users safe access, particularly in rural sections. We'll endeavour to maintain a network where there is sufficient mooring within a kilometre.
Last date edited: 11 November 2020