Cotswold Canals Connected

Restoration coordinator, Katie Woodroffe, has been visiting our projects across the country for an in-depth look at the restoration processes taking place. Her first stop was the Cotswolds.

A wildlife hotspot known as 'the Ocean', part of the Cotswold Canals Connected project (Photo by Mike Gallagher, Cotswold Canals Trust) A wildlife hotspot known as 'the Ocean', part of the Cotswold Canals Connected project (Photo by Mike Gallagher, Cotswold Canals Trust)

Early in 2020, I met with the Cotswold Canals Connected project team at the office of the Cotswold Canals Trust (CCT) in Stroud, Gloucestershire (pictured below). The meeting was followed by a brilliant and informative tour of this nationally significant work by the CCT’s chairperson and engineering director, Jim White.

Cotswold Canals Trust Bond's Mill office and visitor centre

The wonderful individuals that make up the CCT team have worked hard over the past decade successfully restoring the canal between Stroud and Stonehouse. However, there is plenty more to be done in the next stage of the project, focusing on where the canal winds west and north towards Gloucester.

What is the project?

The Cotswold Canals Connected project is worth around £24 million. Subject to the success of a National Lottery Heritage Fund bid, it aims to restore the link between Stroud and the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal at Saul Junction.

The project is being led by Stroud District Council, and is supported by a number of key partners, including CCT, Gloucestershire County Council and the Canal & River Trust.

When finished, 6km of historic canal will have been restored and 1.5km of new canal created, using some fantastic engineering solutions. Stroud will be reconnected with the inland waterway network for the first time in more than 50 years.

The strength of volunteers

Like many other projects across the country, most of the work will be carried out by dedicated volunteers. In total hundreds of them have already given more than 700,000 hours of their time in the initial stages of this work – an incredibly inspiring thought, and their passion can be felt throughout the project.

There is a fully inclusive attitude among the team, mirroring the diverse local community, which includes some of the most disadvantaged people in the region.

To supplement the work of volunteers, contractors will be brought in to undertake some of the more complex engineering jobs. These include constructing underpasses beneath roads and an already culverted railway bridge, to allow the restored canal to pass underneath.

A work boat crew fixing signage (Photo by Mike Gallagher, Cotswold Canals Trust) A work boat crew fixing signage (Photo by Mike Gallagher, Cotswold Canals Trust)

Wellbeing and wildlife benefits

The project will bring a range of benefits to the local area. The canal corridor will help increase biodiversity by reconnecting previously fragmented habitats, including wetlands, ditches, scrubland and hedgerows. The variety of habitats that will be created or restored will become one of the UK’s largest biodiversity offsetting projects. Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust will be helping to check the environmental quality of the work in the later stages.

It’s anticipated that the project will attract an extra 250,000 visitors to the area, who will inevitably gain from the health and wellbeing benefits of being by water. This is a belief that is firmly at the heart of both the Canal & River Trust and the CCT.

There is also a national significance to Cotswold Canals Connected. It’s a key part of a much larger project to reconnect the River Severn to the River Thames via a green and blue corridor. New walking and cycling routes along towpaths will allow people to get closer to water. The routes will flow through over 30 hectares of new protected habitats, providing a beautiful, safe wildlife corridor that will be one of the biggest in Europe.

Photo: The canal restoration includes a wide range of projects, such as artwork along the route, and involves the whole community

Art in an underpass for the Cotswold Canals Connected project

In partnership

We’re proud to be a part of the Cotswold Canals Connected project team, which includes other prominent bodies such as the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The sheer scale of the project certainly leads to some engineering challenges, which the CCT are approaching with impressive determination. To create what is called ‘the missing mile’, the canal will be extended to flow under the M5 and the A38/A419 roundabout crossing (as shown in the illustration below). The CCT recently received a generous £4-million grant from the Highways England Environment Designated Fund to carry out this section of the work.

Illustration of planned work at A38/A419 roundabout for Cotswold Canals Connected project (courtesy of Cotswold Canals Trust)

The project partners are working closely with the Environment Agency and Network Rail, and we will also be providing a lot of practical and financial support.

Find out more about this exciting project and how to support the work of the Cotswold Canals Trust.

Last date edited: 16 November 2020