Waterways at risk

Our canals and rivers are under threat.

That may seem a strange statement when you think of the popularity of television programmes like Timothy West and Prunella Scales’ Great Canal Journeys. Or the millions of people who regularly use canals and rivers for exercise, recreation or active travel. Or the jobs, heritage or regeneration they enable.

I have seen at first hand the increasing popularity of our inland waterways as the 250-year old industrial network has been repurposed for leisure. 

Millions of hours of volunteer effort have gone into restoring derelict waterways. Today, restoration projects continue around the country, and the waterways are being reimagined again for climate change mitigation.

Inland waterways are widespread. Nationally there are 5,000 navigable miles and almost 80 per cent of local authorities have a navigable waterway or a waterway under restoration.

In 2022, an estimated 8.9 million people took part in an inland boating or watersports activity, resulting in the delivery of £3.1 billion in gross value added to the UK economy in 2022/23 and supporting more than 132,000 jobs. 

To this should be added the very substantial social and environmental value of waterways. 

However, the waterways are suffering from inflation, constrained funding and extreme weather events. Failing to maintain the infrastructure has consequences, as in 2019 when 1,500 local residents were evacuated in case the dam at Toddbrook Reservoir above Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire collapsed. 

Yet despite the value of the waterways, their deteriorating condition and the minimal level of national investment needed, the Government appears unwilling to invest appropriately. 

To address this threat, Fund Britain’s Waterways has come together. More than 100 organisations, representing hundreds of thousands of users and supporters of inland waterways, are campaigning for national and local government to act now to protect the public benefit and natural capital of our waterways. 

Please join and support us. Encourage people to sign the public petition and write to their MPs. We need everyone’s help to safeguard our waterways for future generations.


Pressure remains on public services

Diving into ocean action