28 August 2021

1. An important industrial heritage

Our canals and rivers tell the story of Britain’s industrial past.

The 7000 miles of waterways are home to 2700+ listed structures, 70 listed ancient monuments and 5 UNESCO world heritage sites. Many are in conservation areas. Yet there are still stretches of waterway and buildings which have no protection at all.

The heritage of each waterway is unique to that canal or river, as each canal company found a different way to design their infrastructure.

Heritage Bridge 77, Congleton on the Macclesfield Canal by Martin Allaway
Bridge 77, Congleton on the Macclesfield Canal by Martin Allaway

2. It’s not a museUm

Britain’s canal and river heritage is not in a museum. Our waterways are a vast, open air network connecting city and countryside, alive with boats and enjoyed by millions.

Moreover, no other heritage system is as widespread or as accessible as the inland waterways. Anyone can walk along a canal in one of many cities and towns across Britain and help to operate a 200 year old lock mechanism with no training – just an enthusiasm to get stuck in and push a balance beam!

waterways heritage industrial landscape canal
Gas Street Basin, Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Photo by Nigel Essery

3. Good for economic growth

Canal regeneration is a catalyst for economic growth in previously deprived, urban areas. Canal and river heritage alongside the natural world can also give a much-needed boost to rural areas.

Similarly, the waterways tourism industry is thriving like never before. Because of environmental, health and financial reasons, many more people are choosing to holiday in Britain instead of abroad.

Ebley Mill
Ebley Mill in Stroud. Photo by Mike Gallagher.

4. Better quality of life

Canals and rivers create green routes through cities and towns, supporting wildlife and improving the mental and physical health of everyone who lives beside them.

Heritage contributes to how good people feel about the places they live and their quality of life.

Autumnal canal bridge surrounded by trees
Ellel Grange Bridge on the Lancaster Canal. Photo by Peter Thomas

5. It builds communities

Our surroundings contribute to our ideas about who we are, where we live and how we feel about our local community.

Canal and river heritage builds communities around buildings, landscapes or cultural traditions and memories. It is vital we preserve this heritage for the future.

Canoeists paddle under the Lune Aqueduct
Lune Aqueduct carrying the Lancaster Canal over the River Lune. Photo by Peter Thomas

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Waterways heritage is falling through the gaps of heritage protection. Many heritage features have already been lost, whilst vast numbers remain under threat.

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