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Connecting communities

Explore the benefits highlighted in our Waterways for Today report

Waterway projects can help to connect communities.

Access to the paths that run alongside our waterways is free. These inclusive, flat, linear routes can be used as active travel corridors to connect communities and provide passage between urban and rural areas.

How Waterways Can Help

Waterways create active travel corridors that connect communities and provide free, inclusive and level routes for walking, jogging, cycling and more. Cycle routes, long-distance paths and the national footpath network often link to waterway towpaths, enabling improved connections at a local level.

Due to their industrial past, hundreds of towns and cities are already on the waterways network; restoring up to 500 additional miles would add dozens more.

These reinvigorated routes can provide traffic-free paths for people living in rural areas to access bigger settlements, and passage out to the countryside from inner city and urban areas. The regeneration of a waterway can also spur local communities to take ownership of it, and work together to maintain and enhance “their” community asset.

Within cities, waterways are blue-green routes that should be considered part of sustainable transport networks contributing towards zero carbon, economic recovery and changing behaviour patterns.


One of the continuing glories of the waterways and their upkeep and restoration is that they bring the oxygen-filled veins of rural life into our urban landscapes.

Timothy Spall, actor,
boat owner and IWA member

Case Study: Bee Highway &
Edible Garden on the Ashton Canal

A ‘bee highway’, connecting communities and wildlife, has been created along the Ashton Canal in Manchester. It follows a communal vegetable plot at Lock 4, which was set up by IWA’s Manchester Branch and Incredible Edible, a network of groups around the country that encourage communities to come together by growing food and supporting local food businesses.

A raised bed beside the lock was planted with a variety of edibles and herbs, including strawberries, beetroot, chives, onions, parsley and peas. The timber for the bed came from old lock gates which, along with the gravel and top soil, were donated by the Canal & River Trust. Volunteers sowed wild flower seeds as the first part of the ‘bee highway’ along the route of the canal.

IWA Manchester Branch supplied all the plants, created signage out of recycled timber and its volunteers gave out spare
baby pea plants to passers-by, complete with instructions on their care.

Since then further edible gardens have been created at other locations along the Ashton flight. People who use the waterway for walking, cycling, boating and relaxation are encouraged to pause a while to tend the garden and pick vegetables and herbs in return, enjoying the improved biodiversity of this very urban environment in the process.


Facts & Stats

Of the 76 places now designated as cities in England, Scotland and Wales, 41 are on a navigable waterway. Restoring up to 500 more miles would add another seven cities, connecting those places to their neighbouring communities.

The Return on Investment (ROI) of upgrading a towpath alongside a waterway or restoration project is considerably greater than the ROI of creating new cycling routes. This is demonstrated by the recent investment of £429,000 from Sustrans and Scottish Government to upgrade the towpath of the Monkland Canal, a derelict and partially filled-in waterway no longer connected to Scotland’s Lowland Canals but well used by the local community for walking and cycling.

Canalside paths in Birmingham saw a 128% increase in use by cyclists between 2012 and 2016, following improvements to the city’s towpaths, compared to just 24% in a control group of six routes that did not receive improvements.