The Canal and River Trust

Our Autumn season of speakers kicked off with local Trust manager Darren Green introducing us to the newly created Canal and River Trust, successor to British Waterways Board. This is a new charity set up to care for the legacy of 200 year old waterways in England and Wales. The Trust is amongst the country's biggest charities, responsible for 2,000 miles of canals, rivers, docks and reservoirs. Along with museums, archives and the country's third largest collection of protected listed buildings, after the National Trust and the Church of England. The replacement of the Waterways Board by this new organisation, releases it from the constraints of government control, and gives it greater freedom to seek funding from a wider range of sources.

The revitalisation of our historic canal network has come a long way in 50 years. Once moribund and derelict, we now can benefit from the hard work and commitment of many voluntary groups working with the Waterways Board over the years to breathe new life into the system. Now the canal network welcomes ten million persons annually, whether boaters, walkers or just general visitors. Twenty thousand jobs depend to a greater or lesser extent on the network.

All is not "plain sailing" however. The network is old and, although well built all those years ago, is still fragile. There are 1,500 locks to maintain, along with 3,000 bridges. Most are listed structures and repairs have to be undertaken sympathetically. As the popularity of the canals increases (there are 34,000 licenced boats), so the pressure on the infrastructure grows. Towing paths have to be fit for purpose, areas of nature conservation interest protected and invasive shrubs (which seem to be attracted to aquatic environments) such as Floating Pennywort, Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam tackled.

In Darren's area, which extends from Stoke to Leicester and Derby to Coventry, 70 staff with a budget of 5 million try to keep the network in shape. The funding (which used to be provided by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) is sourced from voluntary donations, both individual and corporate, income from licences for fishing and boats, property and, lastly, from the Government. A fifteen year binding contract provides 39 million per annum, plus a 10 million per annum top up for 7 years. Doubtless, the aspiration of both major parties is to see this sum reduce as other funding sources are identified.

The Trust is in the throes of preparing its first ten year strategy. It aims for further community involvement and ownership, the development of more leisure opportunities and the encouragement of economic opportunities that can be generated by the canal network. All this, of course, will need to respect the unique heritage that the canals bring to us. The canals are a remarkable survivor of a lost age; let's hope that the new Trust will be successful as a new venture.

Darren invited members to consider becoming Friends of the Canal and River Trust by committing to a regular monthly gift. Further information about donations and the Trust itself, is available on their website at www.canalrivertrust.org.uk

Roger Hockney
September, 2013