Top Reasons to Restore a Waterway

Droitwich Canal Festival - Photo by Chris Handscombe
Created on 12/08/2014

Image: Droitwich Canal Festival (photo by Chris Handscombe)

Hundreds of miles of the UK’s canals and river navigations have been saved from dereliction by volunteer groups around the country since IWA was founded in 1946, and many more miles are gradually being brought back to life.

Waterways are an incredibly valuable asset and research has shown that the restoration of them can bring a variety of significant benefits to an area. Examples of such restored waterways include the Kennet & Avon Canal, Forth & Clyde Canal and the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.

Boosts the Local Economy

Commercial developments built at restored waterside locations can bring vitality to an area, increase leisure activities and ultimately spending. Restored waterways and associated developments can also stimulate regeneration in the surrounding areas.  Recent research suggests that the restoration of a waterway can even increase the value of property in the local area.
Image: Falkirk Wheel on the Forth & Clyde Canal in Scotland

Creates Thousands of Jobs

As well as the jobs that can be created as part of a restoration project, waterway restoration can have a positive knock-on effect, creating jobs in the construction and running of commercial waterside developments.

The 87 mile Kennet & Avon Canal was restored fully to navigation for canal boats in 1990 and £25m of Heritage Lottery Funding saw its future secured by 2002. The waterway is now reported to support over 328 new Full Time Equivalent (FTE) jobs.
Image: Caen Hill Flight on the Kennet & Avon Canal (photo by Alan Wilding)

Increases Visitors to an Area

A vibrant new waterway will encourage visitors and boaters to an area who will engage in local activities.  Whether they’re walking or cycling the towpath, dining at a canal-side restaurant or taking a boat trip, they will spend money which can support the waterway itself and also helps to boost the local economy.
Image: Caldon Canal (Photo by Alison Smedley)

Creates a Sense of Community

Waterway restoration can have a positive social impact on local communities. As well as the creation of jobs, regeneration and developments in leisure facilities, the restoration itself can engage local communities as volunteers, to work together and help restore the canals. A sense of community can be created through groups of like-minded people campaigning and volunteering for a local cause, which has a real positive impact on an area.
Image: IWA Cleanup on the Erewash Canal (photo by Alison Smedley)

Health and Wellbeing

Improvements to towpaths alongside restored canals and rivers, creates public walking and cycling routes, increasing outdoor space for people to exercise. A report on Scottish canal regeneration sets out that the network of canal towpaths, which are used for different forms of travel, reduced road traffic accident casualties, absenteeism, exposure to poor air quality and increased the number of people exercising outdoors which suggests that for every £1 invested in the canal towpath network, there can be a return of £7 health benefits.
Image: Ashby Canal (photo by Harry Arnold, Waterways Images)

More Waterways to Explore

Over 70 waterways are currently under restoration across England and Wales, with the potential to create hundreds more miles of canals and rivers for boaters to explore. Take a look at the waterway restoration projects taking place across the UK.

Image: Pointing on the Chesterfield Canal


Increasing numbers of craft are appearing on the waterways network which can create problems for boats finding moorings in certain areas. Restoring more miles of waterway creates the potential for more moorings.
Photo: Netherwich Basin on the recently restored Droitwich Barge Canal (photo by Chris Handscombe)

Education, Training and Skills

Opportunities for training and development arise out of restoration and construction projects, whether it be training volunteers or through apprenticeship programs. Training improves skillsets and job prospects in areas which can benefit local economies. Restoration also provides a way of educating adults and children about our waterway heritage. IWA's Waterway Recovery Group provides training grants to restoration groups for volunteers restoring the waterways.
Image: Digger on the Chesterfield Canal restoration project (photo by Gemma Bolton)

Better than the Alternative

Vibrant canals and rivers with boats, walkers, cyclists, waterside pubs and restaurants are much more attractive than the alternative, which is often a muddy overgrown ditch littered with rubbish.
Image: River Great Ouse at St. Ives. The section between St Ives and Eaton Socon was reopened in 1938. (photo by Tim Lewis)

Environment and Wildlife

Research has shown that there is increased biodiversity of wildlife around restored waterways because they can support a wider range of habitats, from woodland and hedgerow, through to grassland, wetlands and open water.  Air quality in an area can also be improved as commuters can use towpaths to get to work rather than using their cars, which decreases emissions as well as positively contributing to their personal well being.
Image: Heron at Bugsworth Basin on the Peak Forest Canal

Improved Flood Defences

A recent report cited an example where the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal acted as the main drainage channel in its area during recent flooding.
Image: Bridgwater Docks on the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal (photo by Stefanie Preston)


Canals are part of our industrial heritage. Most of them were built during the canal mania years between 1790s and 1810s, to transport goods across the country in boats. Restoring these waterways means that associated buildings and structures are conserved, engendering a sense of local history.
Image: The Anderton Boat Lift which links the River Weaver to the Trent & Mersey Canal was reopened in 2002 (photo by Nigel C Burrows)

Find out more about the benefits of waterway restoration.

Much of the data was taken from summary of research carried out by the University of Northampton, commissioned by Canal & River Trust and published at a seminar jointly organised by IWA and CRT in May 2014. Take a look at a summary of the benefits of waterways restoration (3.7MB PDF) or read the full Review of the Impact of Waterways Restoration Report (1.5MB PDF)