Closure of Anglian Waterways

Lack of Government investment has led to the decline and closure of some waterways in the Anglian Region. Help us stop the decline. Support our campaign for more funding.


IWA is campaigning for the 650 miles of navigations currently managed by the Environment Agency to be properly funded. As part of this IWA would like to see the management of these waterways transferred to Canal & River Trust. See why we think this is the right thing to do - read more about the proposed transfer of EA waterways.

What has Already Closed?

The Anglian Water Act 1977 provides a Right of Navigation on most (but not all) of the waterways in EA’s Anglian Region.

There are 3 locks on waterways in the Anglian Region which EA has closed in recent years and where EA has recently stated that they do not have the funds to reopen them.  These are Harlem Hill Lock on the River Ancholme, Dedham Lock on the River Stour, and Welches Dam Lock, just off the Old Bedford River linking to the Middle Level.  Although these locations are perhaps not on the most popular routes, they remain part of the connected national network. IWA’s concern is that future closures could affect busier rivers such as the Nene and the Great Ouse.  

In addition to the three locks mentioned above, there are a number of other waterways in EA’s Anglian Region, and further afield, where access is difficult or impossible.  Details of all of these are given below.  IWA acknowledges that not all of these are included in Schedule 1 of the Anglian Water Authority Act 1977, but some have a common law right of navigation; IWA does not want to see any further closures of currently navigable waterways.

Harlem Hill Lock on the River Ancholme

Harlem Hill Lock on the River Ancholme in Lincolnshire, where there is a statutory right of navigation, was closed to navigation on safety grounds late in 2012 due to a problem with the bottom gates.  Its closure prevents navigation on the top 2 miles to the head of navigation. The bottom gates had been replaced in the late 1990s (funded by IWA Lincolnshire Branch) and a previous guillotine top gate was removed around 2010 when EA fitted new mitre gates.

Access to the River Ancholme from the Humber (now open again)

A number of issues at South Ferriby Lock resulted in it being closed from the middle of March 2017 until mid July 2017. Issues have included siltation, a number of mechanical failures, the discovery of a bat colony delaying repairs being able to take place. The closure meant that South Ferriby was available as a safe haven for boats on the tidal Humber, and boats moored on the River Ancholme are effectively trapped, with just 17 miles of river available to them with the continued closure of Harlem Hill Lock upstream. 

Dedham Lock on the Suffolk/Essex Stour

Dedham Lock was closed in 2014 and EA have stated that they have no funds to reopen it despite the effect of its closure on River Stour Trust trip boat operations. The River Stour Trust is in discussions with EA about getting the lock reopened.  

Flatford Lock on the navigable section of the Stour was closed for two years from 2013 because EA condemned its gates as unsafe for navigation, but stated they did not have the funds to replace them.  The lock was only reopened in 2015 because the River Stour Trust raised the £80,000 needed for new gates, with EA contributing £5000.

Welches Dam Lock in Cambridgshire

Welches Dam (Cambridgeshire) is a navigation managed by EA, which together with the Old Bedford River and Horseway Channel form one of the routes from the Middle Level to the Great Ouse. This lock was closed in 2006 by EA without notice. EA piled the lock entrance and made passage by boats impossible. This remains the case despite campaigning by IWA and other local waterways groups. At the time of writing (11 years later) no agreement has been reached with EA either for them to restore the lock or to allow the voluntary sector to restore it. The original reason given for this abrupt lock closure was that EA was concerned about leakage but the piling never extended right across the entrance leaving a 1.5m gap. This means that the lock gates (not the piles) are preventing leakage but no boats can use the lock.

Horseway Channel (Forty Foot Drain/Vermuyden’s Drain

Horseway Channel (2½ miles) is currently impassable despite being a navigation managed by EA. It connects Welches Dam Lock which EA stanked off in 2006 (see above) and Horseway Lock which is owned and maintained by the Middle Level Commissioners. Horseway Channel is now choked with weeds and silt and unnavigable even by the smallest boat. This channel was once part of the main navigable route through the Middle Level, and but fell out of popularity in recent years owing to poor maintenance making passage difficult.

Local waterways groups have been campaigning for years for EA to restore it but to little avail. It is hoped that more progress will be possible if Welches Dam lock is restored.

Old Bedford River

The Old Bedford River is a statutory navigation which runs for 12½ miles from Salter’s Lode to Welches Dam.  Navigation has become extremely difficult due to lack of routine dredging and the operation of Welney Sluice, a single vertical sluice gate which when built in 1973 was intended to only be closed when Welches Dam Pumping Station was operating.  

Since EA closed Welches Dam Lock (see above) and removed the slipway the only way in is via the tidal sluice at Salter's Lode. Arranging access to navigate the route involves obtaining permission from EA and the Middle Level Commissioners. The tidal channel is in poor condition and depending on the river level and time of year navigators may encounter floating weed and/or silt. There is no proper turning point until Welches Dam is reached, and this has been reduced by the piles which are blocking the lock entrance. 

Swaffham Bulbeck Lode

This lode runs 3 miles to Commercial End (once a busy inland port) although in more recent years was only navigable as far as Slade Farm, 1½ miles from the junction with the River Cam.  In this case EA is not the navigation authority (and the lode wasn’t included in the Anglian Water Authority Act 1977), but EA own (and operated) the entrance lock (Swaffham Lode Lock).  About 10 years ago EA modified the upstream guillotine gate which restricted headroom for boats making the lode inaccessible except to smaller craft such as canoes that can be launched from the bank.  More recently the bottom (mitre) gates have been removed.  On being asked about this, EA stated that they could not trace records of actioning the guillotine restriction.

Bottisham Lode

EA is the navigation authority for this lode (although it isn’t included in Schedule 1 of Anglia Waterways Act), which runs for 2½ miles from the River Cam.  Once a busy waterway to the village of Lode, it is now silted up and unnavigable by all but the most intrepid (and small) craft.  A set of mitred flood doors at the entrance were replaced in 2001 but more recently a "No unauthorised vessels" notice has been put up.

Soham Lode

EA restricts access to this waterway although it is not formally the navigation authority for it.  Campaigns have been held in the past for this 4½ mile long waterway to be returned to a navigable conditions, and along with Swaffham Bulbeck, Bottisham and Cottenham lodes, would all be relatively easy restoration projects. 

Lydney Harbour, Gloucestershire

Outside of EA’s Anglian Region, EA’s intended sale of Lydney Harbour has not progressed as quickly as it was hoped.  In the meantime the outer tidal gates have failed and the inner gates are currently inoperable.  The outer basin at the harbour was previously used to moor inbound boats and position outbound boats so that full use could be made of the times the tide allows passage over the sill, but this is now restricted by the outer tidal gates being inoperable.  Issues with the inner gates mean that boats frequently get trapped.  

Get Involved

If you live near, or boat on, any of the EA waterways, please write to your local MP and the relevant local authority in order to make them aware of your concerns. 

Download letter templates
Letter to MPs with EA navigations
Letter to MPs without EA navigations
Letter to local authority contacts

Suggestions of who to write to can be obtained by emailing Alison Smedley, Campaigns Officer.   Please copy any letters to Alison so that IWA is aware of the level of support for the campaign.


For a list of the EA waterways that IWA wishes to see transferred to Canal & River Trust (with suitable funding), see IWA's proposed transfer list.