Messing about on the river

As the song goes there's nothing quite like Œmessing about on the river'. according to statistics our waterways, rivers and reservoirs are providing some great leisure opportunities. WWT reports on some of the initiatives which are now taking place around the country.

Water-related leisure and recreational activities have a dual role, they not only provide facilities for the public, but equally as important, raise awareness of conservation issues. According to British Waterways, the UK's canals and inland waterways play host to some 160 million visits a year offering to the public a wide range of recreational pursuits from boating and fishing through to watersports and access to nature reserves.

So far progress has been good with many of the medium and short term targets either completed or on-going. According to the EA there is already in place the routine screening of capital works, especially flood defence for any impact on recreation. Generic issues in relation to Agency work such as the use of flood banks for recreation are also being looked at. Such research and development studies will be used to encourage engineers to adopt an informed approach to the subject.

Commenting on its work in relation to recreational activities a spokesperson for the EA said: "The Agency's vision is to protect and improve the environment so that it can contribute to a diverse range of recreational opportunities which improve the nation's quality of life and appreciation of the natural environment."

The EA has also completed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Countryside Commission and the English Sports Council, which defines the action interface and areas of responsibility between the three organisations. As part of its recently announced £11m research and development programme, the EA will be looking at issues concerning the management of freshwater fisheries. An example of this is the recent concern over the decline of sea trout stocks. This has led to a research programme which will provide a baseline of reliable data, enabling the EA to monitor and manage sea trout stocks in a cost-effective manner.

British Waterways and the Agency have also recently announced a joint venture partnership in developing the potential of the Rivers Nene and Great Ouse in East Anglia. As the navigation authorities for many of the UK's canals and rivers, British Waterways and the EA already collaborate on waterway management. Navigation responsibility on Rivers Nene and Great Ouse will remain with the EA, but the two organisations will work in closer partnership to implement a regeneration strategy for the Anglian Waterways including the development of the service offered to boaters.

Geoff Mance, the Agency's director of water management, commented: "This decision has ended six years of uncertainty on the future of these two navigations. We can now concentrate on developing our collaborative programme with British Waterways which will improve the service that is offered to boaters on all our rivers."

Initiatives such as these are being openly encouraged by the Government, which recognises the benefits of a partnership approach and the two organisation are looking at other areas to collaborate on. A forthcoming Transport White Paper daughter document on inland waterways will contain further details on collaborative work and is expected to be published shortly.

The UK's network of canals were man-made more than 200 years ago to meet the bulk transport needs of an emerging industrial society. Development of rail and road links have obviously led to a decline in this form of transport and now our inland waterways are more concerned with leisure-related activities. Visitors are responsible for bringing in a total expenditure of over £900 million per year, supporting some 36,000 jobs nationwide.

Conservation is an important part of British Waterways' remit and it has developed environmental partnerships to work across a number of projects. Examples of these include its role in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan where it is lead partner for the protected Floating Water Plantain and Grass Wrack Pondweed. A biodiversity action plan is currently being formed by British Waterways which will encompass all its current conservation initiatives and also to propose future targets.

Other initiatives include the £78 million Millennium Lottery funded Millennium Link project that aims to regenerate the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals in Scotland. Once completed it will provide a complete waterway link between Glasgow and Edinburgh for the first time in 60 years. Birmingham¹s canals have also been rejuvenated along with both the Sheffield and Leeds canal basins and numerous other regeneration and restoration projects have or are being carried out which are encouraging tourism.

British Waterways says one of its lesser known roles is water management. A system of Œwater budgets' has been introduced to ensure minimal wastage of supplies and to alert managers of any potential problems to avert low water levels.

Any surplus water is sold to the water companies, companies that treat water for drinking purposes account for 63 per cent of British Waterway¹s water sales. Up to 60 per cent of Bristol city¹s water is provided by the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal.

Contributing to the debate on future water resources, British Waterways has proposed using the canal network as conduits to move water around the country, which it says will be "a cost-effective, low impact solution to the problem, which will actually benefit the waterways environment."

The water companies and authorities of England, Wales and Scotland are also very much involved in conservation and recreation pursuits. East of Scotland Water has been very active in this area and put together an integrated strategy with the objective to conserve and enhance the natural and man made heritage and maintain access for recreational purposes.

This has led to co-operating with a number of Scottish-based organisations including the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Scottish National Heritage in joint conservation ventures. Needless to say fishing plays an important part along with boating activities. Permit sales and uptake of boats at the authority's most popular fisheries have been increased.

Anglian Water has developed activities around many of its reservoirs ­ a good example is Rutland Water which offers a wide range of attractions for visitor of all ages. This includes nature reserves, a birdwatching centre, water sports and a butterfly and Aquatic Centre.


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