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


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


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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