UK canals ready-made to meet Government’s Environmental Improvement Plan

31 January 2023

 In response to today’s announcement by the government about its Environmental Improvement Plan 2023, Richard Parry, chief executive at Canal & River Trust, said:

“The government’s announcement today that every household in England is ‘to be within 15 minutes of green space or water’ is welcome news. The nation’s 250-year-old canal network, protected by the Canal & River Trust, is ready-made to play a vital role in providing this. Canal towpaths are already the most accessible and free space for many communities, on the doorstep of nine million people who live within a ten to fifteen-minute walk.

“A legacy from our industrial past, canals now flow as arteries of nature throughout towns and cities, often through the country’s most deprived communities where health inequalities, green space deficit and lack of gardens are most pronounced. Our role is making life better by water.  No other charity brings so much accessible green space on the doorstep of so many people – saving the NHS £1.1 billion per annum in preventative health by getting people active and amongst nature.

“Our recent study with Kings College London showed that the real time effect of spending time on canals comes with a 6% improvement in mental wellbeing, compared to just green spaces alone.

“Canals are playing a vital role in biodiversity recovery – providing and connecting urban green spaces as well as linking urban areas with the countryside. However, the nation’s Georgian-built canal network, still used by thousands of boats, is old and increasingly vulnerable to the threats of a changing climate. Our ongoing mission is protecting and enhancing the canal network for the benefit of this and future generations.

“This requires the support of all who use, donate and volunteer on our waterways. It also demands a continued commitment from government who, in the coming weeks, will make a crucial decision about the vital funding that they provide to help keep alive this unique network of canals, rivers, docks and reservoirs.

“So, whilst we welcome the government’s plan for new and enlarged nature reserves, it must also, for a relatively modest continued financial commitment, continue to fund and help support nature for the millions of people who use and rely on the linear canal ‘nature reserves’ on their doorstep for everyday health and wellbeing.”