Canal heritage damaged by vandals, boaters, vehicles

Vandals cause most acts of damage to canal structures, then boaters and road vehicles, but total is 25% down on last year.

The Canal & River Trust’s annual report (2015/16) into the state of the waterways heritage reports that incidents that affected waterways heritage were down 25% on the previous year, with just under 800 recorded. The most common cause of damage was vandalism (38% with just under half involving graffiti), while a similar number of incidents involve damage caused by boats (34%) and 16% were caused by vehicles striking historic structures and, in particular, bridge parapets.

In England and Wales the Trust has the responsibility for looking after 2,000 miles of historic waterways, 49 scheduled monuments. 2,701 listed buildings and 317 conservation areas. In addition, thousands of other non-designated buildings, structures and earthworks are almost equally important.

Walsall canal bridgeThe Heritage at Risk (HaR) registers include UK heritage assets that are at risk as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development. At the end of 2015/16 they contained 24 individual CRT assets, the same as last year. James Bridge Aqueduct on the Walsall Canal (right) has been removed following repairs and protective road lowering, but Stainton Aqueduct (Grade II) on the Lancaster Canal has been added as a result of damge from the 2015 winter floods. Work has progressed at Soulbury Pumphouse (Grade II) on the Grand Union, the Birmingham Roundhouse (Grade II*), Saul Junction Lock (Grade II) and Fox’s Kiln (Grade II) at Gloucester Docks. It is hoped that several of these can be removed from HaR registers in 2016/17. Other structures, including Semington Aqueduct (Grade II) on the Kennet & Avon and Appley Locks (Grade II) on the Leeds & Liverpool present longer term challenges in terms of funding and repairs but are being monitored over time.

Volunteers play an important part in supporting the Trust’s heritage activity and in the past year 1,209 hours were given by volunteers working with the Trust’s heritage team. Volunteers have been involved in all areas, including historical research, making heritage assessments and conservation management plans, practical works and recording historic structures.

Richard Parry, chief executive at the Trust, said: Managing and conserving the waterways heritage is one of the Trust’s most important objectives. In 2015/16 we again saw excellent work carried out to historic structures by our staff, volunteers and contractors. We also faced the challenges of the winter floods in late 2015 which caused significant damage to a number of our waterways and resulted in the failure of the Grade II listed Elland Bridge.

Sir Neil Cossons, Chair of the Heritage Advisory Group writes; The Canal & River Trust’s heritage portfolio is an engaging and accessible one, there for everyone, to be savoured, enjoyed and understood. Most is over two hundred years old and offers, through its intrinsic values of integrity and authenticity, a vivid and readable insight into the nation’s history. And, as the Trust’s greatest resource, it affords immense pleasure to millions of people, as a place of quiet away from the rest of the world, a haven for wildlife or as the mainspring of urban regeneration. At once robust and unpretentious, this astounding asset can also have a delicate fragility that demands the utmost care and sensitivity to ensure its qualities are not degraded.

You can download a pdf copy of the Canal & River Trust annual report into the state of the waterways heritage.  

All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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