What would you say if someone asks you ‘What have canals ever done for us?’. The IWA has produced a new report, Waterways for Today, which gives some useful answers, outlining 12 significant ways that our inland waterways benefits the economy, environment, local communities and all our lives.
The report is intended to be used by waterways organisations to highlight the value and importance of the waterways network, but we think it also provides useful replies when anyone wonders ‘Why should the country spend money maintaining canals?’.
1 – Contributing to the country’s economic recovery – Waterway projects can regenerate both rural and urban areas and improve the lives of millions of people.
2 – Increased spend in local communities – Boat-based tourism and leisure activities contribute £2.5bn to the economy each year, with people on day trips, boat holidays and taking part in water-based activities spending even more in local pubs, cafés and shops.
3 – Savings to the NHS and social care budgets – Waterways are well placed to improve the health, wellbeing and longevity of the many people living near them, through increased physical activities and social prescribing.
Natural and Built Environment Benefits
4 – Protecting and improving the natural environment – Waterways are bluegreen corridors that allow opportunities for reconnecting disparate habitats, biodiversity net gain and improvements for wildlife.
5 – Waterways heritage for future generations – With their historic buildings and structures, waterways form a vast, open-air heritage network; accessible to everyone and bringing history to life for current and future generations.
6 – Sustainability – Planning for resilience and climate change – Our waterways face unprecedented challenges from climate change; but they can be part of the solution through adaptation, mitigation and enhancing the natural environment.
Local communities Benefits
7 – Connecting communities – Access to the paths that run alongside our waterways is free. These inclusive, flat, linear routes can be used as active travel corridors to connect communities and provide passage between urban and rural areas.
8 – Education and young people – Waterways offer opportunities for hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, as well as the humanities and arts, through outdoor classrooms, visits to local waterways and inter-generational learning.
9 – Jobs, training and apprenticeships – Waterways offer many opportunities for employment, training and apprenticeships including in the tourism, leisure, hospitality, engineering and construction sectors.
Improving people’s lives Benefits
10 – Improved physical health – Waterways open up multiple opportunities for outdoor activities such as walking, running, cycling, fishing, sailing, canoeing, paddleboarding and volunteering.
11 – Improved mental health and wellbeing – Waterways can boost wellbeing and improve mental health through physical recreation, shared social experiences and connecting with nature.
12 – Creating better places to live – Waterside locations create a sense of place that can enhance people’s enjoyment of the area they live in. This can encourage greater diversity and inclusivity across local communities.
Les Etheridge, National Chair at IWA says: “Inland waterways are an integral part of our life and landscape, stretching for 5,000 miles across urban and rural Britain. Millions visit them every year and yet these blue-green corridors are constantly under threat from a serious lack of funding and investment.