Fund Britain's Waterways

Fund Britain's Waterways

29 July 2023
Signatures: 47,870Next Goal: 50,000
153 people signed this week

Why this petition matters

Started by Sarah Niblock

Help us urge the Prime Minister not to stand by but to ensure his government takes action today to help safeguard Britain’s canals and rivers now and for future generations. 

We, the undersigned, ask that the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, acknowledges the many social, economic and environmental benefits that Britain’s inland waterways provide and gives his assurance that the government will intervene, where necessary, to ensure our rivers and canals remain fully open, navigable, safe and accessible for all.

Who is affected?

Our canals and rivers are an integral part of Britain’s landscape and way of life. Millions of us, from urban and rural areas, visit them every year to fish, boat, walk the towpath, observe wildlife or simply soak up the views of our canals and navigable rivers. More than 8.5 million people (nearly 15 percent of the population) live on or within 1km of the waterways, and half of us live within 5km. In urban areas, the percentage is often much higher with many urban waterways running through heavily populated areas of deprivation and diversity, often with higher rates of ill-health and unemployment. Add to those figures the additional 10 million people who access the waterways for business, leisure, wellness or commuting, and it is clear that open, accessible and well-maintained waterways are vital for us all, and for Britain’s economy, ecology and wellbeing.

What’s at stake?

The combined annual economic and social value of the 2,000 miles of waterways managed by Canal & River Trust alone amounts to £6.1bn. This includes:

o   £1.5bn annual economic value from water-based tourism and jobs.

o   Annual social value of £4.6bn, including

o   £1.1bn cost-saving to the NHS from active use of the waterways and their towpaths.

The overall figure is much higher – 5,000 miles of navigable waterways across England, Scotland and Wales form a vast national infrastructure network. Collectively they provide hugely important benefits to people, the environment and local communities, while also contributing significantly to the economy. Our canals and rivers create jobs and bring financial benefits through tourism and leisure. They offer opportunities to mitigate flooding, transfer drinking water and provide habitat corridors for wildlife and biodiversity. They can also contribute to the improved health and wellbeing of the whole population. These benefits can only be realised if they are well maintained and looked after. It is vital that the waterways in public ownership are funded by national or devolved government. Canals and navigable rivers were once allowed to deteriorate, and many fell into dereliction and were closed. Restoration efforts brought some of them back from the brink, but they could slip again into dereliction in future without sufficient funding in place. It costs significantly more to restore damaged waterways than to maintain them adequately.

Here is just a snapshot of the benefits of UK’s inland waterways:

Waterway projects can regenerate both rural and urban areas and improve the lives of millions of people.

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.

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.

Waterways are blue-green corridors that allow opportunities for reconnecting disparate habitats, biodiversity net gain and improvements for wildlife.

Thousands of tonnes of freight are moved every year on our canals and rivers. Transporting goods by water can mean lower carbon emissions whilst also removing hundreds of vehicles from the roads.

Why now is the time to act

All these benefits could be lost if funding for maintenance of the waterways and their associated structures is not increased in the future to address outstanding works required and future proof the network against increasingly frequent extreme weather.    

Canal & River Trust (CRT) could be described as the “National Trust for our inland waterways”, with responsibility for maintaining over 2,000 miles of inland waterways, their tow paths and associated historical assets, such as bridges. Unlike the National Trust, CRT doesn’t charge the public for access but relies on central government grant funding to make up nearly a quarter of its income. The waterways need your support because unless the government rethinks its latest plan, the CRT will lose 40% of its grant funding from 2027, impacting maintenance and risking the closure of canals.     

The government’s own Environment Agency also has responsibility for maintaining over 600 miles of inland waterways, including the River Thames, the Medway, the Wye and Anglian waterways. However, with very limited resources it is already struggling to maintain the network and its assets, having received less than half of the funding it sought to support its maintenance plans for this year.

Similarly Scottish Canals, the Scottish Government body responsible for managing 137 miles of inland waterways including the Lowland Canals as well as the Caledonian and Crinan Canals, has over £70m of maintenance work outstanding.

By signing this petition today, you will send a clear message through to the heart of government about what is at stake.  


Please note: donations to do not reach Fund Britain's Waterways, they only go to the petition platform though they do help to expand and promote this petition. If you wish to donate to a restricted Fund Britain's Waterways campaign fund to help with the costs of our ongoing activities please visit

153 people signed this week
Signatures: 47,870Next Goal: 50,000
153 people signed this week