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How are UK canals maintained? The Rothen Group Top 10 key facts

Canals first became an important part of UK waterways more than 200 years ago, when they were replied upon to transport goods around the country. Although the freight traffic has decreased significantly since canals were first built, they are still enjoyed by many recreational users both on and off the water. However, to ensure canals are operating efficiently, regular canal maintenance is required, and the following list contains 10 key interesting UK waterway maintenance facts.


How are canals maintained?


Canals are enjoyed by a growing number of people; however, wear and tear is inevitable and regular maintenance is needed to ensure the waterways remain operational. The aim is to use preventative maintenance on a regular basis, so that faults are not able to develop, and breakdowns are minimised.


Who maintains the UK’s canals and waterways?


The Canal and River Trust aims to 'protect, manage, and improve the nation’s canals', which include listed structures, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), and World Heritage Sites. The trust relies on government grants, donations, fees, and other sources of income to manage and maintain the canals and waterways, with the services of external companies, such as The Rothen Group, called upon to assist with the maintenance of the network.


Who are The Canal and River Trust?


For many years it was British Waterways which were responsible for the maintenance of canals, however in 2012 The Canal & River Trust was formed. The trust, known as Glandŵr Cymru in Wales, is responsible for the maintenance of canals, rivers, reservoirs and many heritage structures and buildings within England and Wales. In Scotland, British Waterways continues to operate as a public corporation, although it trades under the name of Scottish Canals.


The trust is managed by a board of 10 trustees and is legally responsible for the management of all work relating to the objectives of the charities. There are also 28 council members, who are called upon to offer advice relating to everything from walking and conservation to angling and boating, with regional directors assisting with the general running of the trust’s operations. The Rothen Group is proud to be a trusted waterways contractor of The Canal and River Trust.


Who to contact if you spot a damaged canal?


If you spot a damaged canal, it is important to report the issue to the Canal and River Trust as soon as possible. This will ensure the problem is investigated quickly so that potential hazards are rectified, and a repair is completed efficiently. The easiest way is to call the office during normal working hours using the phone number: 0303 040 4040.


What needs to be maintained on a canal?


Within the canal network there are thousands of structures, channels, banks, pumps, and pathways which need to be maintained. With such a vast network of canals, a regular maintenance schedule is needed and should include everything from major structural works such as dam repairs and the construction of headwalls, outlets, and overflows through to small scale periodic works, such as:

  • Scrub clearance along canal bank sides

  • Removal of vegetation within the canal channel

  • Land forming works and excavations

  • Dredging and desilting

  • Lining of the channel

  • Planting of jetties and landing stages

  • Mending of the towpath and handrails

  • Clearance of reservoir feeders


How are canal water levels maintained?


One of the main challenges relating to the operation of canals is maintaining adequate water levels within the 2,000-mile canal network. Each time a boat passes through a lock it requires thousands of litres of water, so a vast water supply is needed, and rivers, streams, reservoirs, and underground pumps all need to be maintained to ensure water is available to be pumped back into the locks.


When should canals be maintained?


Many canals are more than 200 years old, which means that sympathetic care from experienced canal engineers is often needed to protect these historic assets. Through regular inspection, the trust often grades parts of the network, with maintenance then prioritised according to condition, reliability, and the probability of failure. At the start of each year, areas are identified within the canals that may require attention and a schedule is put in place. Naturally, there will be some issues that need prioritising, especially if there is a serious impact to the environment or canal users.


There are also key areas which are inspected regularly, for example, the various reservoirs which fall within the Canal and River Trust’s network are inspected twice a week, with in-depth inspections once a year. Through these regular inspections, the trust is able to hire independent engineers, such as The Rothen Group, to complete the required works.


What are the main issues with the UK canal network?


There are many issues which can quickly impact the efficiency of the UK canal network, work that The Rothen Group can remedy, including the following:

  • Low water levels due to erosion, particularly along bends or within downstream sections

  • Water losses due to seepage, leakage. or both

  • Siltation

  • Damage to structures along the canal

  • Plant growth

  • Lack of water availability

  • Overtopping when the incoming flow of water is greater than the canal capacity

These issues often start as minor maintenance issues, however if they are left un-repaired severe problems can quickly develop.


Why canal maintenance is important?


As we have already mentioned, canal maintenance is essential to maintain water levels, however the waterways and embankments are also important areas for wildlife and ecology. Many canals are home to important habitats wildlife such as bats, voles, dragonflies and kingfishers, and careful maintenance protects the unique biodiversity. For many species, the canals and rivers provide vital corridors and resources, with the canal hedgerows some of the oldest remaining habitats.


Do canals have to close for maintenance?


With thousands of miles of canals and rivers stretching throughout the UK, it is inevitable that closures or restrictions will occasionally need to be put in place. This is often due to maintenance works, although there are also times when canals must close due to lack of water after a lock gate is left open accidentally. Although emergency closures do happen, if the canal is closed for routine maintenance, there will be plenty of warning and works are often planned during quiet usage periods.



The Rothen Group – Canal Maintenance Specialists


The knowledge of canal engineers and specialist equipment is relied upon to both develop a strategic maintenance plan and to complete the maintenance and repairs needed. Here at The Rothen Group, our contractors specialise in everything from emergency repairs to regular canal maintenance, and by designing and building our own machinery, we are proud to be the specialists of choice. To find out more about canal maintenance in the UK, please contact our team today and we will be happy to share our knowledge.


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