Memorandum by English Nature (IW 38)
THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS
Our submission concentrates on canals, and our
principal conclusions and recommendations are:
1. Parts of the canal network in England
have developed as areas of high biodiversity value, because of
good water quality and physical stability. We recommend that,
on the small part of the canal network designated SSSI, nature
conservation should be a "principal use". This does
not necessarily preclude other uses, and each case should be treated
on its merits.
2. We believe that there should not be an
automatic presumption for the restoration or development or navigation
on inland waterways. Proposals should be subject to environmental
impact assessment, and a condition of funding bodies should be
that applications contain measures for protecting existing areas
of high biodiversity and enhancing other areas for wildlife.
3. A number of SSSIs have been damaged in
the past by canal restoration and subsequent management for leisure
and recreation. However, we are encouraged by the policies in
British Waterways and Biodiversity (British Waterways,
2000) and by the sensitive and co-operative approach demonstrated
by British Waterways in the current restoration of the Rochdale
Canal, part of which is proposed as a European Special Area of
4. It is possible to enhance the biodiversity
value of inland waterways through imaginative and sensitive management,
whilst retaining their primary use for freight, boating or other
recreational pursuits. Other impacts on the environmental quality
of canals arising from sewage discharges, diffuse pollution, dewatering
and hard engineering, must also be addressed to improve the canal
environment for people and for wildlife.
5. English Nature supports the Government's
policy framework set out in Waterways for Tomorrow, including
the proposal from IWAAC that each waterway should have a plan,
developed by open consultation and with special regard to its
historical and ecological character.
1.1 English Nature is the statutory body
that champions the conservation and enhancement of the wildlife
and natural features of England. We do this by:
other agencies, local authorities, interest groups, business,
affecting the special nature conservation sites in England;
to manage land for nature conservation, through grants, projects
nature conservation for all and biodiversity as a key test of
1.2 In fulfilling our statutory duties,
establish and manage National Nature
notify and safeguard Sites of Special
Scientific Interest (SSSIs);
advocate to government departments
and others effective policies for nature conservation;
disseminate guidance and advice about
nature conservation; and
promote research relevant to nature
1.3 Through the Joint Nature Conservation
Committee, English Nature works with sister organisations in Scotland,
Wales and Northern Ireland to advise Government on UK and international
nature conservation issues.
2. ENGLISH NATURE'S
2.1 Inland waterwayscanals and navigated
riverscan be important habitats for wildlife. In England,
some 40 stretches of, mainly, headwater or remainder canals have
been notified since 1949 as Sites of Special Scientific Interest
by English Nature (or its predecessor bodies). The River Wye,
including the navigable part, is an SSSI and candidate Special
Area of Conservation (SAC). It has not been extensively modified
or managed for navigation purposes and Atlantic salmon and other
migratory fish can still pass to their upstream spawning areas.
Further details of the special wildlife interestprincipally
aquatic plantswhich occurs on the canal system is given
in Annex 1.
2.2 Designated SSSIs represent under 1 per
cent of the canal network and a small part of navigable rivers.
The Government's objective is to secure 95 per cent of all SSSIs
in "favourable condition" by 2010. On some sites this
will require positive management measures to be put in place,
mainly because of neglect or inappropriate management. Outside
designated sites, English Nature will support measures for the
enhancement and enjoyment of biodiversity on canals and navigable
rivers (eg as "green corridors" in urban and intensively
2.3 Where rivers or canals are intensively
managed for boat traffic, the opportunities for wildlife are reduced.
On river navigations such as the Nene, the main concentration
of wildlife is the unnavigated back channels. Nevertheless, imaginative
management of vegetation, in the channel and along towpath areas,
can considerably enhance these more heavily used waterways. Further
details of management for biodiversity are given in Annex 2.
2.4 English Nature has a close working relationship
with the two main navigation authoritiesBritish Waterways
and the Environment Agency. Both of these bodies have statutory
duties to further nature conservation and to consult English Nature
over developments affecting SSSIs. We also work closely with local
authorities on waterways such as the Basingstoke Canal SSSI. We
have a long-standing dialogue with the Inland Waterways Amenity
Advisory Council, angling bodies and boating interests represented
by the Inland Waterways Association.
3. COMMENTS ON
3.1 Urban and rural regeneration: Two elements
are identified in Waterways for Tomorrow: restoration to
navigation of remainder canals and improvement and development
of canals and canal sides. Considerable public and private investment
is going into both these areas. English Nature believes that enhancements
for wildlife should be integrated in these schemes. These might
include remedying pollution problems, such as removal of heavy
metal sediments, planting of native species and creation of offline
bays and green corridors. We are encouraged by the approach taken
by British Waterways on the Rochdale Canal, which could serve
as a model for other restorations. Regeneration projects should
not proceed at the expense of areas of canal that already have
a high wildlife interest. This needs to be taken into account
at the selection stage. English Nature has advised IWAAC of where
proposed restorations might impinge on important wildlife sites.
3.2 Leisure, recreation, tourism and the
industrial heritage: Inland waterways are now used predominantly
for leisure and recreation. Potential problems for wildlife come
not only from people pressure, but from development of infrastructure
and management to support particular commercial leisure uses.
We welcome the commitment from British Waterways to promote biodiversity
as a "key part of what British Waterways is all about"
(British Waterways and Biodiversity). Delivery of such
a commitment will not be a straightforward task, particularly
where protection of biodiversity will require restrictions on
boat movements. Furthermore, other aspects of canal use and management
are not all in British Waterways control.
3.3 Examples of recent failures to achieve
sustainable management, incorporating biodiversity considerations
(a) Development of a marina on the Ashby
canal has resulted in damage to an SSSI section and goes against
the principle set out in Waterways for Tomorrow (6.29)
"Waterways must be managed in a way that conserves and, if
possible enhances their environmental value". The SSSI is
about 12 km long and ends just north of Snarestone, Leicestershire,
where boats have to turn around. Diverse reeded edges have been
concreted as moorings for boats, and the canal bank has been reinforced
within the SSSI using steel piles (other more sensitive techniques
are available). Aquatic bankside vegetation can be seen floating
along the SSSI section, torn out by craft. The water is turbid,
and few of the aquatic plants for which it was designated could
be found in a recent survey.
(b) Removal of the close season for coarse
fishing on non-SSSI canals for angling from March 2000 will lead
to increased disturbance on the breeding season for waterway birds
and the potential intensification of fisheries management (eg
stocking) in or near to stretches of canal of high biodiversity
interest. This decision was made by MAFF on the advice of the
Environment Agency, but was not supported by English Nature and
some angling bodies.
(c) Towpaths can facilitate the quiet enjoyment
of canals and their wildlife. Cycling, although generally a leisure
pursuit which does little harm to wildlife, gives cause for concern
in the development of asphalted mini-highways within the Sustrans
Natural Cycle Network Project.
3.4 The "quiet enjoyment" of canals
by those who walk along the towpath is entirely compatible with
wildlife conservation, and the provision of interpretative facilities
may enhance their visits.
3.5 The environment and the enhancement
of wildlife: The importance of aquatic plantlife in canals is
recognised in British Waterways and Biodiversity, which
states most of our canal SSSIs are designated because of water
plantshaving either an unusual variety of species or special
rare ones, such as floating water plantain. Canals are also important
for dragonflies, crayfish, bats and water voles (see Annex 1 for
3.6 English Nature recommends that those
40+ sections of inland waterways which are of high biodiversity
value (ie SSSIs or nature reserves) should be protected and sustained
by sensitive management. SSSIs are less than 1 per cent of the
canal network, normally in end sections or remainder canals, so
their conservation should not impinge unduly upon other interests.
3.7 Our recommendation equates to "principal
use" for nature conservation in designated wildlife sites.
However, this need not exclude other uses, though their integration
will require sensitive management. This is illustrated by the
current restoration project on the Rochdale Canal, which has been
proposed as a SAC for floating water-plantain. The British Waterways
ecologist has an executive role alongside BW engineers, and English
Nature has been working closely with BW in the scheme design.
The result is that, in appropriate stretches, two thirds of the
channel width will eventually be restored to navigation and one
third will be set aside as a habitat for aquatic plants. On other
canal SSSIs, it may not be feasible to create a shared channel,
and boating may have to be restrictedperhaps concentrating
on operating craft to show visitors the special wildlife interest.
In some cases, access may be more appropriate on foot.
3.8 Elsewhere in the canal network, nature
conservation would not be the "principal use", but opportunities
for enhancement should be identified and followed through in management
plans and restoration projects. The availability to the general
public of the waterways network as a peaceful haven to enjoy wildlife,
particularly in urban areas, should be valued and developed where
3.9 There is considerable scope for improving
environmental conditions on canals, for instance by restoring
water levels, controlling pollution and instituting sensitive
management practices. Our detailed proposals and recommendations
are contained in Annex 2.
3.10 Water transfer: English Nature can
see benefits and disbenefits to wildlife in developing the canal
network as a system for water transfer. A more informed view will
be reached when details of transfer routes and their water sources
are revealed. The ecological impact of water transfer lies, potentially,
in temperature differences and nutrient differences between the
water source and the receiving water. Increases in water movement
could also increase the dispersal of water-borne diseases such
as fungi and viruses affecting fish populations and the spread
of alien invasive species such as Japanese knotweed, New Zealand
pygmy weed and American crayfish.
3.11 Releasing water from upland reservoirs
down rivers before it reaches the canal system will have an impact
on the ecology of such rivers, especially aquatic invertebrates
and plants, through scouring effects. However, rivers below existing
reservoirs have been impacted over a number of years and, unless
new sources are exploited or rates significantly increase, transfers
into canals will not make a significant difference.
3.12 The introduction of colder water into
canals could extend the life cycle of those invertebrate species
having an aquatic larval form. Such differences may be nullified
as the water moves further away from its source. It could also
be argued that the canal environment is over-warm, and invertebrate
life cycles have been artificially shortened as a result.
3.13 Beneficial effects could occur due
to increase of flows, improving water quantities, oxgenation,
and dilution of pollution. The introduction of more nutrient-poor
water (eg from uplands in Wales or the north of England) might
reduce some of the effects of eutrophication or hypertrophication
(see Annex 2).
3.14 Drainage. Run off from agricultural
systems can result in nutrient pollution (see Annex 2). Road run-off
and storm-water discharges can result in oils and other pollutants,
such as salt in the winter, entering the canal system. We recommend,
where appropriate and certainly in new developments, the creation
of balancing lakes or ponds and the installation of silt traps
as part of planning design to reduce the impact of rainfall run-off.
3.15 Telecommunications: The recent contract
to use towpaths as a means of providing a route for a cable network
had sufficient environmental safeguards included in it that the
damage to the canal environment was of a temporary nature. There
are likely to be more such uses made of towpath land, and English
Nature will be consulted over any future proposals affecting SSSIs.
3.16 Waterways for tomorrow: English Nature
believes that the Government's Waterways for Tomorrow is
an important and timely document. It contains a substantial section
on the natural environment, which emphasises the protection and
enhancement of biodiversity and recognises the potential conflict
between some restoration proposals and SSSIs. It further supports
IWAAC's proposal that each waterway should have a plan, developed
by open consultation and with special regard to its historical
and ecological character.
3.17 Structure of ownership of waterways:
roles and responsibilities: Waterways for Tomorrow encourages
partnerships to take forward the potential of inland waterways.
Apart from the Environment Agency, the Broads Authority and British
Waterways, there are a number of smaller navigation authorities.
There is also a statutory advisory body on BW canalsIWAAC.
The Association of Inland Navigation Authorities was formed in
1996, though it has not had a high profile and has not, as far
as we are aware, been concerned with the protection and enhancement
of the biodiversity of inland waterways. Lastly, a Waterways Trust
has recently been established with a role which includes promotion
of restoration, provision of facilities for leisure use and protection
of the natural and built environment.
3.18 English Nature has some concerns that
the Waterways Trust and other smaller navigation trusts do not
have statutory duties to further conservation and protect SSSIs.
The ownership of the Rochdale Canal SSSI has been transferred
to the Waterways Trust. For this restoration, the Trust is using
the engineering and environmental expertise of British Waterways.
In future restorations, this may not be the case. Waterways
for Tomorrow recommends that all waterways authorities should
draw on the conservation and management expertise within British
Waterways, but it is not clear how this will be realised.
3.19 Making British Waterways the navigation
authority for all canals could help to achieve best practice in
waterway management and conservation standards. English Nature
has previously supported the retention of river navigations by
the Environment Agency, because of its wider responsibilities
towards rivers. However, we believe there may be a case for the
Agency to concentrate more in future on its environmental quality
functions, as outlined in its recent consultation paper Creating
an environmental vision (Environment Agency, 2000).
4. CANAL RESTORATION
4.1 We have included a separate section
on restoration of navigation, as it is recognised in Waterways
for Tomorrow that "there has been conflict between navigation
and environmental objectives, mainly when disused canals are being
restored" (6.35). There are 76 proposed canal restorations
(Waterways Restoration Priorities, IWAAC, 1998). Canal
restoration seems to attract significant lottery fundseg
Kennet and Avon, Rochdaleand there is an impetus, particularly
from local waterway groups, to work through the full programme.
4.2 The current restoration proposals affect
17 of the 40 SSSIs in England in canal channels, and a further
nine SSSIs and four Wildlife Trust Reserves are adjacent to a
proposed canal restoration. Three of the proposed restorations
impinge on candidate SAC sites. Most of the proposed restorations
involve BW-owned canals and the new Waterways Trust. Some of the
canals are Local Authority owned.
4.3 English Nature believes that there should
not be an automatic presumption that all remainder canals, especially
the SSSI stretches, should be restored to navigation. Educational
use and access by foot are legitimate uses of the canal network.
The decision should be based on criteria which are promulgated,
perhaps by IWAAC, and would include a full environmental impact
assessment, especially where an SSSI is involved. English Nature
would be pleased to advise on such criteria. Waterways for
Tomorrow refers (6.31) to guidance produced by the Environment
Agency for bodies proposing to restore or create new navigations.
We commented on the draft produced by the Agency. It contained
a presumption in favour of all restoration proposals, and we felt
that some of the hypothetical examples underplayed the importance
of biodiversity in the canal environment.
4.4 As we have pointed out elsewhere in
our submissionwith the example of the Rochdale Canalrestoration
can, in certain cases, enhance the wildlife interest, eg by rewatering
dry or low-flow sections, widening the canal to allow passage
of boats without destroying the aquatic plants and providing off-line
havens for wildlife. In the past, restorations have been carried
out piecemeal often by voluntary restoration societies. The recent
on-going restoration of the non-SSSI section of the Huddersfield
Narrow Canal was started without consideration to its biodiversity,
since much of the initial work was restoring a channel in a town
centre. Where work started on repair of bridges and viaducts,
the BW ecologist worked alongside the engineers to create appropriate
channel designs, safeguarding the white-clawed crayfish and bat
4.5 We recommend that an environmental impact
assessment is undertaken before any restoration proposals are
submitted for funding and that protection of areas of high biodiversity
value plus enhancement for wildlife of other parts of the waterway
are included as a condition by the Waterways Trust, planning authorities,
the Heritage Lottery Fund and other funding bodies. This will
help to ensure that the principles of sustainable development
are applied to the restoration and management of the canal network.
28 September 2000