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Safeguarding quality of life issues such as flooding, climate change, biodiversity, conservation and environmental management

Waterways support the environment by:

  • Encouraging care of the environment.
  • Providing access to canals and reservoirs.
  • Promoting greater access to the wider countryside for all.
  • Nurturing wildlife habitats.
  • Seeking to minimise any adverse effects and maximise benefits of any planning activity within the County.
  • Providing a means to mitigate and offset damaging activities along the canal corridors.

The argument

Waterways and their corridors create and nurture high value wildlife habitats and contribute to minimising the impacts of climate change. They help to assist and promote the best possible stewardship of our built and natural environment in the fields of archaeology, historic buildings, urban design, landscape character and ecology. As the canals pass through the landscape, they provide connective corridors through towns and intensively farmed areas to scattered sites of high ecological value. Plants and animals use these corridors to travel between habitats, thereby extending their populations into new suitable sites and thus ensuring genetic diversity. Water arriving in the canals from various and diffuse sources may not always be in the best condition and flow can be inconsistent with periods of flood and drought. With good design, canals offer a means to store and then filter water before returning it to natural water courses, an important service to the ecosystem.

The canal routes in Staffordshire pass through some areas of significant habitat and landscape degradation. The restoration of the towpath in Stoke-on-Trent at the beginning of the 21st Century has demonstrated how the waterway can deliver significant improvements on a short timescale and at reasonable cost. Most of this restoration work was carried out by young people on training schemes which enhanced their skills and enabled them to secure employment. Improvements in biodiversity go hand-in-hand with the improvement of living conditions in industrial towns where land has been degraded by many years of heavy industrial use.

Sensitive restoration and navigation improvements on canals has been shown to provide high quality slow moving open water as prioritised in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP). In addition to open water, canals and their banks support a number of other BAP priority habitats, such as, fen, marsh and swamp, broadleaved and wet woodland and hedgerows. In turn the habitats are home for significant rare and protected species such as water vole, bats and great crested newt. In its 2009 report DEFRA concluded that, providing good practice is enforced, boating poses no threat to aquatic wildlife on most waterways.

The maintenance of an open-water channel is important. Whether or not the canal is open to navigation, dredging and weed control is often required but must be undertaken carefully both to prioritise the most effective areas and to take into account restrictions such as those forming part of an SSSI. Frequent, regular silt removal is preferred along with good structural management and work with neighbouring landowners to reduce avoidable silt deposition.

Fradley Junction Nature Reserve

Fradley Junction Nature Reserve, adjacent to the Trent & Mersey Canal. Photo courtesy Waterway Images Ltd.