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Flying the flag: Green Flag status for canal

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The Canal & River Trust has announced that the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal has again been awarded prestigious Green Flag status by Keep Britain Tidy. 

The nation’s canal charity has secured a further 53.5 miles of Green Flag waterways across England and Wales, with 592* miles now holding the international quality mark for parks and green spaces. The Green Flags further demonstrate the important role the 250-year-old canal network plays for local communities, bringing nature into the heart of the UK’s towns and cities.

The entire 16-mile-long canal has been awarded a Green Flag alongside the Trust’s existing Green Flag stretches, which range from once unloved stretches of urban canal that have been transformed into pleasant, wildlife-rich places in the centre of towns and cities like Manchester, Sheffield and Walsall, to more rural locations such as the Kennet & Avon and Monmouthshire & Brecon canals.

The spread of Green Flags reflects both the increasing importance of the waterways as vibrant green spaces in the nation’s towns and cities and their longstanding value in providing popular, accessible beauty spots across the country.

Pictures: Richard Joyce

Gloucester Sharpness Canal Green Flag Award 19 July 2023 Gloucester Docks | Flying the flag: Green Flag status for canal

However, the nation’s canals are facing a dual crisis, with climate change taking a costly toll on the historic network in the form of more frequent extreme weather, and with government recently (10 July) announcing deep cuts in funding for canals in the future. The Trust is calling on people to support their local waterway and help #KeepCanalsAlive.

Richard Parry, chief executive at Canal & River Trust, said: “These Green Flags showcase the breadth of what the waterways have to offer: free, accessible green space on the doorstep of millions. Our historic canals are places in our towns and cities where people can relax, get close to nature and feel the health benefits of spending time by water.

Victoria Basin at Gloucester Docks 29 March 2023 C Richard Joyce | Flying the flag: Green Flag status for canal

“Caring for a 2,000-mile canal network is a challenge, with our ageing waterways vulnerable to changing weather patterns, daily wear and tear, and perennial problems like litter and encroaching vegetation. This impressive number of Green Flags is a testament to everyone who works or volunteers with the Trust, including those in the community who play such a vital part in helping to look after their local canal.

GS looking north from Patch Bridge Slimbridge | Flying the flag: Green Flag status for canal

“And now we’re facing another challenge, with a significant reduction in our government funding after 2027 recently announced. This will inevitably mean we will not be able to carry out all the work needed to keep the canals available and in working order, risking the benefit that so many communities enjoy from having access to nature on the doorstep. We’re calling on the public to join our campaign to Keep Canals Alive so we can secure the support they need to avert the decline that we saw during the last century.”

Commenting on the news that 50* stretches of the Canal & River Trust’s waterways have met the Green Flag Award standard, Keep Britain Tidy’s Chief Executive, Allison Ogden-Newton OBE, said: “Our parks continue to provide a vital sanctuary for communities to play, grow and bond. The news that a record number of parks in the UK have achieved the Green Flag Award standard reflects the tireless work of those tasked with looking after these national assets.

“At Keep Britain Tidy, we’re very proud of the Green Flag Award – a crucial component in ensuring the continuing quality of our parks and green spaces, making sure they are managed to the highest standards and are safe and accessible. We believe it should be a minimum standard for every park – and that everyone, wherever they live, should have access to high-quality green space. Parks play a key role in the health and wellbeing of the nation not only in the physical and mental health of us all, but also in the environmental health of the planet. Congratulations to all this year’s winners.”

Gloucester Docks basin April 2023 | Flying the flag: Green Flag status for canal

Canals are an intrinsic part of the nation’s landscape with the quintessentially British sight of a narrowboat, lock or a humpback bridge familiar to anyone in towns or countryside alike. Today, as well as being visited by around 10 million people every fortnight, the Canal & River Trust’s waterways are used by around 35,000 boats. The Canal & River Trust is committed to protect and preserve the waterways in its care since it was formed in 2012.

The Green Flag Award scheme, managed by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy under licence from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, recognises and rewards well-managed parks and green spaces, setting the benchmark standard for the management of green spaces across the United Kingdom and around the world.

Green Flag Award-winning parks and green spaces can be found here.

Details of how to write to your local MP, volunteer or donate money to support your local canal can be found at: canalrivertrust.org.uk.  

*Two further waterways which currently hold Green Flags, the eight-mile-long Montgomery Canal, and a 20-mile stretch of the Weaver Navigation, including Anderton Boat Lift, are awaiting confirmation. If the awards are renewed, 620 miles of Trust waterways will hold Green Flag status.

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