People get concerned about the backlog of maintenance that the new waterways charity will face, and they tend to think of dredging, locks, bridges and towpaths. However on our recent trip I really began to notice another growing problem. Bank side encroachment.
It's hard for me to complain about this because I love reeds and rushes and meadow sweet and bushes and all that, but I also need some water to cruise on. In places the canal looks like it could soon be choked with plant life. I also like the paintwork on my boat, but if the trees grow any further out they'll scratch it off. I could understand this on remote arms of the system, but when it comes to, say, the Leicester line of the Grand Union Canal, which I would expect to be a main thoroughfare, it is a bit worrying. We saw miles and miles of stuff like this
at least half the canal's width is taken up by vegetation and there are very long stretches where a boat couldn't get near the bank. Look at this next photo - the towpath is somewhere on the left
This bit below looks lovely now, but in five or ten years it could easily be half the width. What then?
I suspect that there maybe hundreds of miles of canal that need attention in this way.
This is going to be a tough problem to crack in the coming years. There will be the understandable concerns of the wildlife lobby on one hand, ( the middle picture above is in the middle of a SSSI) and the need for boats to have bank access and a through route on the other hand. As to the cost of doing something about it, it would be enormous.
I suppose the first step would be to work out a new policy for the compromise between nature and navigation. From what I remember of our trip down the river Wey navigation, it's owners the National Trust seemed to have struck quite a good balance between vegetation and navigability. At the time I complained that it all looked a bit "managed", but I'm beginning to think they might be the ones to show how it should be done.