There are significant health, social and economic benefits to the post-Covid recovery of the UK in getting more people out on the water. This was the conclusion of the latest meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Waterways (APPGW). The meeting, facilitated by IWA, focused on the benefits of the recreational uses of the waterways.
The speakers were Ben Seal from British Canoeing, Howard Pridding from RYA and Simon Griffiths from Outdoor Swimming magazine. They all observed a significant increase in people using the waterways, with more people using unpowered craft and swimming in rivers during 2020. This has come as a result of the Covid lockdown and restrictions on other activities.
A key issue is the potential savings to government in healthcare costs if more people are encouraged to take up active participation in watersports. This would require better access to the waterways for a wider and more diverse audience. Likewise, better water quality and safety advice would be needed. More from the IWA here
On a debate In parliament on 4th June 2020 on the Restoration of Canals, Rebecca Pow, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, food and Rural Affairs responded
"The restoration of our disused canals is proving very valuable, enabling an increasing number of people to enjoy the outdoors and get close to water. Being close to water and being outside has much value for health and wellbeing. The Canal and River Trust did a survey recently, and it discovered that life satisfaction and happiness is 10% higher if you live near water, so we can see the benefits of restoring canals.
The Canal and River Trust, along with other smaller navigation authorities, is reporting increasing numbers of visitors along their canals. Those visitors are both walking and cycling—it not just about being on the water, but using the towpaths, as we have heard—as well as boaters using the waterways. During this pandemic, canal towpaths have reportedly been used even more, as people get out for their daily exercise. We have noticed this in Taunton Deane, where we have a section of canal, and a lot of people have really enjoyed being able to get out there.
Not only do canals bring a great health benefit; they can also make a really important contribution to the economy locally, especially where they go through urban areas and areas that have traditionally been in decline. They have generated money through tourists coming in, and through starting to get freight back on to the waterways. With the move to net zero and to cleaner air, this is actually a huge asset, and we are starting to realise that canals can have a rebirth as transport links.
The Government recognise the very considerable benefits our canal network brings in myriad ways, such as providing greater access to the outdoors, enhancing wellbeing, bringing us closer to water, engaging with nature—those water plantains—increasing leisure and recreation, increasing regeneration and bringing value to the economy.
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