Partnerships and Funding Manager, Canal & River Trust
“The canal is a destination in its own right – our living waterways connect communities and enhance health and wellbeing.”
No other charity brings as much free, open, and accessible blue and green space to the doorstep of so many than the Canal & River Trust. The Trust cares for a network of canals, rivers, reservoirs, and docklands throughout the UK, and more locally to Stroud District, the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, and Sharpness Port.
The Gloucester and Sharpness Canal (G&S Canal) has a unique identity, with its swing and lift bridges and ornate bridge keeper’s houses. Steeped in history, the G&S Canal was once the broadest and deepest in the world. It’s sheer scale and innovative engineering sets these waterways apart from other navigations in the UK.
Connecting Gloucester, the most inland port in the UK, to the port of Sharpness and the seas beyond, the canal was originally designed in 1827 as a ‘true ship canal’ - at 86ft 6in wide and 18ft deep and taking craft of 600 tons.
In the twentieth century with road and rail infrastructure developing at speed, the waterways saw a decline in commercial traffic in the 1960s. Sharpness Docks are still commercially active today, but on a much smaller scale, with the district’s canal looking rather different from the bustling industrial years. Instead, the area now features thriving communities and businesses, that use the canal for leisure and wellbeing purposes. Paddleboarders, kayakers, bike riders and walkers are all common sights on the canals and towpaths today. With views of the Forest of Dean, the Cotswolds, and Severn Estuary and with the waters edges bursting with wildlife, it’s not hard to see why this stretch of water is so important to so many in Stroud District.
Jennifer Nel, Partnerships and Funding Manager at Canal & River Trust, explains why the canals are more than just a network of waterways: “Nationally we look after over 2,000 miles of canals, rivers, reservoirs, and docks. Our living waterways are not only beneficial to all who use it, but they are essential for the wellbeing of our users. As a charity we believe that life is better by water. We are committed to working collaboratively with stakeholders, partners and more importantly, the local community, to transform the local waterways and to ensure that the canals and towpaths are used for the benefit of people and to care for the surrounding natural habitats.”
Maintaining and supporting the natural habitat of the waterways continues to play an important part for the Canal & River Trust. In 2019, the Trust received community wildlife funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery to create a newt pond for the endangered great crested newt at Saul Junction. The project was delivered by 24 student volunteers from Gloucester College, who each gave three days to the project. The new student intake continues to help maintain the pond each year which has successfully become a thriving habitat for the great crested newts.
The 16 mile stretch of the G&S Canal in the district is looked after by staff supported by a crowd of volunteers, with over 66 of volunteers giving time to maintain the waterways that in turn enrich people’s lives.
Jennifer continues: “The canal network is a destination in its own right. Locals are fortunate to have the resource on their doorstep and visitors flock to key locations along the canal to experience, explore and take in its natural beauty. We saw an increase in visitor number to the network during the pandemic and we’re pleased that these visitors continue to come and experience the canal. We’re committed to working with the local community who live along the canal to ensure that their waterside living experience remains as rewarding as possible.”
The regeneration of Sharpness is also another opportunity in the district, to deliver a new sustainable, self-contained, and thriving community that offers the best of town and rural living. The scale of the regeneration is matched by the scale of the district’s ambition; a thriving community with places to work, play, socialise, shop and learn. A place that is strongly rooted in its heritage and landscape, and where it is both practical and enjoyable to cycle or walk allowing residents to live more sustainable lives.
Catherine Rogers, Property Development Manager at Canal & River Trust, comments on the regeneration and development at Sharpness: “It’s an exciting time for Sharpness and the wider area. The extensive regeneration project of Sharpness plays a positive role in the district. We have people who have lived, worked, and been brought up here, and we’re thrilled with support from those who recognise that the investment and restoration of the area is essential for its future. Improving infrastructure, preserving heritage assets, and extending public access to the surrounding areas will open our canal network for more people to enjoy the beauty and benefits of our living waterways.”