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Wessex Waterways

Restoration Trust


Wessex Waterways Restoration Trust

    Welcome to the newest waterway restoration charity in England and Wales - formed as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) on 11th September 2017 when the Charity Commission approved our constitution and emailed us our Registered Charity number.
    We are an organisation of experienced canal restorers, that intends to work alongside the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust which was established (under another name) over 40 years ago in 1977.
   We will do the things that the WBCT are not doing - very much a complementary approach working on the parts that they are not working on.  
   There are about 70 miles of waterway, and until it is all restored the full extent of the public benefits,  which both organisations exist to deliver, will not be realised.  There will be short term 'incidental' benefits, but the big benefits will only come from a sustainable and through-connected operational waterway.  Strictly speaking there are two waterways - the main line of the Wilts & Berks Canal (mostly following the route of the historic canal) from the Kennet & Avon Canal near Melksham to the River Thames near Abingdon, plus the North Wilts Canal (again, mostly on the historic route) from the Thames & Severn Canal near Cricklade to Swindon.  The branch to Calne is also included in the restoration.
   There are other organisations involved in the restoration project already - the members of the Wiltshire, Swindon and Oxfordshire Canal Partnership.

Our approach

    We know that this is a massive project - it is the longest length of waterway needing to be restored of any of the many waterway restoration projects in mainland Britain.  Much of the projected through route is the historic line through the Oxfordshire (originally Berkshire) and Wiltshire countryside.  Many of the locks are still in place and the evidence of the last 30 years shows that these are capable of being re-built.
    We also know that there are many more places where farmers will need to cross the canal, and with heavier vehicles than the horses and carts of the time when the canals were first built.  Some of the old bridges are capable of being re-built - perhaps only for pedestrian and livestock crossings - and new bridges will be needed for farm machinery.
    It is the intention of the Trust to attract support from local volunteers who want to do physical work on projects that will last.  WWRT will identify and prepare the projects - with a preference for structures - where its volunteers can contribute and see real results.
    We recognise that a waterway restoration brings benefits to the public, and chose to form as a charity from day one.  If we had not satisfied the Charity Commission that we would be and operate as a charity - i.e. focussed on delivering specified objectives for the benefit of the public - the Trust would not have come into existence.  In the short term there will be incidental benefits to the public, such as opportunities for local volunteers to develop skills, places where re-watered sections of the canal contribute to land drainage and the attenuation of storm water flows (i.e. reduced risk of flooding), and where landowners are willing, sections of towpath open for leisure walking.
   The big benefits of waterway restoration come about from the completed waterway - the economic activity, particularly in rural areas, that comes from boating and allied activities.  The boat traffic is what keeps the water channel alive, the waterway maintenance necessary for boating includes the dredging that stops the channel silting up.  The necessity of maintaining water levels sufficient to float boats ensures that the water channel is properly maintained.  A canal is a man-made feature - if not cared for properly it will become overgrown and shallow - as was the fate of most of the two canals following legal abandonment something over one hundred years ago.
    We believe that the two restored waterways will be sustainable and will deliver a variety of benefits to the public.  We are confident that there will be boat traffic - and revenue associated with boat licences, mooring fees, and visitor spend.  The challenge is in getting from where the project is right now to the point where the two waterways are re-opened.  It might appear to be impossible, but as David Hutchings is reported to have said (about the lower Avon I think), "we didn't know it wasn't possible".