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Warnings of Low Water Levels Across Inland Waterways in Scotland and England

24th July 2022
Boat cruising on an inland waterway in the UK
Warning over low water levels in parts of Scotland, the north of England and the Thames have been circulated among boaters in the UK

Boaters looking to cruise the inland waterways of Scotland and England are advised of low water levels in canals and rivers across Great Britain.

The Canal & River Trust, Environment Agency and Scottish Canals have recently circulated updates to all boaters warning of low water levels in parts of Scotland, the north of England and the Thames.

Having already closed some locks temporarily and introduced reduced operating times in place on several other waterways, the Canal & River Trust is taking action to manage the very low water levels in the north of England.

However, it says further difficult decisions are now needed to conserve water. It is reported that additional temporary closures will be needed in August unless there is a significant improvement in water levels. 

A combination of a dry spring that has continued into a hot, dry summer and essential reservoir repairs taking place across the region meant that the amount of available water was already less than usual, causing water supplies in the north to drop to historically low levels. 

Although water management has been operation in some locations since the start of April and despite volunteer lock keepers helping to manage boat traffic at lock flights to ensure water supplies are used as efficiently as possible, the lack of rain has meant the reservoirs have not had a chance to refill and there is not enough water to supply the canals, the trust says.

It is now asking boaters across the country, with the help of volunteer lock keepers, to be even more careful than usual to conserve water. Boaters can help by sharing locks where possible and making sure paddles are fully closed after use. 

To find out about stoppages and water levels affecting navigation, visit the Canal and River Trust website.

In Scotland, water reserves are also coming under pressure on the Lowland Canals with leakage issues through and around a number of historic lock gates on the Forth & Clyde Canal, compounding the issue.

The Scottish Canals operational team says it is struggling to maintain water levels at a number of locations, in particular on the eastern side of the canal between Lock 16, Camelon and The Kelpies.

All unnecessary trips through the Falkirk flight are currently being restricted, since noon last Tuesday 19 July. This will affect mainly holiday hire boats and leisure boats visiting The Kelpies for an overnight stay. Sea-to-sea transits will be maintained and should be booked through the boat movements team as normal. Scottish Canals says the restriction will be lifted as soon as it is safe to do so.


Water levels are also a concern in England’s southeast, with the Environment Agency asking users of the non-tidal Thames to make sure locks are as full as possible when used to save water.

Some parts of the upper Thames are already experiencing very low flows, especially in backwaters and tributaries. Above Iffley Lock the agency cannot guarantee the navigation channel will always be sufficiently deep for craft with a draft of 0.9m or more. And it warns that it may become necessary to close locks outside of normal lock-keeper hours of duty.

The aim is to avoid emptying locks unless they contain at least one boat as a considerable volume of water is released downstream each time a lock is used, the EA says. It is also encouraging boaters to plan ahead to minimise the use of locks along their journey. 

See the ‘Information for boaters’ section of the EA website for updates, and subscribe to get advised of any Thames river restrictions and closures by emailing [email protected]

The RYA adds that there are expected to be further warnings for low water levels in these and other areas in the coming weeks. Boaters using the inland waterways are encouraged to plan ahead and to check local water reports before travel.  

Published in Inland Waterways
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