Useful and beautiful but threatened by a load of rubbish
of Rotterdam is still transported onwards by canal. In America, the New York State Canals have demonstrated that shipping freight by canal is more than 30 per cent cheaper than moving it by truck and in addition there are huge environmental benefits: far less air and noise pollution and far less road congestion.
In Britain, however, commercial cargo has virtually disappeared from the canals and has been replaced with pleasure craft. The old buildings along the banks have changed too. Many have been converted into apartments and trendy offices where the tedium of gazing at a computer screen can be alleviated by staring at the serene water. Shiny new buildings, often featuring huge windows and balconies to take advantage of the views, have been popping up over the past twenty years.
Those who rent or buy these properties tend to live in them for relatively short periods before moving on. This contrasts with the moored barges that have become quirky and desirable homes. Their occupants stay for longer and have created proper communities where residents support each other. They have long since been aware that canal towpaths are ideal for strolls, picnics and cycling and that their moorings are slap bang in the middle of town yet shielded from road traffic, noise and fumes. They are like a little oasis in an urban landscape.
Unfortunately, as these idyllic waterways have become more popular, they are in danger of being contaminated and spoilt by thoughtless acts of laziness, as rubbish is thrown into the water and along the paths. Amongst the debris are pizza and burger boxes, coffee cups, crisp packets, beer cans, glass bottles of spirits, plastic water bottles, cigarette butts and some things too disgusting to mention. Sometimes bits of this garbage have been imaginatively used by ducks in the construction of their nests but, more generally, this rubbish attracts mice, rats and urban foxes. This shows complete disregard and spoils the outlook for the houseboat residents.
Astonishingly, some of the worst affected areas along the canals are where waste bins have been installed. Instead of using them, the debris of modern life is cast around them. To appreciate the size of this problem, a cleanup programme along a 10 mile stretch of the Grand Union Canal resulted in the collection of 10 tons of waste.
It is possible that the use of our canals as a transport system will be resurrected in the future but until then, if they are not shown the respect that they need, they will become increasingly unsavoury.
When coupled with the transient nature of the apartment residents, this may signal another nail in the coffin of our old, industrial city centres.
Yet, the solution is in our own hands. All we have to do is use the bins.
Robin and Patricia Silver are owners of The Home store at Salts Mill, www.thehomeonline. co.uk
CLEAN UP: Canals are urban oases but are increasingly blighted by litter in our towns and cities.