Last year I did a reprise of the early part of our summer autumn cruise. I am doing the same again this year. So far we have seen both the best and the worst of the English canals. Out in the countryside the canals are for the most part clean if not pristine.
We know that last year some locks could have done with some remedial work doing. The same locks still needed the work doing this year. (A stitch in time) Last year I said "There are sections where the trees require some pruning and in a few cases felling to avoid problems later." (A stitch in time) Looking along those same sections of canals the work still needs doing. I also noted that "Dredging in some places is needed urgently." (A stitch in time) The problems of running through mud were much worse this year than last year.
There is the usual detritus left behind by fishermen and picnickers which is a matter of education in taking your litter home. In some cases canal side waste bins are often full to overflowing and that is down to the cash strapped local authorities doing their bit and not waiting for a complaint before acting.
There is also the BW/CART backlog of litter piled up alongside drains and bywash grills. Some of the piles of detritus must have been there for years. This is case of BW/CART setting a great example to the canal fly tippers. If they can't be bothered to clear away collected rubbish, why should the fly tippers not add more to the pile.
What is obvious is that the litter problems become worse as the canal side environment becomes more built up. I know that many people take a pride in their back garden overlooking the canal. Many of the owners do take the time to clean out of the canal items that fail to float past. The efforts and the pride that these unseen volunteers take should be acknowledged.
What I am talking about are the deprived areas where the local canal is not seen as an amenity. The canal is the liquid dumping ground for whatever gets left behind when the local authorities make cut backs on dustbin emptying. Or when local authorities have stringent rules about what can be taken to local dump-it sites. In a sheer lack of understanding by authorities of the nature and scale of the problem. Every canal bridge becomes the local dump-it.
Taking a boat through some places is fraught with problems real and imagined. As the nature of the canal changes from countryside to small towns the amount of detritus builds up. The tow path becomes less of a wildlife habitat and more of an dog shit dumping area. People with social problems drinking their first fix of cider for the day. They greet us as we pass, from their sleeping place. Or from the bridge underpass that also doubles as their communal urinal. Why do these people in their privacy piss on the wall and not into the canal. I think it's something to do with the White Lightning syndrome.
As small towns become larger built-up areas with canal side indicators of deprivation – graffiti being the first permanent indicator after the increase in the number of floating plastic items that greet you as a form of early warning. Abandoned buildings surrounded with barbed and razor wire. Protecting decay from the arsonist and vandal. Each section of barbed wire decorated by brightly coloured keep out signs and the wind blown supermarket plastic bags. Each providing a trade marked line of bunting. From which the he name of the nearest supermarket can be easily be established.
Then there are the open sewer, sections of our industrial heritage canal. Here it is is human waste of every kind. Rotting food, soiled nappy’s, old clothes, plastic bags and bottles. The discarded television, table, chair and settees. Car tyres and old engine oil. Each heavy item transported to the nearest bridge by the same supermarket inspired transport system the trolley. Which is then disposed of in the same way from the bridge as it is to much trouble to wheel back. The supermarkets provide a selection of replacements as needed anyway!
What can be done to improve the situation - this is not rocket science.
- In such areas provide a free large item collection system. With a free phone system to request the collections.
- Stop supermarkets from using polystyrene containers and plastic bags and legislate for paper carrier bags.
- Increase the number of bin collections and forget about sorting items into different coloured bins. The people who dump from bridges are not going to be ecologically inspired.
- Reduce the size of trolley wheels so that they will not easily move items over uneven surfaces.
The next person who admires the “art” in a “graffiti mural” gets their own “tag” provided by a spot of boat redecoration. Welcome to our English Heritage, the canals that inspired the Industrial Revolution. The biggest linear park we have that also multi-tasks as a land fill site.
I have just had a good idea! What we need is a ex quango team of failed management rejects. A team that can be reformed as a charity to manage the situation. We also need a hole in the head.