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1 Current status
There are over 2,000 miles of canals and inland waterways in Britain. In their heyday
there were more than 5,000 miles of canal. The canals and inland waterways are in
various states of repair with approximately 60% still operational, i.e. in use by boats.
British Waterways among others is an agency charged with maintaining and
extending the canal system.
Canal habitats include open water, swamp and reedbed, grassland, hedgerows,
woodlands and built structures such as bridges, aqueducts and tunnels.
Canals were constructed mostly during the late 18th century and 19th century and
began to fall into disrepair in the early 20th century. In urban areas, disused canals
have been in-filled and have often been built over. However, many canals have been
actively used for recreation including, boats, angling, walking, and cycling.
There are two canals in North Merseyside, the Leeds-Liverpool Canal and the St
Helens Canal (also known as the Sankey Navigation). These two canals are very
different in terms of their construction, current uses and habitats and species.
Although man-made these two water features are highly significant in North
The St Helens Canal was the first true canal in England; it was the first designed to
carry industrial cargoes. It opened in stages, the first stage opened in 1757, and it
eventually linked the Mersey Estuary with Blackbrook, Sutton, St Helens and
Ravenhead. By the mid-1800s, sections of the canal in St Helens began to fall into
disuse. The last commercial traffic was in 1959, when a cargo of sugar was carried to
the Sankey Sugar Works at Earlestown. The canal was officially abandoned by Act of
Parliament in 1963.
The canal was neglected and several sections in filled with waste materials and
domestic refuse between 1963 and the mid-1970s. Halton, Warrington and St Helens
undertook various improvements on those sections of canal still in water between the
late 1970s and 1980s, which greatly improved the appearance and amenity value of
the canal. However, a large proportion of the canal had been in filled and several large
obstacles had been constructed across the line of the canal preventing navigation from
The Leeds-Liverpool Canal was constructed later than the St Helens Canal. It passes
through the districts of Liverpool, Knowsley and Sefton. The canal is in-water along
its entire length from Stanley Dock, Liverpool, where access to the river Mersey can
be gained, to Leeds. The length from Stanley Dock, Liverpool to Maghull has nonoperational
status although still under British Waterways’ management.
Both canals are significant recreational and nature conservation resource and are
valuable wildlife corridor for species such as Water Vole, bats particularly
Daubenton’s Bats, Kingfisher and dragonflies.