Canal boat living and cruising the waterways

Low-impact living, the desire to live more sustainably and be closer to nature has attracted many people to make a boat their home.

A 270-mile stretch of inland waterways in England and Wales is made up of manmade canals, navigable by character-rich narrowboats, canal boats and river cruisers.

These waterways are home to diverse wildlife as well as a growing number of people who are choosing the water elemental to support their lifestyle.

The Canal & River Trust (CRT), the charity that looks after England and Wales’s 2,000 miles of waterways, requires anyone with a boat to have a licence. An annual boat licence from the CRT costs around £700.

In England and Wales, boats are allowed to moor almost anywhere alongside canal towpaths. But nearly all these mooring places are short-term, which means that no boat can stay in any one spot for more than two weeks.

Most boat owners have what is known as Continuous Cruising licences, which means a boat cannot stay in the same place for more than two weeks. New regulations state that boats need to travel a minimum of 20 miles a year to ensure they don’t stay in the same popular areas.

Residential moorings where you can live on a boat in a certain spot long-term do exist, although they are in short supply, especially in areas where demand is high such as London and the western Kennet and Avon.

Around 26% of today’s 33,000 boats are now used as primary residences, according to the CRT. In London alone more than 10,000 people now live on boats.

As a continuous cruiser, boaters give up mains water, mains electricity and the security of a fixed address. This simple, nomadic lifestyle is free of everyday conveniences, and boaters have to deal with their own waste management.

Whether the setting is inner city or rural countryside, England and Wales’s waterways are surrounded by flora and fauna. From Canada geese, frogs, dragonflys to mighty oak trees, the canal waterways and pathways are home to some of the country’s flourishing wildlife.

London’s manmade canal network has become increasingly important for wildlife and plays a strong part in the city’s ecosystem, especially as natural standing water like ponds and ditches have disappeared from the metropolis.

The whole of London’s canal system was designated a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) in 1986. The SINC citation states that “London’s network of canals fulfil an important function in allowing nature into heavily built-up environments”.

The world’s smaller waterways face similar issues to our oceans. The canal network in England and Wales is often used as a dumping ground. Much of the rubbish contains pollutants, which leak into the water and poison fish and other wildlife. Waste often acts as a choking hazard which wildlife can get trapped in.

Last year, the CRT reported it had fished all sorts of bizarre items out of the country’s waterways, including “an unexploded Second World War hand grenade, a 16ft dead python, antique poison bottles, a Volkswagen Camper Van, and a bag of bullets”. That’s in addition to the thousands of cans, bottles, wrappers and plastic bags that are removed from the waterways every year.

It costs the Trust around £1 million each year to clear the dumped rubbish – funds it says could be better spent improving wildlife habitats and ensuring the waterways are navigable for boaters.

For that reason, canal clean-ups along patches of waterways in England and Wales are becoming just as common as beach clean ups. If you would like to get involved in a canal clean up, check out the CRT’s volunteer opportunities here.

Images: © Canal and River Trust

Rosalind Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer who specialises in sustainable lifestyle and living, wellbeing, music and arts. Rosalind also works as a counsellor, intuitive reader and spiritual life coach helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives:

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