Canal mapping scheme aims to pinpoint barriers to access


The public body that cares for Britain’s waterways has launched a scheme to map the barriers that prevent disabled people accessing the country’s 2,000-mile network of canal towpaths.

British Waterways (BW) wants to build an accurate picture of the condition of the towpaths and any obstructions to access, to encourage more disabled people to take advantage of the canal network.

The organisation is looking for volunteers to provide detailed “mapping” of towpath access. They will focus on the needs of wheelchair-users, although the scheme will also provide useful information for other disabled people, families with buggies and other users.

The towpaths are already used by many disabled people, with nine per cent of BW visits in 2009 made by people with a long-term health condition or impairment.

Robin Evans, BW’s chief executive, said: “Although canals were built by Georgian engineers whose primary motivation was to build an industrial highway, their legacy is also an amazing 2,000 miles of flat, accessible towpaths available for everyone to enjoy.”

Volunteers from BT are working on a trial of the mapping project in London, using smartphones to provide detailed information on access points, barriers, facilities and public transport, as well as the type of surface, average width and gradient of the towpath and GPS-linked photographs.

BW is now seeking volunteers to help map access on their local waterways this summer, with training provided, as well as a smartphone if needed.

David Thorne, BW’s project manager, said they were keen to hear from disabled volunteers.

Once the map is live – which is expected towards the end of August – the public will be able to add updates on the condition of towpaths.

Thorne said BW was hoping disabled people would play an important role in keeping the website accurate and updated.

He added: “Where we make improvements to access or towpath conditions, we will be updating the website to keep that current.

“We will be looking for that data to be kept live by all kinds of user groups and specifically disabled people will be encouraged to get back in touch with us.”

For more information about volunteering, email

4 May 2011