Canals Do Net Zero: delivering zero carbon waterways of the future

Feb 6, 2022

Scotland’s canal network is facing its own challenges from climate change and the drive to achieve net zero in Scotland by 2045. Over the last 20 years Scottish Canals has been delivering a renaissance of the nation’s inland waterways. The once disused and derelict canals have been transformed into vibrant hubs of activity, tourism and inward investment benefiting the people of Scotland in more ways than one. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the Falkirk area, where the development of the Falkirk Wheel and the installation of the Kelpies at the new Helix Park has had a seismic impact on the town and surrounding areas. Once derelict or contaminated areas have been transformed into world famous tourist attractions and contributed to the area winning the award of Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood 2019.

Mitigating climate change

Like many organisations though, Scottish Canals is now dealing with the impact of climate change. In 2020, a once in 240-year storm caused the Union Canal near Muiravonside on the outskirts of Falkirk to suffer a breach. The resultant flood led to over 11,000 fish having to be rescued. Scottish Canals and partners immediately got to work not only repairing the heritage structure but also carrying out a series of climate change resilience works. This included strengthening the canal banks and protecting the structure for years to come. In response to the climate emergency, Scottish Canals has now set an ambitious target to reach net zero by 2030.

Introducing smart canals

In Glasgow, Scottish Canals has installed Europe’s first smart canal to manage water levels and help prevent flooding in the city. The smart canal will also have benefits across the Lowlands, including in Forth Valley. It made its first connection to new housing at Sighthill in Glasgow at a showcase event during COP26 at Scotland’s Climate Ambition Zone in Glasgow. The North Glasgow Integrated Water Management System, commonly known as the Glasgow Smart Canal, is the result of Scottish Canals working together with Glasgow City Council and Scottish Water to form the Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Partnership (MGSDP).

The award-winning £17m smart canal uses a predictive weather management system for advanced warning of heavy rainfall. This will automatically trigger a lowering of the canal water level to create capacity for surface water run-off. Before periods of heavy rain, canal water will be moved safely through a network of newly created urban spaces – from sustainable urban drainage ponds to granite channels – that absorb and manage water in a controlled way, creating space for surface water run-off. This will help prevent future flooding and canal breaches. The digital surface water drainage system also unlocks 110 hectares across the north of the city of Glasgow for investment, regeneration and development, paving the way for more than 3000 new homes.

Health benefits of the canals

Maintaining and preserving our canal network is important from an environmental perspective. But the health and community benefits of our revived canal network are also becoming clearer. In 2020, a ground-breaking, global first study carried out by Glasgow Caledonian University concluded that regeneration of canals can improve community health. The study, which has since been recognised by the World Economic Forum, was carried out in one of Europe’s most deprived areas along the Forth & Clyde Canal. It revealed a faster rate of decline in mortality rate in urban areas close to canals that have undergone major transformation and regeneration, compared to areas further away. Overall, it demonstrated an incredible 3% per annum reduction since 2002 among residents living within 500m of the canal and up to 15% reduction in the risk of diabetes, stroke and hypertension among those living within 700m of the regenerated canal.

To find out more about the new Smart Canal and what actions Scottish Canals is taking to protect the canal network and mitigate climate change impacts, visit their website.

You can also watch Emilia Morgan, Director of People, Safety and Governance at Scottish Canals talk about the organisations target to reach net zero by 2030 and what we can all do help tackle climate change in a video recorded at the launch of the Forth Valley for Net Zero campaign.



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