climate change and the UK inland waterways

implications of climate change

for the uk's inland waterways

Despite being brought up in Norfolk during the period of the 1953 floods all along the East  Coast, living on the Dorset coast for the past fifty years and undertaking my boating activities both recreationally and with the Portland Coastguard patrol boat mainly in the English Channel, until very recently I had given scant attention to the implications of climate change on our inland waterways.

My attention to the very serious implications of climate change on our inland waterways was brought home to me very forcibly as a result of my wife Lois and I relocating our boating activities to the Norfolk Broads a few years ago and my subsequent involvement as a member of the Norfolk and Suffolk Boating Association and Lois’s membership of the Broads Society.

Given the exceptionally wet weather over a period of six months and more since October 2023, coupled with several named storms and some exceptionally high spring tides it was hardly surprising that the Broads river levels including those on the rivers Bure, Ant and Thurne all “over topped” the quay headings in several places and that as a result lots of moorings including those at several large boatyards were inundated and in some cases became unusable.

Management of the waters of the Broads, especially as regards navigation, is actually quite complicated, involving the Broads Authority, Anglian Water, and the Environment Agency, with the added complications of there being several lifting and swing bridges operated under the control of the Highways Agency or Railtrack!

These complications are exacerbated by the fact that the Broads Authority is a actually a National Park but is unique amongst the UK’s National Parks in being responsible for navigation in addition to the normal responsibilities of the other National Parks. This is a unique situation whereby the Broads Authority is required to cater for the needs of people engaged in boating (both in privately owned vessels and in hired craft) and to cater for the needs of local residents and for the needs of the thousands of holidaymakers staying in hotels, guest houses, campsites etc! These two fairly distinct groups are known locally as “Navvies” and “Parkies”

Currently the most vexed problem as far as boating on the Broads is concerned is the recent increase in the annual tolls levied on local boat owners and hire boat operators alike; legally, according to the Broads Authority/National Parks remit these tolls are to be used exclusively to maintain the Broads navigation, including such matters as dredging, weed cutting and clearance, quay headings at public moorings, but there are suspicions being voiced lately claiming that a proportion of the tolls revenue is being used to subsidise non-navigational activities within the Broads area, arguably at the expense of the provision of mooring facilities, adequate dredging of those Broads used for yacht racing and other navigational matters, and that this problem has been exacerbated over the past eight months as a result of the extremely wet weather and increased flooding.

The future of the UK’s inland waterways, and the Broads in particular, at a time of very significant climate change is the subject of an interesting strategy document produced by the Broads Authority called theBroadland Futures Initiative

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About Clive Edwards

Clive has been a Coastguard Rescue Officer, Station Manager of a Coastwatch Station, and a RNLI Water Safety Officer. He is Commodore of the MNA Boat CLub, and was recently elected Chairman of the Institute of Seamanship. Clive now does most of his boating on the Norfolk Broads, where he and his wife Lois keep their boat "Elsa ll" and carry out safety boat duties as a Guardship for the famous annual Three Rivers Race. They also undertake shore crew duties for Hemsby Independent Lifeboat Station and their "Lifeboat for the Broads"