In 2002, the Scottish Government set out its long-term aspirations for Scotland's canals. This was at a time when work to reverse decades of neglect was still underway. The canals were recognised as important national assets which made a significant contribution to the Scottish economy and which would be a vital part of Scotland's future. The Scottish Government wished to encourage their full and sustainable development for the benefit of the widest possible range of people.
This document updates these aspirations, based on knowledge and experience gained in the intervening period, with a view to ensuring that the momentum achieved in the restoration and renaissance of the canals over the past decade not only continues but increases over the next decade.
Scotland's five canals are some of the most famous and historic in Great Britain, and were originally built between 1768 and 1822 as transport routes. Most of the canals are scheduled monuments of national importance: as such they are not only recognised as part of Scotland's rich heritage but safeguarded for generations to come.
In the Highlands, the majestic Caledonian Canal slices through the Great Glen linking four natural lochs, including Loch Ness. The Crinan Canal in Argyll has been described as 'Britain's most beautiful shortcut'. These canals are important transit routes for yachts accessing our west coast sailing waters.
In the Lowlands, navigation rights on the Forth & Clyde and Union canals ceased in the early 1960s, leading to deterioration of the assets. These canals were brought back to life through the major Millennium Link project. The three-year construction programme commenced in 1999 and made the two centuries-old waterways navigable once more, created the iconic Falkirk Wheel which links the two canals, and provided a catalyst for regeneration across the 68 mile lowland canal corridor. This rebirth was greatly assisted by devolution of canals to Scottish Ministers, which enabled the Scottish Government to provide sufficient grant-in-aid for the maintenance of the canals and to set a clear and comprehensive policy for the future of Scotland's canals and the contribution sought from them.
The Monkland Canal largely made way for the M8 however there remain two watered, but non-navigable, sections.
The Scottish canal system is supplied by 21 reservoirs. In addition the canals' assets comprise 1,500 hectares of land and water, 88 locks, 98 road bridges, 77 accommodation bridges, 50 foot bridges, 8 railway bridges and 2 towpath bridges. The canals pass through 9 local authority areas.