On a recent walk along the canal tow path saw two very different things which I would never wish to see again. Firstly the sight of a mallard drake in clear discomfort drew my attention. I soon spotted the length of fishing line coming from its bill. With the shot clearly visible on the line it was not hard to see how the hook was stuck in its throat. I find it appalling to find that final length of tackle regularly discarded on the bank or tow path. Undoubtedly many, many more hooks and attached line are tossed into the water where they cannot be seen by the eyes of the public, nor by waterfowl browsing along the bottom.
The second event took place further along the same stretch. Narrowboats are limited to a 4mph limit, effectively a little more so as to allow for a headwind. However one particular individual was travelling closer to twice that and creating a wash which would only serve to erode the banks on a stretch of canal currently part of a massive and costly restoration project. Indeed his speed was such the prow of his boat was noticeably lifting. When challenged by anglers to slow and show some respect for other users he responded with a torrent of foul-mouthed abuse and "only having a bit of fun". Although this sounds very much a childish reaction, I would estimate he was probably well into his fifties and possibly older.
In the case of the poor duck I did call the RSPCA and leave details as to where I had seen it. However, to state the obvious, these birds can fly and although the RSPCA would attend quickly, as they pointed out, the chances of spotting the bird (let alone catching and treating it) were slim.
The ignormaus on the boat was a different matter. While he was yelling abuse at the anglers, I not only recorded something of the exchange but also zoomed in on the registration number on his boat. These details have been passed on to British Waterways.
All canal users are allowed to take advantage of these facilities virtually for free. Boaters are licensed to use the 2,200 miles of canal, currently fees for a standard seventy feet narrowboat are around £900. Anglers also require a license, this is rather less at £25 for coarse fishing. Cyclists, once banned from the tow path, legally require a permit before they can use these flat and thus cyclist-friendly arteries through both town and country. The permit is available online and can be printed off and signed at no cost whatsoever, although I wonder how many cyclists have such and carry it with them. The permit is not required in London or Scotland.
Some years ago our canals were little more than dumping grounds. Places where unwanted dogs and cats were drowned and parents forbade their children from going for fear of meeting the same unfortunate end. Today they are prime development sites in towns and cities, and increasingly busy with those seeking the peace and quiet afforded by more rural stretches. What began as James Brindley's eighteenth century solution to moving heavy cargo around the country, is a multi-million pound leisure industry in the twenty-first century.
Having walked all 39 miles of the Coventry Canal in recent weeks, I know those stretches away from the natural bottlenecks around the locks can leave one feeling very isolated. While it is impossible to police the entire network, it is becoming increasingly obvious some presence is required to protect the canal, the wildlife and canal users from the obnoxious minority.