Claire, our new Community Engagement Officer, reflects on her first month in her role, what she has discovered about the canals so far, and looks forward to her future projects.
A month in to my role with Scottish Waterways Trust, it’s a great opportunity to look back on my time here so far. Until joining SWT I must admit that I didn’t know much about Scotland’s canals – all 137 miles of them as I’ve now learned – but since becoming part of the team here I’ve already discovered so much.
The historic purpose of the canals was to transport coal and other materials to the industrial hubs of Glasgow and Edinburgh, but they fell in to decline and eventually became obsolete when the railways rose to prominence. Being aware that since the canals closed to navigation in the 1960s they had very much fallen in to disrepair and in some places become overgrown dumping grounds, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began my role with the Trust here in Falkirk and set out to explore the local area.
However, cycling along the towpaths to work each day, I have been surprised by the wildlife and scenery to be found. The success of the Millennium Link project, which funded the revival of the Forth & Clyde and Union canals, re-joining the waterways and creating the technically amazing Falkirk Wheel, is very clear. What a pleasure to cycle along the towpaths, passing dog walkers, holiday makers and fellow commuters all enjoying the canal. The waterway is lined with a startling variety of wildflowers, from the fluffy cream flowers of meadowsweet to the bright pinks of willowherbs, the yellows of meadow vetchling and the purple spikes of the knapweed flower. On a dry sunny day (rare though those may seem at times!) the flowers along the canal are a-buzz with bumblebees and other pollinating insects. Travelling the towpaths you might pass a mute swan family, happily sitting beside the water and unperturbed by the people passing close by. Moorhens and mallard ducks are a familiar sight on the canal too.
As Community Engagement Officer for the Trust, my role will focus on engaging people with the natural heritage of our canals – in other words, getting out there, exploring the canals and discovering the amazing variety of wildlife to be found on our waterways! As well as working with volunteers and some of the more vulnerable people in canal-side communities to get outdoors and experience the benefits of being close to nature, I will also be encouraging corporate teams to join me for work days as we strive to maintain the canal environments as beautiful places for all to enjoy. I will also be leading a programme of exciting events, from fun family activities to guided walks and wildlife photography workshops – watch this space!
If you have any questions or would like to get involved with conservation activities along the canals, get in touch.