The British Waterways Board, operating as Scottish Canals, continues in Scotland as a stand-alone public body, following the transfer of the functions of the British Waterways Board in England and Wales to the Canal & River Trust on 2 July 2012.

Following the approval of The British Waterways Board (Transfer of Functions) Order 2012 (“the BW Order”), Scottish Canals assumed responsibility and accountability for Scotland’s canals and meets regularly at canal-side locations across Scotland.


Scottish Canals is the operating name of the British Waterways Board.

The British Waterways Board was established by the Transport Act 1962 to manage and maintain the inland waterways. By virtue of the Scotland Act 1998, responsibility for the inland waterways in Scotland was devolved to the Scottish Parliament and designated as a cross-border public authority under the Scotland Act 1998 (Cross-Border Public Authorities) (Specification) Order 1999.


Statutory duties

Scottish Canals’ core statutory duties are set out in:

Transport Act 1962 - gave statutory responsibility for operating and maintaining the waterways for which the British Waterways Board is the navigation authority.

Transport Act 1968 - made changes to the use of facilities controlled by the state-owned British Waterways. Reflecting the decline in the use of canals and rivers for freight distribution, waterways were divided into three categories:

British Waterways Act 1971 Provisions of Part III Houseboats – Restrictions, Registration & Charges and part of Part IV Registration of Transfers extended to Scotland by s.9 (4) of British Waterways Act 1975

British Waterways Act 1995 - granted powers to enter land and repair or maintain or carry out other operations for the management and regulation of British Waterways Board waterways, extended to Scotland excluding Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour.


Scottish Canals as a Scottish Public Body

In October 2010, the UK Government decided that the British Waterways Board’s functions and assets in England and Wales would transfer to a new waterways charity, Canal & River Trust (“CRT”). Scottish Ministers decided to make no changes to the arrangements for the ownership, care and maintenance of Scotland’s canals. This transfer was enabled by the Public Bodies Act 2011.

The British Waterways Board (Transfer of Functions) Order 2012 (“the BW Order”) provided for the transfer of the British Waterways Board’s functions in England and Wales to CRT. The BW Order also removed England and Wales operations and UK Ministers’ powers in relation to the organisation to allow the British Waterways Board to continue to operate effectively in Scotland on a self-standing basis, without involvement from UK Ministers. The BW Order also removed the British Waterways Board’s status as a cross-border public authority.

The British Waterways Board Transfer Scheme 2012 (“the Transfer Scheme”) came into force in conjunction with the BW Order. It divided and transferred the property, rights and liabilities of the British Waterways Board between the CRT, the Canal & River Trust Community Interest Company – Canal & River Trading CIC – and the British Waterways Board, operating as Scottish Canals.

As a default provision, all property, rights and liabilities of the British Waterways Board transferred to the CRT to ensure that the British Waterways Board, operating as Scottish Canals, wasn’t unexpectedly burdened with liabilities. Scottish Canals received all of the property, rights and liabilities relating to the activities of the British Waterways Board in Scotland, as well as a portion of the British Waterways Board’s cross-border contracts. The division of assets between the CRT and Scottish Canals was agreed by the UK Government and the Scottish Government through a disaggregation process. The draft Transfer Scheme was also made available to the Scottish Parliament during their consideration of the Transfer Order. The Scottish Parliament gave its consent to the draft Transfer Order on 9 May 2012.

Scottish Canals is also required to comply with a range of statutory duties and legal requirements relating to water quality, health and safety, human resources and asset management. The following legislation, although not exhaustive, reflects the key compliance statutes for Scottish Canals as a Scottish public body:

Corporate Plan 2023-28

Our vision is ensuring Scotland's canals are for people, heritage and nature.
Making our vision a reality is shaped by four strategic themes: Explore and experience, Places and spaces, Canals for the future and People and business. By taking a collaborative and inclusive approach we will continue to modernise the network whilst conserving our distinctive industrial heritage and taking positive action on climate change.

Download our Corporate Plan 2023-28.