We want to hear your thoughts on the future of the Lowland Canals

Our vision

Scotland’s canals are here for everyone in Scotland to enjoy and our vision is to operate a vibrant canal network with boating at its heart. By providing a great customer experience, we can bring animation to the canal corridor which not only supports wider regeneration and tourism activity but generates income that can be reinvested in caring for the assets.

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Or read on to find out more…

How Scotland’s canals have benefited our communities

Over the past 20 years the renaissance of Scotland’s canals, particularly in the Lowlands, has delivered significant economic value with more than £1.5 billion of investment; over 8,400 new jobs; and the construction of more than 9,000 houses.  Scottish Canals has also created tourism destinations in Falkirk, Fort Augustus, Bowling and Ardrishaig, bringing renewed vibrancy to local communities, contributing substantially to the local economy, and generating income that can be reinvested in Scotland’s canals.

Our inland waterways attract 2,800 transiting boats per year from as far afield as Argentina and Japan, with the Lowlands boasting over 250 long-term berth holders. Since they were re-opened by the Millennium Link in 2002, they have also attracted an average of 80 transits per year, largely from the UK.

Facing the facts and why we need your input

It costs circa £7.1m per year to operate and maintain Scotland’s canals with boating income generating £1.3m a year. In the Lowlands, this gap is even bigger, with expenditure at circa £2.1m and income levels at just over £100k per annum.

We want to encourage busy, vibrant canals that welcome as many boats as possible onto the water but it is no longer financially viable to continue providing on-demand access to services all day, seven-days per week. We have to change in order to become more sustainable and this means directing our resources to the areas of biggest need and to activities our customers want most. We would like your help in deciding how we do this.

Why are we making these changes?

Over the last two years we have been piloting new systems that maximise the resources across the Lowland Canals. This has enabled us to invest more staff time on the maintenance of the canal infrastructure that we all love so much.

In 2018/19 we ran a trial offering reduced operational hours on set days at key locations along the Lowland Canals. This allowed us to alter employee rotas so that staff could concentrate on boat movements during peak times and move to weed-cutting, vegetation management, maintenance and asset works during quieter times.

Following the trial, customers told us they didn’t like the restrictions that had been placed on boaters wanting to enter and exit the canal at sea locks as the new operational hours did not always coincide with the times of the tide. We listened to customers and in 2019/20 changed the operational hours to fit in with the tide.

What does this mean now?

Our proposals will mean some limitations to how and when you might access some services on the Lowland Canals at certain locations, and while some users may not welcome these changes, we believe we can improve the experience for the vast majority of our customers. And importantly, do so sustainably. However, our proposals also outline some ideas where we can reduce our operating costs and allow us to invest in direct improvements of the canal system.

By putting in place an operating model that provides diesel and pump out at set times, and sea lock access that coincides with the tides, we can focus staff on important maintenance tasks at other times, ensuring our canals are there to be enjoyed by boaters now and into the future.

What we are proposing

As valued customers, please take some time to give us your thoughts, ideas and opinions on how we can implement a more sustainable operating model so that you and your children can continue to enjoy all that the canals have to offer for many decades to come.

Your input really matters. We will assess every single response that is submitted so that any changes can be implemented on 1st April 2020.

Please take a few minutes to share your views on the following:

  • User and remote operations
  • Diesel and pump out
  • Aquatic weed control
  • Dredging
  • Channel clearance
  • Canal opening times and scheduling
  • Online booking
  • Customer communications

You can access a downloadable version of the consultation questions below. We hope this will allow customers time to review the content, and consider their responses before beginning the online survey.

Lowlands Consultation Survey Questions

Start Your Consultation Response Here


We held information evenings in December 2019 and January 2020, offering the opportunity to find out more about our consultation and why we are doing it. Our CEO, Catherine Topley, was joined by Johnathan Briggs from Target Applications, the independent body leading the consultation process, discussing the consultation and answering questions at meetings in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Falkirk and Bowling.

Additional information

Consultation format

In line with Scottish Government guidelines, the consultation will be open for 12 weeks from the date of publication. The consultation will take the form of a series of questions that will be split into the key areas of activity and will be delivered by Scottish Canals in partnership with Target Applications Ltd, an online survey company.

Scottish Canals held public meetings in December 2019 and January 2020 in Edinburgh, Falkirk, Glasgow and Bowling to discuss the consultation with key canal users.


Consultation timing

The consultation results will be published in February 2020 with Scottish Canals’ response also published that month setting out how we plan to implement the decisions which the majority of respondents voted for. This will be shared will all long-term berthing customers, boating organisations, partners and stakeholders as well as the media.

Responses will be published, along with the final proposal in February 2020, with the outcomes of this consultation introduced from 1st April 2020.