British Waterways is planning to increase the number of days worked by volunteers on its network from 5,000 to 10,000 a year. A national volunteering manager has been appointed to help this to happen. The volunteers would assisting with projects such as heritage work, vegetation management and clearance of towpaths. [report]
This sounds like an excellent plan. There must be a good number of people who care enough about their local waterway to give some of their time in this way.
However, the volunteers must not replace paid staff! The work they do should be additional to what can be achieved now. Used imaginatively, voluntary work can enhance the work of BW, but we are still going to need experienced, multi-skilled bank staff who can turn their hands to anything from water management to emergency lock gate repairs.
Overgrown vegetation and crumbling heritage are symptoms of inadequate waterway funding. The ultimate solution is more money! Bring on the volunteers, but bring on better funding, too!