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Canal & River Trust recruits 1,000th volunteer but more help still needed

Massive renaissance in city's canal network underpinned by army of volunteers who help to maintain and preserve vital piece of Birmingham's history

Gas Street Basin in Birmingham has undergone major regeneration in recent years

Birmingham's canals are enjoying a renaissance after a surge in volunteers pledging to help preserve the network.

The Canal & River Trust, which was set up in 2012, has recruited its 1,000th volunteer from the West Midlands to help support work to clean-up the historic canals.

The city's waterways enjoyed their heyday at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution but some areas have become dilapidated and now the trust said it was on course to return them to their former glories.

Volunteers include individuals who use the canals and rivers for boating, canoeing and fishing.

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Steve Burt, who champions volunteering for the Canal & River Trust's West Midlands Waterway Partnership, said: "Since the waterways were transferred to the trust, there has been an upsurge in volunteering that is vital if we are to maintain and enhance what is a fantastic legacy for the West Midlands and beyond.

"The canals and rivers are there for everyone to enjoy and to keep them in shape we have the invaluable support of volunteers to enhance the work of the charity's full-time workforce.

"And, of course, canals pass through a variety of landscapes and townscapes which can vary greatly in their settings, from beautiful countryside to inner-city locations.

"We were delighted recently when a Scout group adopted a stretch of canal in a central area of Birmingham, demonstrating there is a desire among people of all ages to maintain this fantastic heritage."

According to the Canal & River Trust, which oversees more than 2,000 miles of waterways, there are now 13 canal "adoptions" in place throughout the West Midlands - where someone agrees to take responsibility for maintaining a certain stretch.

Among those to step up and help are neighbourhood forums and university students.

They aim to keep the area clear of litter, remove graffiti, put in plants and carry out some bank protection work.

Among them were Scouts who spent the day on the North Stratford Canal in Yardley Wood.

Mr Burt said: "They helped to remove leaves from the towpath, cut back overgrown trees and bushes, repaint a fence alongside the canal and cover over graffiti."

Steve Lambert, volunteering leader for Canal & River Trust, added: "Things are going well but we could still do with a lot more help.

"There is far too much work for full-time staff to do and we are grateful for the hundreds of volunteers who have come forward in the West Midlands.

"They are from all walks of life and we have had a tremendous response to a recruitment drive for volunteer lock keepers."

Peter Mathews, who chairs the Canal & River Trust's West Midlands Waterways Partnership, said: "The surge of support from volunteers over the past three years or so has been most encouraging.

"Without them we would struggle to maintain and improve the canals and other waterways in the West Midlands."

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