EUWATHER – European Waterways Heritages
In many European countries the presence of artificial waterways is considered an important heritage asset. Canals are a significant part of urban and rural history, essential to flood control strategies as well as having acted as a catalyst to industrial development and expanding commercial networks. When studied in isolation, canals have bequeathed fascinating artefacts to our built environments (towpaths, bridges, locks, shipyards, slipways, etc.); an architecture that has sustained livelihoods and more recently, has offered opportunities for leisure and recreation. Canals have also served as sites of artistic inspiration, through literature, painting, poetry and song. However, whilst the cultural heritage of major rivers and canals are well known and publicly accessible, the cultural heritage of minor rivers and canals is not known or shared so readily. As a consequence the contribution of the cultural heritage of this important hydrological asset to local and regional sustainable development has been limited.
The European Waterways Heritage Project (EuWatHer) is designed to reconnect communities with the cultural heritage of their canals and rivers. The University of Brighton and the Canal and Rivers Trust (North West) are working with colleagues in Amsterdam, Venice and Girona to promote knowledge of the cultural heritage of minor waterways and historic canals.
The project runs from Oct 2015 to August 2017.
We aim to unlock this valuable cultural and historical heritage for residents, visitors, policy-makers and stakeholders by:
- Building a spatial database to collect and digitise tangible and non-tangible cultural history of water-related heritage
- Developing applications (apps) to access the information stored in the database by promoting the cultural heritage of the canals and rivers for tourism purposes and to communicate this heritage to a range of audiences, with interactive maps also produced for policy-makers and entrepreneurs to inform strategic investment decisions.
The overall objective is to develop new opportunities for eco-tourism and outdoor recreation as a driver for sustainable development, together with better management and planning of secondary waterways networks. Also, EUWATHER aims to foster trans-boundary exchange of experiences to develop new, more coordinated institutional strategies and encourage research activities (oral history) that reflect tourist interests as well as local values.
Project findings and impact
The potential impact of the EUWATHER project outcomes includes:
- A new digital tool to make a database on waterways cultural heritage easily accessible to private entrepreneurs in river tourism, to public/private institutions devoted to environmental education, to open air and other museums, and to rural tourism networks, particularly those involving hikers and cyclists.
- Support for institutional (both local and national) activities concerning diagnostics, conservation, recovery and digitisation of both tangible and intangible waterscape assets.
- Stimulating major co-ordination, co-operative and co-designed activities that involve local communities, public institutions and private bodies involved in secondary rivers and historic canals management.
To ensure that the full impact of the project is achieved, a number of Associated Partners (APs) have agreed to participate in the project, using their specific expertise to guide and complement the research, as well as providing access to the waterscapes themselves. They will also ensure that the full social and economic impacts of the project are distributed across the four partner countries and beyond.
In the case of the UK, the Canal and River Trust (CRT) has a long standing expertise in managing, restoring and fostering the social uses of waterways. The CRT wishes to work with the research team to implement a new approach to co-designed community engagement. This will be used to identify and evaluate new approaches to the development and management of under-used urban canals in Greater Manchester. It is expected that the impacts of this work will be both social (better amenity, recreation and health impacts) and economic (more user fees).
In the Netherlands, the involvement of Waterrecreatie Nederland is crucial to ensure that the project addresses new tourism and recreational opportunities, to supplement the work that Waterrecreatie Nederland has been undertaking in the last decades.
The Italian AP (the Consorzio di Bonifica Acque Risorgive, Reclamation Land Syndicate) is experienced in the management of secondary hydrography with particular reference to river restoration and the establishment of good ecological standards – a crucial goal of the EU Water Framework Directive. The impact for this partner will be in implementing new approaches to community engagement, which will allow it to develop a better understanding of the potential of using an ecosystem services approach to its resource management activities.
The Spanish AP (the Euro-Mediterranean Tourism and Water Campus) is experienced in developing interactions between universities and private companies with the goal of encouraging water based tourism along minor rivers and canals. The research will provide new insights and methods that can help develop this work.
None of the Associated Partners is equipped individually to undertake extended research into complex subjects such as the social, cultural, environment and economic development of their waterway assets. Instead, they rely very often on work with local volunteers and others. In this sense the expected impact of the project on the Associate Partners is substantial.