October 24, 2010

Health Impact of Canals Survey

City of Edinburgh, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Glasgow City, North Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire, West Lothian
Greenspace for Health & Well-being, Recreation & Active Travel, Water Environment
CSGN Development Fund
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Lead Partners:
Scottish Canals
Scottish Waterways Trust


The canal network connects Scotland's urban centres with the surrounding rural environment, and is widely used for walking, cycling and other activities, including paddlesports. Such activities help to reduce factors related to poor health, such as obesity, stress, absenteeism and exposure to poor air quality.

Project background

Attracting funding to support healthy lifestyles and active travel can be difficult, as the responsibility lies between different organisations and departments. With this in mind, Scottish Canals sought to quantify the benefits of the physical activity undertaken on the canals. It was hoped that this would provide an evidence base for investment in canals, towpaths and wider greenspace initiatives in Central Scotland.

How the project was delivered

To identify and measure the additional physical activity taking place on the canal network, an extensive survey of over 700 canal users was conducted. Scottish Canals used the World Health Organisation's HEAT Tool to quantify the health benefits of this activity in monetary terms, and the Department for Transport's WebTAG Guidance was used to quantify the reduction in absenteeism resulting from this activity. The Department for Transport's WebTAG Guidance was also used to quantify the safety benefits of using canal towpaths for cyclists, and the number of hours spent annually in 'good' as opposed to 'poor' air quality was quantified by calculating the number of walking and cycling trips displaced from urban roads to the towpath.

Project outcomes

This study raises awareness of the financial benefits of investment in active travel. Traditional transport appraisal guidance under-estimates the potential health impacts of active travel, as it is heavily focused on journey time savings.  This project forms part of a growing body of evidence attempting to redress this imbalance and highlights the ways in which active travel along the canal network can help to tackle the root causes of health issues like obesity and exposure to poor air quality.

Quotes from participants and beneficiaries

"Using the well-developed World Health Organisation methodology, this project has helped to highlight the significant value that the canals of Scotland deliver to the health of the nation. The study particularly highlighted how important well-maintained greenspace is in encouraging communities to exercise, with this effect particularly evident in areas of significant deprivation."

- Richard Millar, Head of Enterprise at Scottish Canals


The project was presented at the Scottish Transport Applications and Research Conference in May 2012 and the Faculty of Public Health Conference in November 2012

CSGN Support and Learning

This study demonstrates that investment in active travel and high quality green networks can deliver significant physical health and wellbeing benefits. Whilst this particular research was conducted with specific reference to Scotland's canal network, the methodology and findings are transferable to other greenspace projects across the CSGN and can be used to support further funding applications this area.

Future development of project

Health and wellbeing is a key issue on the policy agenda, and Scottish Canals has been engaging with potential funders, such as the NHS, the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland, to actively promote the Health Impact of Canals Study. Scottish Canals has also worked to secure additional investment in the towpath network and has delivered improvements to urban towpaths in a number of areas.

Funding Details:

Year Fund Value
2010 CSGN Development Fund 16,000


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