Tourist attraction: Revived canal pushes boat out for 200th anniversary

A canal that boosts businesses and provides a haven to wildlife reached its 200th anniversary yesterday.

Opened in December 1810, the 87-mile Kennet & Avon Canal in southern England links Reading in Berkshire to Bath and Bristol and beyond.

It has more than 11 million visits per year, including boaters, walkers, cyclists, canoeists and anglers.

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The canal is also home to such creatures as water voles, otters and kingfishers and has 116 listed structures including the Caen Hill Flight of Locks in Devizes, Wiltshire.

Trade in the canal, which is cared for and maintained by British Waterways, declined as freight moved first to rail and then to road.

By 1951 end-to-end traffic was impossible as the canal fell into disrepair and neglect.

However, during the 1960s the canal was given a lifeline as a dedicated group of volunteers, now known as the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, campaigned, raised funds and carried out physical repairs to protect the line of the canal.

In the 1990s the canal was saved through a massive restoration programme, including a 25m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The restoration was completed in 2002 and since then the canal has enjoyed a renaissance.

The waterway generates 43m direct spending in the local economy and supports over 1,300 jobs in leisure and tourism. British Waterways chief executive Robin Evans said: "The canal is a beautiful waterway, a real jewel in the crown of the nation's working industrial heritage."

Mike Rodd, general manager of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, said: "The canal owes its current success to the dedication of a huge number of volunteers who, over the years, have tirelessly campaigned to keep the canal open and, in more recent years, helped maintain this wonderful waterway working together with British Waterways."

The Conservative MP for Devizes, Claire Perry, said: "This wonderful waterway is a brilliant asset to the towns and countryside through which it passes."