Canal tours for children aim to thwart vandalism

SCHOOLCHILDREN are set to be given educational tours of the Union Canal to beat vandalism.

An increase in graffiti and vandalism along the tow path of the city's canal has forced operator British Waterways Scotland to consider the move.

The firm is looking at introducing one-hour water safety boat trips, which it has been operating for primary school children in West Lothian for the last seven years.

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The trips, which have slashed the number of vandalism attacks, involve talks by community police officers on vandalism and graffiti, as well as the chance to learn about the history of the canal and water safety.

Among the worst hit areas for graffiti along the canal in recent months have been Harrison Park and Wester Hailes, and it is hoped that the city's primary schools closest to the canal will be involved in the initiative.

The move was today warmly welcomed. Ann Street, chairwoman of the Bridge 19-40 Canal Society which runs the West Lothian trips, said: "We originally started the tours seven or eight years ago because we had problems with children throwing stones at the boats near Broxburn.

"We deliberately chose the P6 and P7 children because it was felt this was the right age to catch them and teach them the key safety messages about the canal.

"It has worked really well each year, we have it split between the police messages about vandalism, the British Waterways messages about canal safety and also the history of the canal.

"I would say it would be good thing for Edinburgh to do, it will make a real difference."

The 19-40 tours started with the West Lothian schools closest to the canal but now involve schools from all over the region.

Last year a 60ft barge called Re-Union was opened on the Union Canal to house an advice centre to get people back to work. Among the other initiatives planned by the social enterprise are walking groups and fishing competitions for teenagers.

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Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart Tory councillor Gordon Buchan said: "For some reason there has been an increase in vandalism and graffiti recently and we do need to find a way to cut it out."

Dr Sabina Strachan, senior heritage advisor at British Waterways Scotland, said: "We work closely with community and heritage groups to prevent vandalism of this nature.

"Some of the masonry on the Union Canal is over 200 years old we need to ensure we preserve these structures so they can last for our future generations.

"Prevention is better than cure. Acts of vandalism can seriously damage property and is unpleasant for those wishing to visit the Union Canal, whether it be to commute to and from work, for exercise or a leisurely stroll.

She added: "These acts can also be very harmful to the array of wildlife that calls the canal home and we cannot let it continue."