Dredging of the canal south of Llanymynech is to begin next week, with the aim of refilling it with water for boats and wildlife.
The 4.4 mile stretch is currently unnavigable and the dredging is the first stage in a £14 million project that will see the rebuilding of two bridges to remove obstructions to the canal and the creation of three substantial off-line nature reserves, to protect the canal's natural heritage as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation.
The restoration aims to restore the channel so that navigation will eventually be possible – and although it will not enable the section to connect to other restored stretches of the canal, it is considered a vital part of the project.
Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust has welcomed the imminent start of the Canal & River Trust work – being carried out under the Government’s Levelling-Up Fund.
The dredging will be a carefully tailored programme, phased over the next two years.
Michael Limbrey, chairman of the Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust, said: “It is very exciting to see work start on the first major restoration of the canal in Wales for some years. The funding from the UK Government’s Levelling-Up Fund follows visits by ministers invited to the canal by Craig Williams MP and Russell George SM.
“Restoring a canal which is also a Special Area of Conservation is nothing new," he said.
"Over 20 years ago the Rochdale Canal was restored and recent evidence shows the rare water plants there are thriving now the canal is used and cared for and no longer derelict.
“While that Rochdale Canal restoration was underway we developed a conservation management strategy for the Montgomery Canal.
"This involved detailed discussions with all interested parties, including of course the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trusts and the predecessors of Natural Resources Wales and Natural England.
"The strategy integrates nature conservation at the heart of the restoration which is designed to bring environmental, social and economic value of the restoration.
"The new expert-designed Welsh nature reserves will benefit from the experience of earlier reserves, with a flow of water from canal and extensive open waterspace. They will match the canal-side reserves in Shropshire where special canal species are conserved with help from Shropshire Wildlife Trust. Overall, the investment in these reserves alone runs into millions of pounds.
“The strategy with its vision of a canal open to boats, safeguarding its natural and built heritage, and real social and economic benefits for local communities, was launched to general acclaim at the Senedd and the House of Commons. Since then substantial public grants and private donations have been committed to restoration projects and volunteers from across the country have provided thousands of hours of work to bring about that vision."
Mr Limbrey added: “Experience of other canal restorations shows the benefits of a reopened canal.
"It is more than 30 years since Queen Elizabeth II opened the Kennet & Avon Canal and nearly 60 years since her mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, opened the Stratford Canal: today both are popular amenities for their area.
"The great thing about boating visitors is that they cannot just drive off to other attractions but spend their time along the canal to the advantage of local shops, pubs and other businesses.
“The Montgomery Canal in Shropshire already welcomes boating visitors from Britain and from countries round the world, and we know more want to come.
"The canal too welcomes many other visitors from the local area and further afield, some using the Welsh border towpath route from Llangollen to Newtown.
"Walkers of course will benefit from new bridges being constructed with the current funding and will welcome being able to cross safely under the busy A483 when those crossings are reinstated.
"Anyone visiting the canal will be able to visit its nature reserves – the new ones and those that are flourishing now – and interpretation and viewing facilities like those in Shropshire will ensure they get the most benefit from their visit.
“Restoring the Montgomery Canal really is a project for everyone. The revived canal will bring recreation and well-being for local communities and their visitors and will protect and enhance the canal’s valuable built and natural heritage.”