Craven farmers have slammed British Waterways for failing to repair leaks in the canal and endangering the livelihoods of businesses.

Tim Pilling, of Wilkinson’s Farm, East Marton, said he and a group of farming friends had voiced their anger to the waterways company, which closed a 64-mile stretch of the canal from Gargrave to Wigan for boating on August 2 The farmers all have land adjoining the Leeds-Liverpool Canal and say it is not just a lack of rainfall that is the problem, but the fact a lot of water is seeping away.

Mr Pilling, along with Neil Hanson, of Greenberfield, Barnoldswick, David Calvert and Richard Greenwood, of West Marton, Robert Lancaster, of East Marton, and John Howard, of Bank Newton, have all reported areas on their land where signs of water loss from the canal are evident.

“On one farmer’s land alone there are more than 20 leaks, ranging from seepages resulting in permanent soft land unable to bear the weight of agricultural machinery to flowing streams losing thousands of gallons of water every day,” said Mr Pilling.

“There are knee-deep bogs. Some have required livestock to be pulled out of them by tractors. All of this leads to large areas of good farmland becoming unproductive and in multiple cases unusable and dangerous.

“Despite many letters, requests and even the deployment of agents, British Waterways refuses to act or acknowledge their liability. Instead they close the canal, endangering the economic futures of very many small businesses that rely on the supper trade from this important local resource. Fair enough, six months with little rain will reduce stocks, but to allow this precious water to gush from under-maintained banks and locks is beyond belief and totally unacceptable.”

Skipton MP Julian Smith has made his own inquiries to British Waterways and asked what steps would be taken in the future to mitigate the problems caused by drought and to stop the canal from being closed again.

This week a spokesman for British Waterways confirmed there had been little change in the amount of water in the reservoirs despite the recent rain.

“The levels are monitored electronically daily and there has only been a 0.8 per cent increase in water in them. It simply has not been raining heavily enough,” he said.

He said leaks were being repaired as money became available and they had brought forward the winter maintenance programme. They had refurbished the lock gates at Greenberfield, in Barnoldswick and at Wigan and put new ones in at Chorley at a cost of £100,000.

“There are always going to be some leaks in this canal because of its nature. It is a clay base and very old and we have to prioritise our works programme to ensure the safety of our customers, the integrity of this historic structure and protection of wildlife. We will continue to monitor the situation with the reservoirs on a daily basis and will endeavour to reopen the canal as soon as possible,” said the spokesman.