The Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways), the organisation that operates and maintains over 2000 miles of inland waterways in England and Wales, have told us their position…
The scattering of human ashes on rivers is regulated by the Environment Agency working with British Waterways. Requests to scatter ashes should be made in the first instance to the Environment Agency who will advise on the suitability of many stretches of waterways in England and Wales.
British Waterways and the Environment Agency regularly receive requests from bereaved families who want to scatter ashes on rivers. Faith groups and individuals follow different traditions and practices when a loved one dies and for some this involves spreading their ashes in rivers and streams. British Waterways does not want to unnecessarily obstruct or interfere with these traditions.
Our role is to maintain safe navigable waterways and to protect their environment. We seek to take account of the needs of diverse groups in the way we carry out our work. As long as the environment is not damaged British Waterways has no objection to these practices.
Ashes themselves have little impact on water quality. However, in-line with guidance provided by the Environment Agency, the environment can be damaged by casting tributes and other items in the water that are not biodegradable. Litter is harmful to wildlife. Many tributes such as flowers are in plastic bags or wreaths that contain plastic or metal. Neither are allowed.
British Waterways and the Environment Agency treat all requests individually and with sensitivity, so that we do not cause further stress to the recently bereaved. Requests will only be refused in cases where there is an unacceptable risk to water quality, if we believe that a proposed location is inappropriate or if the site is in regular use and the environmental impact may need to be reviewed.