Thousands of images of landscapes featuring canals or rivers were uploaded and assessed to identify and investigate what elements create scenes of ‘everyday beauty’.
More than 5,000 images were submitted by members of the public through the Canal & River Trust’s ‘Rate this Scene’ initiative this year.
The six-week study saw more than 15,000 people casting votes to rate the scenic quality of the pictures.
This was the second phase of the nationwide study carried out by The Canal & River Trust – the charity that looks after 2,000 miles of canals and rivers across England and Wales – in collaboration with the data science lab at the University of Warwick.
Its objective was to collate real world data to provide scientific insight into the importance of ‘everyday beauty’.
This year’s study brings the total number of pictures entered up to more than 15,000, with over 28,000 people casting more than 1.6m votes to date.
Using an online game, ‘Rate this Scene’ was developed in partnership with the team at Warwick Business School and Fellows of The Alan Turing Institute.
Participants are asked to rate canal photos from one to 10 depending on how beautiful they think they are.
New findings have revealed that some of the most popular scenic elements include trees, reflections on the water and big skies.
However, when these features are combined with elements unique to inland waterways including boats, bridges, locks and marginal vegetation, they are deemed even more aesthetically pleasing by members of the public.
The Whittington Horse Bridge, near Kinver in South Staffordshire, was voted the nation’s second most scenic waterside setting.
The image features the bridge itself on a summer’s day, with grand trees arching over the gently rippling canal to provide a stunning canopy of green.
The overall highest-rated scene captured in this year’s study was a picture taken at Grand Union Canal in Wistow, Leicestershire.
The image features an early summer evening, with a setting sun that casts a warm orange glow between a ceiling of scattered clouds and tree lined fields beneath, all of which is captured in reflections along the canal itself, with reeds framing the canal’s banks and a narrow boat moored on the bend.
The rest of the top 10 featured images are from Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal (Wolverhampton), Lancaster Canal (Lancaster), Shropshire Union Canal (Lapley), Mid-Wales Brecon Canal (Powys), Caen Hill on the Kennet & Avon (Devizies), Stainforth and Keadby Canal (Doncaster), Tame Valley Canal (Birmingham), Stratford-upon-Avon Canal (Stratford-upon-Avon) and Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal (Abergavenny).
The project was backed by a number of celebrities including Grayson Perry, who put forward a body of his own photographs of his favourite waterside scenes to help launch the 2022 phase.
Heather Clarke, strategy, engagement and impact director at the Canal & River Trust, said: “This research is fascinating because we are learning more about the scenic quality of the trust's waterways and how this ‘everyday beauty’ can help make the many visitors to our network happier and healthier."
Suzy Moat, a professor of behavioural science and a director of the data science lab at Warwick Business School, said: “My colleague Tobias Preis and I have spent years analysing large volumes of online data, telling us about what people are searching for on Google, or what photos people are posting online.
“Using data gathered from the previous study of over 200,000 outdoor photos that received more than 1.5 million ratings, we found that beautiful locations are not only natural locations or green locations. Crucially, in built-up urban locations, we found that the biggest boost to scenic scores was provided by the presence of a canal. Rivers also score highly."
The study of canal landscapes builds on research published in August by King’s College London and backed by the trust, showing that time spent on canals is good for people's mental health and wellbeing.