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Top 10 Waterway Wildlife Hotspots

Top 10 Waterway Wildlife Hotspots

Our beautiful network of inland waterways were once the transport arteries of the Industrial Revolution, but today they have become green corridors and provide homes for hundreds of species of animals.

When enjoying your canal boat holiday, whether you are cruising through the countryside or waterside towns and cities, you can spot anything from ducks, moorhens and dragonflies, to kingfishers, otters and water voles.  

Many areas of our canals and rivers have been designated as important nature sites, recognising the valuable habitats they provide.  To celebrate the wildlife of the waterways, we’ve put together a list of our Top 10 waterside wildlife hotspots:

  1. Chimney Meadows, Oxfordshire – the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust’s largest nature reserve in Oxfordshire runs alongside the River Thames, close to Shifford Lock. This vital refuge for wading birds has walking trails, bird hides and a picnic area.  Part of an ancient landscape created by the River Thames and shaped by centuries of farming, these remote and tranquil wildflower meadows have a remarkable diversity of plant-life and are home to nationally declining wading birds such as curlew.  When visiting, you can also look and listen out for cuckoos, barn owls, lapwing, fieldfare, redwing, snipe, brown hares, water voles and otters. Travelling from our Oxford canal boat rental base on the River Thames at Eynsham, you can take a Thames boating holiday and reach Chimney Meadows in just under four hours, cruising for 10 miles and passing through two locks.
  2. Hatton Locks, Warwickshire – this stunning flight of 21 locks in the Warwickshire countryside offers a great place to watch out for wildlife. As well as ducks, moorhens and swans, you might see house sparrows and grey wagtails at the water’s edge, and on a warm day, grass snakes and slow worms.  Setting off from our canal boat rental base on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen, you can reach the bottom of the Hatton Flight in around eight hours, passing through 17 locks along the way.
  3. Fradley Pool Nature Reserve, Staffordshire – at Fradley Junction, where the Coventry Canal meets the Trent & Mersey Canal, the picturesque Fradley Pool Nature Reserve is a great place for a family day out. There are walking trails, sculpture trails, places to picnic, as well as a choice places to eat and drink.  Look out for ducks and swans, as well as terrapins basking in the sunshine and bats if you are there at dusk.  Heading south from our canal boat hire base at Great Haywood, you can reach Fradley Junction in around five hours, cruising along 12 peaceful miles of the Trent & Mersey Canal and passing through just five locks. 
  4. Ellesmere, Shropshire – the pretty market town of Ellesmere on the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire is located right next to The Mere, a large lake packed with wildlife. There are woodland walks, places to eat, drink and picnic, a sculpture trail and adventure playground.  Keep an eye out for many of types of birds, including kingfishers, yellow hammers, tree sparrows, lapwing, sand martins and ringed plovers.  Watch out for wading birds like curlew, greenshank, godwit and whimbrel, as well as herons using the heronry on Moscow Island.  Setting off from our narrowboat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, you can reach Ellesmere in around seven hours, passing through just two locks along the way.  And from our new canal boat rental base at Whixall, Ellesmere is just three-and-a-half hours away by boat.
  5. Caen Hill Locks, Wiltshire – the flight of 29 locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire, includes the spectacular run of 16 locks falling in a straight line up Caen Hill. Travelling from our canal boat hire base at Brassknocker Basin near Bath, it takes around 10 hours, passing through eight locks to reach the bottom of the Caen Hill flight.  Along the way, look out for kingfishers, mute swans, coots, moorhens and herons.  Once at Caen Hill, the newly planted Jubilee Woodland is already providing excellent habitat for birds, water voles have been spotted in the Caen Hill side pounds, along with otters and the rare chaser dragonfly. 
  6. Marple Locks, Derbyshire – the flight of 16 locks on the Peak Forest Canal at Marple are surrounded by beautiful countryside and stretches of ancient woodland - home to many types of woodland bird. You can also enjoy fantastic views across the Peak District from here.  From our narrowboat hire base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury, boaters can reach the bottom of the Marple Flight in around four days, travelling 68 miles and passing through 36 locks.  The Marple Flight is on the spectacular Four Counties Ring, which takes around 58 hours cruise if you set off from Bunbury, or 55 hours from Great Haywood.
  7. Prees Branch Canal, Shropshire – This tranquil arm of the Llangollen Canal provides a haven for waterway wildlife, including water plants, dragonflies, damselflies, birds and water voles. Our new canal boat rental base at Whixall Marina is on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal and next to the Whixall Moss Nature Reserve, a large wetland site which is home to a range of wading birds, rare plants, butterflies and dragonflies.  From Whixall, you can travel to Ellesmere on a short break (three or four nights) or Llangollen on a week’s narrowboat holiday, passing over the magnificent World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct along the way.
  8. Consall Forge, Staffordshire – on the beautiful Caldon Canal in the Churnet Valley, next to Consall Nature Park, Consall Forge is a great place to spot wildlife, including water birds, woodland birds and birds of prey. You can moor up to explore the nature trails here and choose from a variety of places to eat, drink, including the popular canalside Black Lion Inn.  From our canal boat rental base at Great Haywood, you can reach Consall Forge in around 20 hours, travelling 33 miles through beautiful countryside, and passing through 34 locks – perfect for a week’s holiday afloat.
  9. Bittell Reservoir, Worcestershire - Built to supply water for the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, today Bittell Reservoir is a SSSI and is home to an abundance of wildlife. Over 200 species of water bird have been recorded here, including wintering wading birds and waterfowl, breeding birds such as the great crested grebe, little ringed-plover and grasshopper warbler. Rare silt shoreline plants such as slender spike rush and mudwort can be found here, along with the rare mud snail and five different species of dragonfly. The Bittell Arm and Lower Reservoir can be reached in just under two hours from our canal boat hire base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Tardebigge.
  10. Bingley, West Yorkshire – the fields either side of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Bingley are full of wildflowers, including Arum Lily, Yellow Flag Iris and Cuckooflower, and the canal itself is home to dragonflies, damselflies, and many water birds. Setting off from our narrowboat hire base on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Silsden, you can reach the Bingley Five Rise Lock Staircase, one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, in just over three hours.