Top 10 Waterway Wildlife Hotspots
The nation’s network of inland waterways have become an important place for biodiversity.
Canal boat holidays are like floating safaris, giving you the chance to spot a wide range of wildlife, including ducks, swans, herons, moorhens, coots, dragonflies, damselflies, bats, kingfishers, otters, water voles and many types of woodland birds.
To celebrate the biodiversity of the waterways, we’ve put together a list of our Top 10 places to spot wildlife on a canal boat holiday:
1. Look out for kingfishers on the Ashby Canal
On a week’s break from our narrowboat hire base at Stockton, you can cruise along the wildlife-rich Ashby Canal. Winding peacefully through the countryside for almost the whole of its 22-mile length, the Ashby Canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) from Snarestone to Carlton Bridge. Wildlife to look out for includes: freshwater mussels, rare native white-clawed crayfish, water shrew, herons and kingfishers. It takes around 22 cruising hours to reach Ashby from Stockton, passing through seven locks along the way.
2. Cruise along the Llangollen Canal to see herons at the Mere
On a short break from Trevor, you can cruise to the medieval market town of Ellesmere, home to the Mere. Formed thousands of years ago by the melting of the glaciers during the retreating ice age, the Mere is home to the Heron Watch Scheme, with cameras allowing visitors to watch the birds build nests and raise chicks. The journey to Ellesmere takes around seven hours, passes through two locks and crosses the UNESCO World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
3. Go otter spotting on the Montgomery Canal
On a week’s break from Whixall Marina, you can cruise a seven-mile section of the Montgomery Canal to Gronwyn Wharf. Stretching 38 miles between England and Wales, the Montgomery Canal is designated a SSSI on both sides of the border. Look out for water birds, dragon flies, damselflies, green woodpeckers, peregrines, and if you are lucky you may spot an otter too. Over recent years, thanks to dedicated conservation efforts, otter populations are showing healthy signs of growth. They are timid and not often seen by humans, but they can be spotted hunting prey in quiet stretches of canal. From Whixall, the journey to Gronwyn Wharf takes around 10 hours, passing through eight locks along the way.
4. Listen out for the sound of song thrushes on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Crofton
On a week’s holiday from Monkton Combe, you can cruise along the Kennet & Avon Canal to Crofton. This beautiful stretch of waterway in Wiltshire, offers the chance to spot swans, ducks and moorhens on the water and to listen out for the sound of song thrushes. Living up to its common name, the song thrush has a loud song with repeating phrases. Crofton is also a place of history, as the Crofton Pumping Station there houses the world’s oldest working beam engines. It takes around 20 hours to cruise to Crofton, passing through 41 locks along the way, including the Caen Hill flight of 29 locks at Devizes.
5. Hear cuckoos calling on the River Thames at Abingdon
On a short break from our Oxford base, you can take a Thames boating holiday to Abingdon and listen for cuckoos calling from riverside meadows and woods at Abingdon. Considered to be an early sign of spring, cuckoos arrive from Africa in late March and April to spend the summer here. The song of the cuckoo sounds the same as its name: ‘cuck-oo’. The journey to Abingdon takes around five hours, passing through six locks.
6. See bats flying across the water at Fradley Pool Nature Reserve
On a short break from Great Haywood, you can cruise to Fradley Junction, home of the Fradley Pool Nature Reserve. There are walking trails and sculpture trails at Fradley. Look out for water birds, terrapins basking in the sunshine and bats flying across the water if you are there at dusk in the spring and summer time. From Great Haywood, it takes around five hours to reach Fradley on the Trent & Mersey Canal, passing through five locks along the way.
7. See grey wagtails on the Grand Union Canal at Hatton
On a short break from Wootton Wawen, you can reach the bottom of flight of the 21 lock Hatton flight in the Warwickshire countryside. As well as ducks, moorhens and swans, you might see house sparrows and grey wagtails at the water’s edge. Grey wagtails have a long, black-and-white tail, a yellow rump and a yellow belly. They eat ants and midges that they find beside rivers and canals, and snails and tadpoles they find in shallow water. From Wootton Wawen, it takes around eight hours to reach the Hatton flight on the Grand Union Canal, passing through 17 locks along the way.
8. See and hear woodland birds on the Peak Forest Canal at Marple
On a 10-day or two-week break from Bunbury, you can complete the Cheshire Ring, which includes the flight of 16 locks on the Peak Forest Canal at Marple. Here you’ll be surrounded by beautiful countryside and stretches of ancient woodland – home to many types of woodland bird, including robins, jays and great tits. You can also enjoy fantastic views across the Peak District from here. From Bunbury, the Cheshire Ring takes around 60 hours, passing through 102 locks.
9. Watch out for water voles on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Caen Hill
On a short break from Bath, you can reach the base of the Caen Hill flight, where water voles have been spotted in the side pounds. Best known as ‘Ratty’ from ‘Wind in the Willows’, sadly the water vole is now one of our most endangered species. They burrow into steep waterside banks to form a complicated system of tunnels. Look out for closely grazed ‘lawn’ areas with neat piles of chopped grass, which are often seen around burrow entrances. From Bath, it takes around 10-and-a-half hours to reach Caen Hill, passing through eight locks along the way.
10. See hundreds of water birds at Bittell Reservoirs on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal
On a short break from Tardebigge you can reach the reservoirs at Bittell, built to supply water for the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Today the area is a SSSI and home to over 200 species of water bird. These include: 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. It takes just two hours to reach the Bittell Arm from Tardebigge.Tags: Ashby Canal, barge holidays, canal boat hire, canal boat holidays, canal boat rental, Go North Wales, Grand Union Canal, Kennet & Avon Canal, Llangollen Canal, Montgomery Canal, narrowboat hire, narrowboat holidays, narrowboat rental, Peak Forest Canal, River Thames, Thames boating holidays, Trent & Mersey Canal, Visit Wales, Worcester & Birmingham Canal