Our canals and rivers support some of the UK’s most important wildlife. The unique and beautiful natural environment of our waterways is without doubt a key part of what makes them very special places to visit and 11 million people do so every year. Protecting and enhancing the waterways environment is one of the key public benefits delivered by the Canal & River Trust.
Although our waterways were not built for wildlife, they have now become an important part of our countryside, providing the much needed habitat to support a wide variety of plants and animals, some of which are now quite rare, such as floating water plantain, otters and water voles.
In recognition of its conservation value, many parts of our network have been designated as protected nature sites. The Canal & River Trust owns or part owns 18 Natura 2000 sites, wildlife sites of European significance, 65 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and more than 1,000 non-statutory wildlife sites.
Our waterways provide an incredibly important natural corridor for the movement of wildlife bringing the countryside into the hearts of our towns and cities, as well as some of our more intensively farmed landscapes providing access to green infrastructure for millions of people. Animals such as bats and kingfishers use canals and rivers extensively for foraging and commuting, these excellent habitat corridors bypass the perils of roads and provide vital links in an increasingly fragmented countryside. For them the waterways are a cross between a supermarket and the M1!
At the Canal & River Trust conservation is a core part of our business. Almost every activity we undertake is related in some way to the environment of the waterways. We have dedicated programmes to enhance the quality of the waterway environment and have developed innovative ways of retaining and creating biodiverse habitats that will benefit a wide range of species.
Enhancing the waterway environment
For example, soft bank protection is favoured where practical, as it is suitable for water voles, as well as providing an excellent breeding ground for aquatic insects and fish. This in turn creates great hunting grounds for kingfishers and otters, two top predators of the waterways.
In order to protect our valuable biodiversity the Canal & River Trust has a dedicated team of highly qualified environmental scientists and ecologists. The Trust is committed to promoting the conservation of biodiversity and raising awareness, and we regularly work in partnership with other organisations and volunteers to help deliver biodiversity gains.
Ecosystem services of the natural environment
We are all dependant on the ecosystem services of the natural environment for food, materials, clean air and water and recreation and waterways can provide all of these. As well as being a key public benefit in its own right, the waterways environment supports many of our income raising activities (water sales, boating, angling etc.) and a range of businesses outside the Canal & River Trust.
Find out more
If you're interested in the work of our environment team and want to find out about what they've been up lately then take a look in our features archive. You'll find all sorts of information ranging from how we're helping to improve life for elvers to what we're doing to prevent algae outbreaks.