Our top wildlife spotting sites
From the dabble of ducklings or the splash of an otter to the electric-blue flash of the kingfisher, our canals and rivers teem with wildlife just waiting to be discovered.
Explore the very best places to spot wildlife on our waterways with this guide to the Canal & River Trust’s top five wildlife spotting sites.
A real gem, the Pocklington Canal is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and one of the most important waterways for wildlife in Britain due to its wide range of plants, animals and birds.
The canal is awash with dragonflies and damselflies that can often be seen resting on lilies. It also hosts a wide variety of aquatic plants, including water forget-me-not, reedmace and a number of sedges and rushes. Many birds are found here including tufted duck, kingfisher, grey and pied wagtail, sedge warbler and reed bunting. The rare bittern visits the canal in winter and the water vole and otter have been seen on these quiet waters.
Pocklington Canal is part of the Lower Derwent Valley – a National Nature Reserve, which floods in winter creating a blaze of colour from wildflowers in spring and summer.
We’re currently appealing for funds to help improve the natural habitats and accessibility along the Pocklington Canal.
Access/Conditions: The towpath is suitable for walking. Wheelchair access is available to the picnic area at Canal Head.
Facilities: A picnic area and the Wellington Oak pub are located at Canal Head.
How to get there: From the A64 follow the A1079 towards Pocklington. Canal Head is located just off the A1079, ten miles east of York.
Parking: A car park is located at Canal Head.
Tring Reservoirs is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest that attracts birds on their spring and autumn migratory paths to warmer climes. The open water, marsh, reedbeds, woodland and grassland habitats support a wide variety of plants and flowers including southern and early marsh-orchids, fen bedshaw and bog pimpernel.
In spring, house martins, swifts, swallows and sand martins swoop over the water to catch insects. In summer, young herons join their parents on fishing trips to the reservoir edge and orange tip butterflies flutter over the hedgerows. Listen for the boom of the bittern during winter and early spring and see the elaborate courtship performed by great crested grebes.
Just a little way along the Grand Union Canal we’re appealing for donations to help volunteers clear overgrowing vegetation and plant native species and provide habitats for newts, dragonflies and aquatic birds.
Access/Conditions: Towpath walking with wheelchair access from Startop’s End car park.
Facilities: There are three bird hides with disabled access. Close by, four small villages provide access to shops, public houses, cafes and facilities. Interpretation and marked trails provide circular walks and heritage information.
How to get there: Follow the B489 towards Marsworth, from the A41. Nearest railway station is at Tring –the reservoirs can be reached by walking along the canal towpath (2 ½ m).
Parking: Car parking is provided at Wilstone Reservoir and Startop’s End Reservoir.
Stoke Lock and woods
The woodland by Stoke Lock, on the River Trent, is an attractive and unique location for wildlife. Trees of many different types, including ash, hazel, beech and grey poplar, help to provide a variety of habitats for wild animals, plants and insects. Both the green woodpecker and the great spotted woodpecker frequent the woodland, whilst by night pipistrelle, Daubenton’s and noctule bats fly over the trees and lock. Wildflowers mingle with the wood’s own carpet of flowers to provide year-round colour.
The Canal & River Trust is appealing for donations to improve the public paths around Stoke Lock, making them easier and safer to access for everyone.
Access/Conditions: Woodland paths and towpath. Wheelchair access is available on the main pathway.
Facilities: Picnic tables by the edge of the woodland provide a perfect view over the River Trent. The site has two audio posts and an interpretation board.
How to get there: Situated off Stoke Lane, in Stoke Bardolph Nottingham. Turn off the A612 onto Stoke Lane to reach the lock.
Parking: Park at the Severn Trent visitor car park on Stoke Lane. Follow the tarmac track parallel to the river for just under a mile to reach the lock and woods.
From open ponds to grassland and scrubby woodland, Caen Hill is a haven for a rich variety of wildlife. In early summer swans glide effortlessly with their cygnets amongst the bull rushes and reeds of the many ponds. Dragonflies and damselflies provide flashes of colour as they skim the sparkling waters, whilst mallards and moorhens gather in chattering pockets. It is a regular haunt for bats in the early evening and keep your eyes open for water voles too.
We’re appealing for donations to plant a community orchard and wildflowers on land near the historic flight of locks at Caen Hill, which will benefit the local wildlife.
Access/Conditions: Towpath access to the locks.
Facilities: Café at the top of the flight of locks.
How to get there: Follow the A365 west of Devizes.
Parking: The lockside car park for Caen Hill is signposted from the A365 west of Devizes.
The Ribble Link connects the Lancaster Canal to the Ribble Estuary, providing a vital corridor for wildlife and a great location for wildlife spotting. Sand martins, kingfishers, herons and even hares are just some of the species you can spot. Sandwiched by wildflower meadows, the Ribble Link is also home to a diverse variety of insects including many butterflies and rare damselflies.
From September to March visitors can see large numbers of curlew, lapwing, golden plover and knot making their way to the estuary. Whooper and Berwick swans can sometimes also be seen, together with over-wintering pink-footed geese.
We’re currently appealing for donations to improve the habitats for nature along the Ribble Link.
Access/conditions: The towpaths are fully accessible
Facilities: The village of Ashton on Ribble provides local shops, public houses and other facilities
How to get there: Leave the M55 at Junction 1 and follow the B6241 towards the canal
Parking: Available at Halsam Park in Aston on Ribble
The Great Nature Watch
If you’re out and about spotting wildlife by the canal make sure you download our new Great Nature Watch app. It allows you to record your sightings and send them back to us so that our ecologists can monitor local wildlife populations.
You can download the app by visiting iTunes or Google Play and searching for eNatureWatch.