Creating the world’s largest orchard

Together with volunteers, we’re planting the world’s largest community orchard along our canals and rivers to help curb the wildlife habitat crisis and support biodiversity on a grand scale.

Keeping nature connected

Once the nation’s industrial arteries, today the 2,000 miles of waterways that we care for are a route like no other. They are nature’s superhighway, providing safe passage for an array of species to travel, collect food and find shelter.

For those that rely on both water and land, like water voles and ducks, these wildlife corridors act as an all-inclusive resort and leave little reason to stray into unknown, unsafe territory.

Busy pollinators, such as bees, hoverflies, and butterflies, can spread their wings and buzz from plant to plant quickly and easily, helping to keep our world in balance without putting themselves in harm’s way.

Our record-breaking 50-mile-long Great Canal Orchard will include thousands of waterside hedgerows and trees, vital for wildlife to survive and thrive.

A water vole sniffing a flower Water vole. Picture supplied by Russell Savory

Wildlife corridors

Stretching from Wolverhampton to Worcester along the Staffordshire & Worcestershire, Old Main Line and Worcestershire & Birmingham canals, this ten-year project is already well underway.

A wide variety of fruit trees such as cherry, plum, apple and pear have been planted, as well as rare historic varieties such as the Tettenhall Dick Pear, which originates from the Black Country but was almost completely lost. Also planted in our cities are exotic species such as peach, apricots, figs, persimmon, loquats, and pomegranates, to take account of the warming climate.

Together, our ecologists and volunteers have positioned trees along the back of our towpaths, whilst shrubs have been used to fill in gaps and re-establish hedgerows to allow a free-flowing passageway for wildlife.

We’ve also created pocket orchards on adjoining land close to our canals. These are made up of as many as 300 trees and encourage even more species into the area.

Volunteers in Birmingham Volunteers in Birmingham

Enticing rare species

For the first time in our history, we have recorded the protected brown hairstreak butterfly on Trust land in Tibberton, Worcester, where it is breeding.

Like all butterflies in the UK, this elusive species is threatened by a lack of suitable habitat conditions. The brown hairstreak relies specifically on hedgerows and scrubland to breed, so our waterways could provide the perfect environment.

Here, our ecologists and volunteers are focusing on planting the butterfly’s favoured blackthorn hedges, as well as plum, greengage, and damson trees to encourage its numbers to grow.

Brown hairstreak butterfly Brown hairstreak butterfly. Credit Craig Jones

The bigger picture

The UK faces some of the worst biodiversity ratings in the world. Almost 50% of our biodiversity has already been lost.

This steep decline is largely caused by change in land uses. Where rolling fields once stood, there are now housing estates and roads.

Persistent removal of hedgerows and annual flailing has meant that flourishing verges have been hacked away, leaving many species without shelter or food.

Green spaces in Birmingham Green spaces in Birmingham

Help protect canals for nature

Canals offer nature a sanctuary, with a wonderful mix of homes by the water.

But with 2,000 miles of potential habitat we can’t map it, improve it or connect it all up, all by ourselves.

That’s where you come in. Play our Tap that Habitat online game or take part in our Spot that Habitat survey and you can help nature find the homes it needs on our waterways. 

Together we can make sure canals are a buzzing, fluttering, croaking, corridor of life.

Last date edited: 7 April 2022