The charity making life better by water

Making scents of autumn

Thanks to the hard work of our environment team, our canals and rivers look spectacular in the autumn. However, it’s not all about looks with us. They also smell incredible.

Autumn boating

Being by the water is a treat for all of your senses, however, we think smell has an important role to play by the canal as it's the one most associated with memory. Why don't you visit us and recall happy childhood memories or create new memories that you'll be able to recollect long into the future?

Ecologist Laura Mullholland has put together her favourite smells of autumn.

Mulchy mustiness

Pop down to the canal during the autumn and there's a fabulous musty aroma in the air. This is the smell of leaves turning brown and dropping to the floor, where tiny insects are ready and waiting to munch through the decaying matter.

Centipedes, millipedes and beetles are one of the most important parts of our ecosystem. It's their job to tidy up the mess that autumn brings and we work hard to protect them so that they can do their job.


Toadstools and brackets, mushrooms and puffballs all use their underground branching networks of mycelium, a threadlike mass, to help breakdown matter in the soil which makes it more fertile for the vegetation above to thrive.

Most of the fungus is actually underground and the parts we see above ground are the fruiting bodies, like apples on a tree. Some of these fungi have quite pungent aromas, probably the best known of these is the stinkhorn, which has an unpleasant scent but not as bad as the latticed stinkhorn, an alien to the UK but turning up at more sites each year, which smells like rotting flesh.

Fungi next to the canal


Next time you're out and about and you spot a covering of ivy, go and have a sniff. It's not the most pleasant of scents but that punchy smell is heaven to insects. The pollen and nectar produced by ivy is one of the last sources of these precious commodities before everything shuts down for winter.


Blackberries are at their peak in September but can still be found into October. Another bright purple berry ripe for are elderberries. Much like the flowers in spring, elderberries from the elder tree make a delicious cordial.

You can also find late juniper berries and sloes, a must for any gin lover and the perfect excuse to prepare a delicious bottle of sloe gin in time for Christmas.

Sloes by the canal
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Last Edited: 07 September 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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