Canal wildlife gets £350,000 spend

June 2017 - A lottery grant of more than a third of a million pounds is being poured into a 12-month nature project to improve vulnerable wildlife habitats across 10 key sites totalling 400 hectares – a combined area greater than the City of London – by the Canal & River Trust, Alec Wood reports.

The ‘Making Special Places for Nature’ project includes reservoirs and canals in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Greater Manchester, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Berkshire and mid Wales. It will benefit water shrews, voles, otters, bats, dragonflies and other rare fauna and flora.

The Trust, which is responsible for 63 SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest), wants volunteers to help and hopes to encourage many residents of nearby communities, particularly young people, to get involved in improving their local nature reserve.

The project, funded by a £350,000 award from the People’s Postcode Lottery, will involve a wide range of habitat protection work including bank restoration, shade removal and improvements in water quality. It will also assess the health and populations of various rare species including the shy water shrew, which was last subject to a national survey more than a decade ago.

Canal & River Trust ecologist Stuart Moodie said: “The Eurasian water shrew and white clawed crayfish are among a wide range of indigenous species which need an extra helping hand.

“Their natural habitats are threatened by run off from agricultural fertilisers and invasive plants and animals. Increasing the growth of aquatic plants helps encourage insects and invertebrates which in turn promotes healthy populations of fish and small mammals. Biodiversity is the key to a flourishing waterway.

“Getting local people involved in managing these reserves is a key priority. We would appeal to anyone who wants to get in touch with nature and play an important role in conserving their local area to contact us. This is a genuine chance to make a real difference.”

On the Ashby Canal, where water shrew, rare native white-clawed crayfish, and nine species of dragonfly are protected the plan is to look at silt levels and water quality with a kilometre of new green bank protection installed and planted.

On the Grantham Canal in Leicestershire, invasive species control, weed management and dredging will be carried out by volunteers and contractors to protect many species of breeding birds, water insects and rare aquatic plants.

The Kilby Foxton Canal will see water quality improved by shade reduction, vegetation clearance, hedge laying and coppicing to assist an important community of rare Daubenton’s Bats in Fleckney Tunnel, plus rare aquatic plants.

On the Chesterfield it's rare aquatic plants and on the Huddersfield Narrow freshwater sponges, white-clawed crayfish, invertebrates and more rare aquatic plants.

Two sites on the Montgomery will see habitats enhanced by removal of silt, shade reduction, vegetation management, coppicing, removal of invasive plants. The disused Guilsfield Arm will be improved for wildlife, more specifically Otters, several species of dragonflies, rare aquatic plants, including floating water plantain.

On the K&A the canal and the River Kennet flow through chalk landscape and banks are being eroded by livestock leading to siltation. Installation of green bank protection will help to stabilise channel and vegetation removal improve effects of shading for species of fish, damselflies and mayflies.

Photos: (1st) Rare protected aquatic plant – floating water plantain, (2nd) Canal & River Trust ecologist Tom King (centre) with volunteer coordinators Julianne Joyce and James Wynn on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, at Mossley, Greater Manchester, with a temporary trap to monitor water shrews. (Photo: Lynn Pegler), (3rd) A Eurasian water shrew (Photo: Terry Whittaker).

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