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Top 10 places to spot wildlife on a canal boat holiday

One of the things that make our canals and rivers so special, is the wildlife that lives in and beside them.

You can spot anything from ducks, moorhens and dragonflies, to kingfishers, otters and water voles. Even in the heart of our towns and cities, you can get close to nature on a canal or river.

Many areas of the Canal & River Trust’s canals and rivers in England and Wales have been designated as important nature sites, including 63 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and over 1,000 wildlife conservation sites.

To celebrate, we’ve listed our Top 10 places to spot wildlife on a 2022 narrow boat holiday:

  1. Bittell Reservoir, Worcestershire

Built to supply water for the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, Bittell Reservoir at Barnt Green is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and home to over 200 species of water bird.  Boaters can reach the Bittell Arm in just 40 minutes from Drifters’ narrowboat boat hire base at Alvechurch, and in two hours from Tardebigge.

  1. Llangattock, Powys

The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal follows the line of the Usk Valley through the Brecon Beacons National Park, and is home to an abundance of wildlife.  For example, along the length passing through the village of Llangattock, there are kingfishers, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies to look out for, as well as bats at dusk.  Boaters can reach Llangattock Wharf in around four-and-a-half hours from our’ canal boat rental base at Goytre.

  1. Fradley Pool Nature Reserve, Staffordshire

At Fradley Junction, where the Coventry Canal meets the Trent & Mersey Canal, Fradley Pool Nature Reserve is home to a variety of wildlife, including ducks, swans and bats.  There are sculpture trails, places to picnic, and a choice of places to eat and drink.  It takes around one-and-a-half hours to reach Fradley from Drifters’ base at Kings Orchard Marina, or six hours (passing through five locks) from Great Haywood.

  1. Sutton Cheney, Leicestershire

This tranquil SSSI stretch of the Ashby Canal offers the chance to spot freshwater mussels, rare native white-clawed crayfish, water shrew, dragonflies, damselflies, and a variety of water birds. Boaters can reach Sutton Cheney visitor moorings in around six hours from Drifters’ base at Kings Orchard Marina, and in around 16 hours (passing through four locks) from Braunston.

  1. Caen Hill, Wiltshire

The Caen Hill flight of locks at Devizes, is not only one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, it’s also an important place for wildlife.  The Jubilee Woodland is providing more habitat for woodland birds, and the side ponds provide habitat for fish, water birds, water voles, otters and the rare chaser dragonfly.  Drifters’ Devizes canal boat hire base is at the bottom of the Caen Hill Flight, and our base at Hilperton is four-and-a-half hours away, with seven locks to pass through.

  1. Gronwyn Wharf, Montgomery Canal

The Montgomery Canal runs for 38 miles between England and Wales, and is one of the most important canals in country for nature.  Much of it is designated a SSSI, and the Welsh section is of international significance with a Special Area of Conservation designation for its aquatic plants.  Otters and water voles have been spotted there, and several nature reserves border the canal.  Boaters can cruise to Gronwyn Wharf from a number of Drifters bases, including Blackwater Meadow (six hours, eight locks away) and Whixall (10 hours, eight locks away).

  1. Consall Forge, Staffordshire

The 17-mile long Caldon Canal runs from Etruria in Stoke-on-Trent to the edge of the Peak District at Froghall Wharf.  Travelling alongside the River Churnet through woodlands and moorlands, boaters can look out for kingfishers, herons, jays and woodpeckers, as well as otters which have recently returned to the area.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Stoke on Trent, boaters can reach Consall Forge, next to Consall Nature Park in around nine hours, passing through 16 locks.

  1. Marple Locks, Derbyshire

The flight of 16 locks at Marple on the Peak Forest Canal are one of the steepest in Britain, and from there boaters can enjoy magnificent views of the Peak District.  Surrounded by beautiful countryside, including stretches of ancient woodland, there are many types of woodland bird to look out for, as well as bats.  From Drifters’ base at Stoke on Trent it takes around 16 hours, passing through 13 locks, to reach Marple Junction.  And from Bunbury it takes around 29 hours, passing through 48 locks.

  1. Ellesmere, Shropshire

The Mere at Ellesmere is packed with wildlife, including kingfishers, yellow hammers, tree sparrows, lapwing, sand martins, ringed plovers, curlews, greenshanks and herons. There are woodland walks, places to eat, drink and picnic, a sculpture trail and adventure playground.  Drifters’ narrow boat hire base at Blackwater Meadow Marina is on the edge of Ellesmere, and Chirk is just four hours and two locks away.

  1. Bingley, West Yorkshire

The fields either side of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Bingley, close to the Bingley Five Rise Lock Staircase, are full of wild flowers.  There are walking trails and places to eat, drink and picnic.  From Drifters’ base at Barnoldswick on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, it takes around 14 hours to reach Bingley, passing through 15 locks.