Best canal boat holidays for wildlife spotting

Best narrowboat holidays for wildlife spotting

Britain’s canals and rivers are full of biodiversity. To celebrate #EarthDay2024 we’ve published a guide to the best narrowboat holidays for wildlife spotting.

Cruising gently through the countryside, you can enjoy spotting anything from ducks, moorhens, swans and dragonflies, to kingfishers, otters, bats and water voles.  Even in city centres, waterways provide safe havens for a wide variety of plants and animals.

1. Spot Kingfishers on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, South Wales

Isolated from the main canal network, this beautiful waterway meanders peacefully for 36 miles through the Brecon Beacons National Park. The Montmoutshire & Brecon Canal in Wales provides excellent habitat for many woodland and water birds, including kingfishers. Usually glimpsed as a sudden flash of glistening blue, the ‘King of Fishers’ travels at lightning speeds catching several fish each day.

We have a narrowboat hire base on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal at Gotyre Wharf.

2. Watch out for Bats on the Caldon Canal, Derbyshire

The 17-mile long Caldon Canal in Staffordshire has stunning wooded sections, providing rich habitat for bats. There are 18 different kinds of bat in Britain, including Daubenton’s bats, also known as the ‘water bat’.  They use the canal and river network extensively for foraging and they can frequently be found roosting in hollowed out tree trunks and many of the 200 year old engineering structures, such as bridges and aqueducts, which were built alongside the canals themselves.

We have a canal boat hire base at Stoke on Trent, where the Caldon Canal meets the Trent & Mersey Canal.

3. Count Dragonflies on the Ashby Canal, Leicestershire

A six-mile section of the Ashby Canal is designated a Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI), recognising the diversity of its plant, insect and animal life, including nine species of dragonfly. These colourful insects, whose origins began 300 million years ago, are voracious hunters.  They use the reed fringes of our canals and rivers as breeding and hunting grounds.

You can reach the Ashby Canal on a week-long canal boat holiday from our bases at Braunston, Napton and Stockton.

4. Look out for Otters on the Montgomery Canal, Shropshire & Wales

This beautiful canal runs for 38 miles between England and Wales.  Designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on both sides of the border, and the entire length in Wales is also recognised as a Special Area of Conservation, making it one of the most important sites for wildlife in Europe.  Thanks to the work of conservationists, the UK’s population of otters is showing healthy signs of growth after its sad decline in the 1950’s.  Lakes, rivers and coastal areas are the otters’ natural habitats but these timid nocturnal creatures can also be seen hunting on quiet stretches of the canals.

You can reach the Montgomery Canal on a short break or week away from our narrowboat rental bases at Blackwater Meadow, Chirk, Trevor and Whixall.

5. Listen for Reed Bunting on the Droitwich Canals, Worcestershire

Many birds live and nest amongst the reeds that line sections of our inland waterways, including the chirruping reed bunting.  One of the best waterways to see these lively little birds, perched up high on reed tops singing at the top of their voices, are the Droitwich Canals in Worcestershire, which offer a linear mosaic of habitats, including substantial reedbeds. Reed buntings are sparrow-sized but slim with long, deeply notched tails.  The male has a black head with a white collar in the summer.  The black head becomes a dull brown in the winter.  Females have a brown head, buff throat and buff-coloured lines above and below their eyes.

You can cruise the Droitwich Canals on a short break or week away from our Stoke Prior and Worcester bases.