Wildlife On The Inland Waterways

Britain’s inland waterways and canals are superb habitat for a wide range of wildlife. Getting out in nature and exploring our waterways has been shown to benefit your mental and physical health. Cruising along in your inland waterways boat, or drifting along in your narrowboat or barge is the perfect way to spot some of Britain’s best-loved wildlife. In spring and early summer, there’s plenty of activity as animals and birds are raising their young. If you can identify some of the creatures that we share the waterways with, then it makes it even more enjoyable.

Wildlife on inland waterways: birds

Our rivers, canals, lakes and reservoirs support a huge diversity of birds. One of the largest is the swan, which is often found on shallow lakes, slow-flowing canals and rivers as well as in urban ponds in parks. The most common swan in the UK is the mute swan, so-called because it makes very little sound (other than that of its wings) when flying. Large and white, with a black and orange beak, the mute swan is an impressive and graceful sight. It’s 140 – 160cm long with a wingspan of 208- 238cm and weighs up to 12 kg.

Swans make large nests out of grass, sticks and other plant material on the banks of canals, rivers, lakes or small islands. They lay up to 8 eggs and their fluffy grey/brown cygnets will take to the water when just a couple of days old.

Another large bird is the statuesque grey heron. It can be over 1m in length, with a wing-span of 175 – 195cm. They are tall birds with long legs and a long beak. The grey heron is skilled at fishing and you often see one standing still at the water’s edge, waiting to pounce! They also eat small birds, such as ducklings, and small mammals. With few natural predators in the UK, they can live for up to 25 years.

Another expert fisherman is the kingfisher, as its name suggests! A small and beautiful bird, it’s a real treat to see one perched on a branch next to a canal, watching the water below. Swift fliers and divers, they speed down into the water and can catch fish that are larger and heavier than they are. Also, you might spot a flash of brilliant blue as a kingfisher flies past. It has a bright blue back and wings with an orange breast and white under its chin and on its neck.

Inland waterways and canals play host to a variety of ducks. The most common of these is the mallard. It is actually the most abundant duck in the world. The male mallard has a distinctive iridescent dark green head, while the female is mainly light and dark brown with a dark blue and white flash on her wing. You often see a string of mallard ducklings following their parents on the water and the banks in spring and early summer. They are delightful little creatures with fluffy brown and yellow feathers.

Coots are commonly found in large numbers on Britain’s inland waterways, reservoirs and lakes. All black, with a distinctive white beak and ‘shield’ on the front of its head, the coot is easy to identify. It is 36 – 42cm long, with a wing span of 70 – 80cm and has a round body.

Wildlife on inland waterways: Mammals

The otter is making a comeback to many inland waterways, thanks to some dedicated conservation efforts and cleaner water in our canals and rivers. This is bringing more fish and other wildlife to the waterways, which means more food for otters.

If you’re very lucky, you’ll see an otter swimming and diving for fish in the water. They are brown with cream underparts and have long, slender bodies. They have a lively, playful appearance and pups will often play with each other on the banks and in the rivers.

The American mink is smaller than the otter with darker fur and a more pointed face. Released, or escaped, from fur farms in the 1950s and 1960s, they are now a feature of wildlife in UK waterways. You’re more likely to see a mink than an otter due to their less secretive nature.

Unfortunately mink feed on the native British water vole, whose numbers have seriously declined in recent years. The water vole was famously characterised as Ratty in Wind the Willows, the well-known children’s book. Water voles plays a vital role in the ecosystem, enabling the river to support other wildlife due to their burrowing and feeding activity.

The waterways support all sorts of other wildlife too – a variety of fish, reptiles, insects and plants, so we’ll return to this topic on future occasions.

This is a marketing article from Assist Insurance, specialist providers of insurance for inland waterways boats, canal boats and many types of marine craft. If you have any questions about boat insurance, call one of our specialist team on 01604 946779. To remain up to date about similar topics and news from Assist Insurance Services, please like and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.