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Grand Western Canal


The Canal supports a rich and vibrant variety of wildlife and provides a great opportunity to get close to nature. In recognition of this, the Canal was declared a Local Nature Reserve in 2005.


Kingfisher on the Canal by R Graves

The Canal plays host to a range of bird species. Waterfowl are found along most stretches - Moorhens, Mute Swans and Mallards are a common sight. Kingfishers are commonly seen fishing along the Canal between late summer and early spring.

The hedgerows, trees and wildflower-rich canal banks provide food and shelter for many bird species. Those particularly associated with the watery margins include Grey Wagtail, Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler. Rarer sightings within the Country Park include Water Rail, Little Grebe (Dabchick) and Snipe.


Photo of an otter

Most mammals are shy creatures but if you look carefully, particularly near dusk or dawn, you may be able to spot Roe Deer, Foxes or Badgers in or around the Country Park. A number of bat species use the Canal for feeding and as a safe corridor to travel between roosts and feeding areas. The Canal Ranger Service lead bat walks each year when you will be able to see, hear and learn more about the bats found in Country Park.

One of the most elusive mammals to be found along the Canal is the Otter. In recent years they have made a strong recovery in the Westcountry and evidence of their activity is being recorded regularly in the Country Park.


gwc plants - flag iris by Bill Elliott

The Canal is a mass of colour in spring and summer with an abundance of wild flowers growing along the water’s edge. Unlike many other canals, the bankside vegetation at the Grand Western Canal is allowed to grow throughout the summer providing a profusion of wildflowers and the insects which feed on and around them.

Hegderows run beside the towpath throughout most of the length of the Canal, providing ideal habitats for many birds, mammals, plants and insects. These are ‘laid’ by traditional methods periodically to promote their vigour. You may see examples of recently laid hedges where the stems are partially cut and bent over, winding between poles to create a living fence. Some fantastic examples of mature Oaks may be found within the hedgerow and new ‘standard’ trees are left to grow on at intervals, when the hedges are laid.


Beautiful Demoiselle by R GravesThe Canal is also a hot spot for butterflies and dragonflies in spring, summer and early autumn, feasting on nectar and smaller insects sheltering in the vegetation. The section of canal between Sampford Peverell and Westleigh is particularly rich in dragonflies, including the rare Scarce Chaser, and an information panel telling you all you need to know about where, when and what to look for is located near Ebear Bridge.


Fish in the Canal by R GravesThe canal is home to a wide variety of fish including Tench, Perch, Bream, Rudd, Roach, Carp and Pike. An excellent mixed fishery with above average stocking levels, means that the Canal presents a good challenge to anglers.

Wildlife recording

The Rangers - with the help of a few dedicated volunteers - participate in survey work and the collation of casual records throughout the year. We have good records for the birds, butterflies and dragonflies, and much work has been done on surveying aquatic and bankside plants. The Ranger Service would be interested to know about any sightings of rare or notable wildlife along the Canal. Please contact the Rangers Service with your findings on 01884 254072 or email gwcanal@devon.gov.uk.

For more information on wildlife found in Mid Devon please contact Mid Devon Natural History Society.