The Grand Western Canal is an attractive stretch of isolated canal, winding its way through the soft rural landscape of Mid-Devon, enticing an abundance of local wildlife. Although the canal is wholly man-made, its plant and animal communities are mostly natural, having colonised the site as it has matured and suitable habitats have developed.
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. Other bird species found along the canal include the Kingfisher, which is regularly seen fishing in the water.The hedgerows and bankside vegetation provide food, shelter and a safe corridor for movement between habitats for bird species including Grey Wagtail, Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler, and small mammals such as Bank Voles and Shrews. One of the most exciting Mammals to be found along the canal is the Otter. Evidence of their activity is being recorded regularly in the Country Park.
The canal is a mass of colour in spring and summer with an abundance of wild flowers growing along the water’s edge. Look out for the Early-purple and Common-spotted Orchids in certain places and the elegant White Water-lily. The waterway is teeming with freshwater invertebrates such as Water Boatmen and Damselfly larvae.
The canal is also a hot spot for Insects, such as butterflies and dragonflies during spring, summer and early autumn, feasting on nectar and smaller insects sheltering in the vegetation. A very notable new dragonfly record for the canal was made last year with a small population of Scarce Chasers being confirmed between Ayshford Bridge and Ebear Bridge. Initially spotted by Rangers operating the weed-cutting boat, this is the first record of this dragonfly breeding in Devon.
The wildlife of the canal is vulnerable to pollution and sedimentation. In response to this we have entered into the Countryside Stewardship Scheme which will provide funding for work that will include creating buffer strips along the offside banks, resuming coppicing in the canal cuttings and restoring the hedgerows that flank the towpath. The Grand Western Canal has also become a partner in the Interreg IIIb Crosscut project, which is an EU-funded project looking into sustainable canal management. It involves work on sustainable dredging practices and working with farmers to reduce future siltation.
The Rangers, with the help of a few volunteers participate in survey work throughout the year. We have good records of the birds, butterflies and dragonflies, and much work has been done on surveying aquatic and bankside plants. We would be interested to know about any unusual or rare sightings of wildlife along the canal. Please contact the Rangers Service with your findings.
In recent years there has been concern that the Canal's White Water Lilies are declining. To better understand this problem and seek recommendations on how to arrest this decline, Dr John Eaton of the University of Liverpool (one of the country's foremost waterway ecology academics) was engaged to analyse many years of survey data from the canal and use his experience of other waterways to produce a report on the subject. Click here to read the report.
For more information about wildlife commonly found on Britain's canal's please visit the Waterscape website.
For more information on wildlife found in Mid Devon please contact Mid Devon Natural History Society.