Kingfishers return to British waterways as the great canal clean-up bears fruit

A A A

It is being called the kingfisher factor, and is a striking indication of how things have changed on Britain's canal network. On waterways which a generation ago were clogged with grime and pollution, a massive clean-up has taken place. And, with wildlife flourishing as never before, Britain's most strikingly beautiful bird – the kingfisher – is making a comeback.

But they are not only becoming increasingly common on rural canals. With their spectacular cobalt-blue and chestnut plumage, kingfishers can be seen on the Regent's Canal at Islington in north London, and in cities such as Leeds and Manchester. The birds are often spotted, for example, near the British Waterways offices at Fearns Wharf on the Aire and Calder Navigation – just two minutes' walk from Leeds city centre. This summer, despite the wet weather, 300 kingfisher sightings were recorded by the public during British Waterways' fourth National Waterway Wildlife Survey. The study, which had a special focus on the bird, indicated healthy populations in many places on the 2,200-mile canal network.

It is a far cry from as recently as 20 years ago, when many canals, especially urban ones, were in effective foul-smelling dumping grounds covered in scum. The poet Philip Larkin, witnessing the typical sights of England from a train, wrote in The Whitsun Weddings in 1964 of "canals with floatings of industrial froth". But money has been poured into regeneration and the water-borne motorways of the Industrial Revolution have been revived as valued amenities.

The presence of a canal nearby can add 25 per cent to the value of a house, for example, and their importance for wildlife is increasingly being recognised, especially as "corridors" that different species can move along. The presence of wildlife, in turn, proves that a canal is healthy.

"We are delighted to hear of so many sightings of kingfishers on our waterways," said Mark Robinson, the national ecology manager at British Waterways. "As well as being a strikingly beautiful bird, kingfishers are an important indicator of the general health of the waterway ecosystem. Like the big cats on the African plains, kingfishers are at the top of the waterway food chain. They need fish to feed on, and fish need small invertebrates, and so on.

"Good populations of kingfishers, even in urban areas, show the important role that waterways have in greening our towns and cities by providing wildlife corridors which help to sustain populations of a variety of both common and endangered species including bats, water voles and otters."

As a direct result of the poll findings, several schemes to improve kingfisher habitats are planned, including the installation of boxes, posts and tunnels at the Regent's Canal, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal and the Grand Union Canal at Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.

More than 4,000 bird sightings were recorded during the survey. The kingfisher was the fourth most-common species spotted, behind the mallard, mute swan and grey heron. There were also plenty of sightings of some of Britain's rarer species, including water voles, otters and bats. Other, more unexpected animals which were reported were seals and an alligator snapping turtle – the largest freshwater turtle in North America.

The survey shows that the warm autumn which followed the wet summer has caused confusion in the animal kingdom. Common darter dragonflies, which have normally disappeared by this time of year, are still about, while two unusual southern insects – the saw fly and a grizzled skipper butterfly – have been seen in the Midlands for the first time.

There has, however, been no repeat of the alleged sighting of a crocodile in the Stroudwater canal in Gloucestershire two years ago. "We investigated this, and it was probably a large pike," Mr Robinson said. "At least we think it was. We haven't had any records since, and as far as we know, we haven't lost any dog-walkers."

The species discovered

Mallard (431 sightings)

Mute swan (382)

Grey heron (366)

Kingfisher (314)

Coot (272)

Moorhen (256)

Bumblebee (215)

Dragonfly (192)

Damsel fly (148)

Cormorant (130)

Bat (128)

Frog (128)

Mink (106)

Fox (92)

Grass snake (89)

Water vole (71)

Toad (59)

Terrapin (49)

Otter (29)

Grebe (27)

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn