Wildlife secrets of urban canals to be revealed

A A A

With their traditional image as repositories for stolen shopping trolleys and empty beer cans, few would consider Britain's urban canals to be teeming with wildlife.

With their traditional image as repositories for stolen shopping trolleys and empty beer cans, few would consider Britain's urban canals to be teeming with wildlife.

But that is precisely the picture which managers of 2,000 miles of canals and rivers hope will emerge from the first nationwide audit of animal and plant life on waterways.

The initiative announced yesterday will use a combination of expert data gathered by scientists and thousands of sightings by the public to draw up a comprehensive picture of river-based wildlife in both town and country.

British Waterways, which manages two thirds of Britain's river and canals, is asking visitors to the waterways this month to carry out an internet survey of the species they see.

Efforts in recent years to clean up urban canals and rivers are thought to have encouraged rare and endangered species such as the water vole back into towns and cities but little precise data exists to judge the success of the efforts.

A spokeswoman for British Waterways said: "We know that our waterways can provide a haven for wildlife in places where green space is scarce. But we want to be able to provide an accurate picture of just what there is on our waterways. Half of the population lives within five miles of a canal or river so we would like the public to gather the raw data."

Naturalists point to Britain's 3,000-mile network with its hundreds of miles of uninterrupted hedgerow as an ideal haven for wildlife. A rich diversity of species, ranging from bream and bats to molluscs and freshwater sponges, has seen more than a thousand sections of canal and river given protected status.

But waterways are also a battleground for survival, with long-established species facing extinction while new species expand at alarming rates. Last week, the Government published data showing the changing nature of Britain's wildlife populations with species such as gulls, grey squirrels and feral pigeons flourishing to the detriment of others.

The water vole, best known as Ratty from The Wind in the Willows , has seen its population fall from an estimated seven million in the 1960s to just 900,000. The vole population has been reduced by mink, a ruthless predator which has escaped from fur farms.

Ecologists also want to gain a clearer picture on numbers of "alien" species such as the terrapin, (dumped in the wild in large numbers following a craze sparked by the Teenage Ninja Mutant Hero Turtles films) and the American Signal Crayfish - an aggressive invader which is endangering populations of the smaller native crayfish.

Bill Oddie, the television naturalist, who is backing the campaign, said: "It's important to monitor the wildlife that inhabits our waterways, especially those native species whose numbers are threatened."

The data gathered by the survey will become the basis for a national species database which will be shared with agencies responsible for the upkeep of waterways.

Members of the public are being asked to fill in an online questionnaire at a dedicated website: www.waterscape.com.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine