Wildlife on the Canal Bank

The canals of Great Britain are a perfect place to spot wildlife in their natural habitat. Whether you are on a canal boat, walking along the towpath or crossing over a canal bridge, there is a high chance that you will spot some exciting animals. Here a just a few species of wildlife you may encounter along the canals of Britain.

Water Birds

There are hundreds of different species of water bird living on the canals in Britain. The most common of these is the Mallard duck. Female Mallards are a dappled brown colour, whereas male Mallards are instantly recognisable by their bright green heads. Alternatively, you may see ducks with blue and purple head feathers. These are more likely to be Mandarin ducks. Believe it or not you really should avoid feeding too much bread to any species of ducks, because it is very bad for their digestive systems.

Other common water birds that you are likely to see on the canal banks include swans and geese. Swans and geese are much larger than ducks, and they both have longer necks. Adult swans are a brilliant white colour; however young swans tend to be a dappled shade of grey.

You may see a heron on the riverbank, although herons rarely venture into the canal water because of the depth. These beautiful birds normally prefer shallow water that they are able to stand up in.

Herons have very long legs and long necks. They may be up to a metre tall in height.

On the Banks

The canal banks are home to a wide variety of different land mammals. These animals are more likely to be found on the canalised sections of river that do not have solid concrete structures. Although they had once disappeared in most areas of Britain, otters can now be found again on peaceful sections of waterways. They are likely to hide as soon as they are disturbed, so they can be very hard to spot. Adult otters can grow to almost a metre in length. They are easily recognised by their brown fur and creamy underbelly.

Stoats and weasels can also be seen on the canal banks. They have similar body shapes to otters, however; they do not normally grow to be as large.

You may also spot water voles in the water and on the canal banks. Some people feel scared when they see water voles, because water voles can look very similar to rats. A water vole tends to have a shorter, fatter face with small ears. Whilst common rats have a pink, hairless tail, the water vole has a shorter fur-covered tail. Remember that it is possible to see rats on the canal bank too. They are more common in areas that are built up or where there has been fly-tipping.

Under the Surface

There are a lot of different types of fish in the canal system. Perch, carp and brown trout are all sought by anglers, however; you can enjoy seeing these species without trying to catch them.

Perch can be recognised by the two fins along their backs. One of the fins is spiny, whilst the other fin is soft. They look a greenish colour whilst they are underwater.

Brown trout are one of the largest species of fish that can be spotted in the canal network. Although they are referred to as brown trout, they may actually look more silvery or a beige colour whilst they are still under the water.

Carps are another large type of fish that can be found in the canals. They are normally spotted in areas where rivers and canals have been merged. They may grow to be over 1 metre long. Carps normally look an olive-brown colour whilst they are underwater, although they sometimes appear to be a golden colour too.

Crayfish and Chinese Mitten crabs are types of crustaceans which can be found in the water. There are some native crayfish species in Britain; however, many native crayfish have been destroyed by invasive foreign crayfish species which were introduced to the national waterways. Chinese Mitten crabs are another invasive species which can do a great deal of damage to soft canal banks.


There are thousands of different insect species to be found along the canal network in Britain. Dragonflies and Damselflies are two of the most colourful insects that you may spot. They have large wings and brightly coloured, long tail sections. Both of these types of insect can grow to be up to a few inches in length.

Pond Skaters may be found on the surface of the water. They have long legs which they use to distribute their weight across a larger surface area. This allows them to stand on the surface of the water without sinking. Their legs and bodies are also covered in fine hairs which help to increase their buoyancy even more.

At night

There are plenty of animals that can be seen and heard around the canal at night time too. In wooded areas, you are likely to hear the calls of tawny owl that are out hunting. Foxes are a common sight along the towpath in areas which are more urban. Some people who are very lucky may also see badgers hunting along the banks of the canal. Although they tend to make their homes further away from the banks, they may come towards the water to hunt.