Fifth article: Caring for Sites of Special Scientific Interest at the Canal & River Trust

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Canal & River Trust

We’re the charity who make life better by water for people across England and Wales. Helping nature to flourish is a vital part of our work, and that’s why we’re proud to care for 63 of the UK’s most important wildlife sites.

Caring for Sites of Special Scientific Interest at the Canal & River Trust

Kennet & Avon Canal, (Canal & River Trust)
Kennet & Avon Canal, (Canal & River Trust)

These Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) span our canals and reservoirs in both urban and rural areas. Some need more of a helping hand than others, and thanks to the Players of People’s Postcode Lottery we’re working on dedicated improvements to ten of the sites, benefiting wildlife and local communities on our iconic network. You can find out more about the planned improvements and what our teams and partners have already achieved on our dedicated SSSI website pages and read about what makes these sitesspecial below.

Ashby Canal

Just over six miles of the 22 mile-long navigable section of the Ashby Canal is designated a SSSI. Take a ramble along the towpath at this special nature site, located in Leicestershire, to see our wonderful green engineering.

This SSSI is recognised for the diversity of aquatic and emergent plants it supports, as well as its insect life. Nine species of dragonfly have been recorded, along with the water shrew, the rare native white-clawed crayfish and the nationally important water vole.

Belvide Reservoir

Located in the western part of Staffordshire, this special nature site not only provides a water supply to the Shropshire Union Canal but is home to 175 different species of bird.

Bittell Reservoir

Over 200 species of water birds have been recorded here including wintering wading birds and waterfowl. Breeding birds such as great crested grebe, little ringed plover and grasshopper warbler have also made this wonderful place their home.

Rare silt shoreline plants such as slender spike rush and mudwort can also be found here, along with the rare mud snail, and five different species of dragonfly.

Chesterfield Canal

Over a third of the 46 mile long Chesterfield Canal is a protected nature site. Nearly 12.5 miles between Retford to Misterton is designated a SSSI.

Supported by local volunteers, we are working to gain a better understanding of the canal’s complex wildlife through sensitive management and ongoing surveys.

Grantham Canal

Grantham Canal (Canal & River Trust)
Grantham Canal (Canal & River Trust)

This special nature site starts at the village of Harby and extends through the rural landscape of the Vale of Belvoir to Redmile Village. Nearly seven miles are now protected by their SSSI status.

It is recognised for containing some of the best areas of open water and associated marginal habitats in Leicestershire. This special wildlife section supports a diverse range of flora including rare water plants, along with many species of breeding bird and water insects.

Huddersfield Narrow Canal

In the 1980’s the Greater Manchester section was designated a SSSI by the former Nature Conservancy Council (Natural England today). The stretch included the largest population of the rare royal fern within Greater Manchester, along with rare invertebrates including native white-clawed crayfish.

Several plants recorded are nationally rare including floating water-plantain, autumnal star-wort, grass-wrack pondweed, long-stalked pondweed and hairlike pondweed. Fourteen species of mollusc have been recorded and there is a strong population of the fresh-water sponge.

Kennet & Avon Canal

Flowing through the North Wessex chalk downs to the clay, sand and gravel lowlands from Hungerford to Reading, this canal connects with the River Kennet to be designated a SSSI.  

3000 marginal native plants have been planted by volunteers, helping baby fish and rare species have a better home.


The Kilby – Foxton SSSI is designated for its diverse and abundant aquatic plant communities, especially Pondweeds, some of which are uncommon. It is also designated for the colony of Daubenton’s bats found in Saddington Tunnel

Montgomery Canal England

Two and half miles of the Montgomery Canal in England is designated an SSSI. This special nature site is located between Aston Locks and Keeper’s Bridge, near Queen’s Head, Oswestry.

Montgomery Canal (Canal & River Trust)
Montgomery Canal (Canal & River Trust)

This section has become one of the best locations for aquatic plants in Shropshire, with a rich variety of submerged and floating aquatic plant species historically recorded. The fringing reedswamp and fen habitats add to the diversity of the site, where reed warblers can regularly be heard and seen in amongst the tall reeds throughout the spring and summer.

Montgomery Canal Wales

The whole of the Montgomery Canal in Wales is designated as a SSSI and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). This is one of the best wildlife sites in Europe for floating water-plantain and a stronghold for otters and many species of damselflies/dragonflies.

Our people have been hard at work at these ten SSSIs creating new wildlife habitats, installing bat boxes, sensitively reducing shading, surveying and more. Could you be part of our team, working to transform canals and rivers into spaces where local people (and local wildlife) enjoy spending time?  We have professional roles, seasonal roles and volunteer roles available right now. To find out more go to or receive all our latest news, offers and more by signing up to our newsletter.

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Posted On: 09/08/2019

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