Uunlocking’ the full biodiversity value of the nation’s canal towpaths - Canal and River Trust

grassy towpath with wildflowers and a brightly colour barge on the canal
Image: Canal and River Trust

New ways of mowing to benefit birds, bees, and waterways wildlife

The Canal & River Trust, the waterways and wellbeing charity which looks after 2,000 miles of waterways across England and Wales, is beginning a six-month trial looking at the benefits of changing the mowing regime along its towpaths.

The trial, which starts in April, seeks to balance the needs of boaters, anglers and others accessing the water, with the benefits to wildlife and biodiversity that a change in mowing frequency will bring. A different mowing regime could save the Trust money which it can use elsewhere on important maintenance to look after the nation’s 200-year-old network of former industrial waterways.

A legacy from the Industrial Revolution, canals are unique ecological corridors that offer tremendous benefits to the nation’s flora and fauna by providing sanctuary to many much-loved and endangered species. Due, in part, to changes in farming practises and urban sprawl, the canal network, with its linear hedgerows and verges, provides vital connecting routes between increasingly fragmented woodlands and other important wildlife habitat.

The Trust currently spends over £2 million a year mowing over 2,000 miles of towpath every four to six weeks between April and October, leaving nearly 50 percent uncut at the water’s edge or back of the path. There is one ‘hedge to water’s edge’ cut in the winter to remove encroaching bushes and woody vegetation.

The trial will see the mowing regime altered across 375 miles of towpaths (almost a fifth of the Trust’s network), with expected improvements to wildlife habitats, alongside cost savings for the charity. Waterbirds nesting in reedbeds will be left undisturbed and it will create habitats for water voles, one of the UK’s most endangered mammals. Leaving verges to grow will encourage a greater diversity of plants and better cover and foraging opportunities for insects, birds, mammals, and reptiles. There may be an improvement in wildflowers, vital for pollinators such as bees.

Posted on: 26 March 2021

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