Take to the water to see wildlife differently

Canoeing, Peak UK 

I've not been canoeing long but in the sort few months I have, my perspective on Derbyshire's wildlife has changed completely.

Until recently, the only way I had experienced the rich wildlife present along our watercourses was either from bankside paths, or stood in the river during any number of aquatic surveys or fishing trips. However, I recently took to a canoe and paddled along a section of the River Trent, and with a bit of hush and patience it can be an extremely rewarding wildlife watching experience.

Firstly, a few pointers before you grab your inflatable lilo and hurl yourself downstream. If you do not have your own canoe or kayak, there are a number of hire companies along the Trent valley that will provide you with all the necessary equipment and information you need for a lovely day out along easily navigable sections of the river – a great starting point for the beginner.

Wild Trent Challenge

If you do have your own equipment, then please make sure it is fit for purpose, and that you dress accordingly for the weather conditions! It can be pretty hot and exposed on the river during the summer, so plenty of sun protection is necessary. Similarly, keep wrapped up and warm in the autumn and winter – those fingers can get chilly clutching your paddle.

Know the section of river you are paddling – local knowledge is extremely valuable so contact local canoe clubs and river users for recommended stretches that avoid potentially dangerous sections – such as large weirs. It’s also important to check that river levels are appropriate – avoid extremes in flow when conditions could be dangerous, or there isn’t increased risk to damaging wildlife.

Finally, make sure you have permission from the landowner at the points where you get in and out of the river – again, ask locals if you are unsure.   

Once you’re all set to go here are some species to keep an eye out for whilst out paddling – you won’t be disappointed.

Get a closer look at...

Kingfisher and Malcom Brown

Kingfisher and Malcom Brown 

Kingfishers

A lightning bolt of blue and green flashing along the water. Most frequently you only ever catch a glimpse of these birds whizzing past, but with a little patience, watching them fish from a perch is extremely rewarding.

Dipper, Andy Rouse 2020VISION

Dipper, Andy Rouse 2020VISION

Dippers

Although not as “showy” as a kingfisher, it’s a bird I could watch for hours, “dipping” on the top of half-submerged rocks, then diving into the water to forage for its insect tapas. You may also spot it zooming past you - keeping close to the water surface – as if magnetically drawn to it.

 

Sand martin juvenile by Margaret Holland

Sand martin juvenile by Margaret Holland

Sand martins

These summer migrants make use of exposed sand banks along our rivers and nest in colonies. They will feed on emerging insects in flocks above the river and can be quite the spectacle when joined by swallows, swifts and house martins.

Salmon, Jack Perks

Salmon, Jack Perks 

The king of fish! Whilst populations of this iconic species have fallen markedly over the last 100 years-or-so due to the presence of man-made barriers, extensive efforts are being made to address fish accessibility in the catchment with the installation of fish passes and weir removal. Look out for them attempting to leap weirs in the autumn.  

Water crowfoot, Linda Pitkin 2020VISION

Water crowfoot, Linda Pitkin 2020VISION

This wonderful submerged aquatic plant is found trailing in fast flowing, clean waters. Often simply referred to as “weed” by many river users, this plant provides valuable shelter to fish and invertebrates and during summer months produce delicate white flowers on the water’s surface – what a delight!

Otter, Mark Hamblin

Otter, Mark Hamblin 

Chances are you won’t see these elusive creatures – but that doesn’t mean they are not there! During the day they hide out under bankside tree roots, hollows and log piles, but will come out at night to hunt for fish. Look out for signs of otter – their dung or “spraints” are used to mark territory and can be found on top of rocks – particularly around bridges. Otter spraint smells faintly of jasmine – but you’re welcome to leave the poo-sniffing to the ecologists! 

Floating along a river in a canoe or kayak offers a wonderful and unique way to watch wildlife – as long as it done with a few key things in mind! The main thing to remember is to keep disturbance to an absolute minimum.

Be mindful of the time of year you’re paddling. In the spring when birds are nesting in your garden, others will be nesting along our river banks. Species such as little grebe, moorhen and coot nest in vegetation along the river margins, therefore avoid these densely vegetated areas when passing between the water and bank. These areas can also be home to water vole, a protected species that tend to inhabit slower flowing areas of river and live in bankside holes – all the more reason to avoid disturbing this important bankside habitat. Additionally, it’s always best to give any water fowl with chicks plenty of room to prevent them being spooked.

Care should also be taken in autumn and winter when fish spawning takes place. Species, such as trout, excavate hollows in the gravels on the river bed in which they lay their eggs. These “redds” rely on being free from fine sediment and need plenty of well-oxygenated water flowing over them to hatch successfully. Therefore during the autumn and winter months avoid disturbing these gravelly areas and stirring up lots of sediment.  At other times of the year try and avoid “loitering” in the deeper pools where fish tend to congregate and use as a refuge away from predators.

Sadly, not all of the wildlife along our rivers is welcome. Many troublesome invasive species are now common inhabitants of our rivers and pose a threat to our native flora and fauna– in particular Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed, mink and signal crayfish.

Biosecurity is a top priority. To stop the spread of non-native invasive species all river users should be undertaking the “check-clean-dry” policy with their equipment and clothes. Please don’t forget to do this – it really is vitally important to our waterways.

Finally, don’t forget to let us know what wildlife you’ve seen! You’re records can be extremely valuable and can help us to protect our rivers. They are wonderful places for nature, wellbeing and recreation. Together as a network of river-lovers we can maintain and enhance this precious environment.  

Ready to take to the water?

Sign up for our fundraising campaign - a 9km run and 8km canoe down the River Trent all to raise money for wildlife! 

Wild Trent Challenge

Sign up now

Wild Trent Challenge, Jack Roper