The Grand Western Canal
As a place of significance for Mid Devon Wildlife members and visitors to enjoy, for me one of the great advantages of visiting the Grand Western Canal is that it is principally a level walk.
Water is often said to offer a calm soothing environment, highly attractive to a whole range of wildlife. Plants and flowers not only grow on the banks but also on the canal water surface too. There are swathes of water lilies to admire along with islands of bog bean. Botanists always have a field day identifying numerous species of wildflowers. These include vetches such as tufted vetch and common vetch which compete with groups of meadowsweet, yellow loosestrife and hemp agrimony.
Bird life celebrates the waterside: families of swans, mallards, coots and moorhens nest in the rushes and reeds. Kingfishers patrol the margins of the canal for some of its umpteen fish. The banks on either side are perfect habitats for nesting birds, and mammal hideouts.
Although there is an excellent record of coarse fish such as winter pike and perch, and in summer, tench, bream, roach, rudd and eels. I have only managed to identify perch and roach from the canal bank.
The canal is home to a wide variety of dragonflies and damselflies too. Perhaps the most rewarding of species is the scarce chaser (see item above “The not so scarce chaser”) There are good numbers of hairy dragonfly, southern hawker, emperor and broad bodied chaser. I think the loveliest of all the damselflies are the black winged demoiselles namely the beautiful demoiselle and the resplendent .banded demoiselle. Some years ago now I knew these two as Agrion Virgo and Agrion Splendens respectively but they have now been re-classified as Calopteryx virgo and Calopteryx splendens. I am told the best section to see dragonflies and damselflies is between Ebear Bridge and Westcott Bridge near Westleigh, where there are excellent illustrations of the canal’s dragonflies and damselflies.
A whole host of insects flourish on the canal borders, especially butterflies. There is a spectacular variety of grasses, which provide the larval food plant for most of our brown butterflies, such as meadow brown, gatekeeper, ringlet, and speckled wood. There are patches of birds foot trefoil for our common blue. The holly and ivy above the banks, on either side of the canal, encourage the holly blue to breed there. Brimstone butterflies overwinter under the ivy leaves.
Quite apart from frogs and toads on the canal bank, grass snakes demonstrate just how good they are at swimming in the water.
The Grand Western Canal is a favourite meeting point for bat enthusiasts. Evening bat expeditions with a qualified leader, are not uncommon. There are good numbers of bat species feeding on the insects above the canal, principally pipistrelle and Daubenton’s bats.
A walk along the towpath will prove to be a comprehensive overview of West Country wildlife.