Kingfishers thriving on urban waterways


In this year’s British Waterways annual wildlife survey, the focus of the survey was the kingfisher. In London, 39 kingfishers were spotted in the area, higher than any other urban area. As well as the iconic blue birds, budding Bill Oddies across London discovered a total of 253 creatures along the waterside, with more unusual sightings including: a seal, terrapins, otters, weasels, water voles, crayfish and mink.

Ecologists pinpointed Regent’s Canal between City Road Basin in Islington and Old Ford Lock in Tower Hamlets (alongside Victoria Park) as the best place to spot kingfishers and other waterside wildlife, and with half the UK living within five miles of the canal it’s a great place for people to get up close and personal with nature. Despite the wet weather this summer, 4,000 sightings were recorded by members of the public during British Waterways’ fourth National Waterway Wildlife Survey, including over 300 records of Britain’s most brilliant bird, the kingfisher. Encouragingly, this year’s survey, which had a special focus on the kingfisher, indicates healthy populations even in urban areas like central London, Manchester, Aylesbury, Coventry, Leeds and Preston.

British Waterways’ ecologists were particularly keen to track sightings of the kingfisher as it is generally accepted as a key indicator of good water quality and a healthy ecosystem. In response, a number of kingfisher habitat improvement projects are planned, including the installation of kingfisher boxes, posts and tunnels to help support populations in a number of locations including the Regent’s Canal in central London, the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and the Grand Union Canal at Leighton Buzzard.

Mark Robinson, national ecology manager for British Waterways, comments:
“We are delighted to hear of so many sightings of kingfishers on our waterways. As well as being a strikingly beautiful bird, kingfishers are an important indicator of the general health of the waterway ecosystem, as like the big cats on the African plains, they are at the top of the waterway food chain.  And good populations of kingfishers even in urban areas show the important role waterways have in greening our towns and cities by providing wildlife corridors which help sustain populations of a variety of both common and endangered species including bats, water voles and otters. On behalf of British Waterways, I’d like to thank everyone who took part in this year’s waterway wildlife survey. As well as highlighting areas for us to focus our habitat enhancement work, surveys like this help us to determine the impact of extreme weather on our wildlife and, wherever possible, to take action to help populations recover.”

The survey also indicates the warm autumn days that followed our wet summer appear to have caused confusion.  Common Darter dragonflies, which have normally disappeared by this time of year, are still being spotted, while two unusual southern insects, a sawfly and the Grizzled Skipper butterfly, have been spotted in the Midlands for the first time.

The kingfisher was the fourth most common sighting behind the mallard, swan and heron.  Encouragingly there were also plenty of records of some of the UK’s rarer species including water voles, otters and bats and a number of more unexpected animals were spotted, including seals and an alligator snapping turtle.

Header photo by John Archer


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