The Lancaster Canal is a valuable wildlife corridor, cutting it’s way through towns, villages and farmland. Over time it has become more naturalised and enables species to survive and thrive.
The whole of the Lancashire section has been designated as a Biological Heritage Site and is the largest water body in the county.
Plant Species on The Canal
Along the canal several different plant habitats run in parallel; the true aquatic plants, the marginals (which like their feet in water but grow above it), the water loving meadow plants, the hedgerows, which line the towpath, and finally the trees. Watch how the plant communities change as you walk or ride along, sometimes through wooded cuttings, sometimes in the open. Also notice how the condition of the banks affect the ecology. The old collapsed banks will have the richest variety of species. The disturbed ground of restored or newly cut banks or upgraded towpaths will be more sparsely vegetated by a limited variety of colonising species; other species will follow.
In the open reaches the fluffy meadow sweet is common, and the yellow flag iris often grows with it. There are drifts of reedmace (bulrush) with its characteristic brown pokers, and the rosebay willow herb, which is especially lovely in the late summer. There is water mint, wild angelica, marjoram, various vetches, buttercups, and many more. At the northern end of the canal a change in plant species reflects the change in the underlying rock to limestone. Here you will find harebells, lady’s bedstraw, the cut leaved cranesbill, and other calcium loving plants.
Along the hedges are blackberries, elder, hawthorn and blackthorn. In the wooded cuttings shelter from winds and low levels of light produce a different association of plants. In spring you may smell wild garlic. There will be hart’s tongue ferns and the ready supply of rotting wood will support a rich variety of fungi, visible in the autumn. The cutting at Salwick is a good example of mixed woodland where beech trees colour up particularly well in the autumn. Elsewhere trees have been planted along the waters edge. Ash is common. Larch was planted both as a windbreak on exposed sections and as a resource to provide timber for canal maintenance work.
The stone walls provide a discrete environment for ferns, mosses and lichens. On permanently submerged walls, particularly below bridges, you can see the bright green mats of fresh water sponge. Most people are familiar with the floating round leaves and flowers of the water lily in summer, but the plants can also be seen in winter, if the water is clear, growing like cabbages on the canal bottom.
Remember to bring along your wild flower books if you are interested in identifying the hundreds of different species that enjoy living here, and please always follow the Country Code.