Canals are great places to go wildlife hunting and whether you view them by boat or from the canal path they are a great place to explore, relax and enjoy. The Pocklington Canal flows for nine and half miles through the Vale of York from the foothills of the Yorkshire Wolds to join the River Derwent at East Cottingwith. It has 9 locks not all of which have been restored. Nature watchers can walk the canal's entire length on a grassy towpath.
Pocklington Canal was opened in 1818, catering mainly for agricultural traffic it fell into disuse when the railways arrived - now about half of its ten mile length is open to boats - but the rest is unrestored. And its here that wildlife has really moved in. This canal's eye view gives you a an overview of nature both above and below the water which includes birds, plants, insects and aquatic life. Where it joins the River Derwent it borders Wheldrake Ings, a National Nature Reserve, which floods in the winter time and wildfowl take their winter break there.
Not all of it is navigable only from the River Derwent to Melbourne Arm. It has swing-bridges, hump-backed bridges and 9 locks both restored and unrestored. There are few boats.
Wildlife to See
The canal is part of an area of national scientific interest, it has natural banking which is used by water voles. Reeds along sections of the canal provide a habitat for nesting birds. Swans, moorhen and coot nest along its banks. If you're lucky you may also see a Kingfisher or Grey Heron, or hear the sound of the Curlew nearby.
Brilliant Barn Owls
Like most canals it is bordered by grassland which offers rich pickings for the Barn Owl. The best way to spot the owls is to look at dusk or dawn when you'll see them flying about ten feet off the ground in search of food. Another give-away is the presence of kennel-like structures which are Barn Owl boxes.
Insects and small creatures
And if you look closely and take your time to view you may see such insects as Damselflies resting on the leaves of lilies which they use as a launch pad. Thirteen species of Dragonflies and Damselflies have been seen along the ten mile stretch of the canal including the Emperor, Britain's largest. Characterised by its greeny blue thorax, the Emperor is in great contrast to another canal resident, the brightly coloured Red-eyed Damselfly. The male red-eyed damselfly is recognised by its prominent reddish brown eyes and blue band near the trail and plenty can be seen when the sun shines.
On the canal towpath you'll see grassland plants like ox-eye daisy and betony. In the water you'll see phragmites reeds, water lilies, water forget-me-not, flowering rush, fan leaved water crowfoot, hornworth and lesser water plantain. The yellow water lilly grows prolifically on the navigable section and are at their best in June and July.
Warm days are best - the insects are most active from about 10.30am into the early afternoon.
If possible it is a good idea to gain some height in this flat landscape - use a bridge over the canal as a good vantage point - and don't forget your binoculars, was well as your camera to see the smaller inhabitants of the canal and its environment.
A local group run short 30 minute Boat trips on most Sundays and Bank Holidays during the season from 12noon to 5pm. The boat is manned by volunteers and can take a maximum of 12 people. They do not charge for 30 minute boat trips because insurance and other formalities do not allow them to so any donation grateful. Contact 01759 318699 for details. Boat Trips run from the Melbourne Arms at Melbourne.
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