Protecting the Forth & Clyde Canal’s species: wildlife-detectives wanted!

As you take a stroll along the towpath or spend time on the water this summer, it’s remarkable to think that the diverse range of plants and animals on the Forth & Clyde Canal have all moved in and made it their home at some point in its 227 year history.

This biological melting pot has resulted in a stunning range of habitats from flower rich towpath grasslands to slow flowing waters where waterfowl, coarse fish, a dazzling array of invertebrates and rare water plants thrive. It is testament to this man-made structure’s ’ living skin’ that much of the Forth & Clyde Canal corridor is now designated for its nature conservation value at local, national and international level.

My long serving colleagues at Scottish Canals have told me that some species were introduced deliberately, such as hedgerow plants, to mark the canal land boundary and to keep livestock out. To combat wave erosion from boats on canal walls emergent reedy vegetation was also planted along the water’s edge. It is likely though, that the majority of plants and animals probably found their way in by accident either through natural dispersion of seeds and plant fragments and movements of animals at all life stages or as a direct result of human activity.

Some these plants and animals do not naturally occur in Scotland or Great Britain and are called non-native species. A small proportion of these, known as invasive non-native species or alien species, have the potential to cause damage to the canal ecology and environment. This is a Scotland and UK wide problem in both terrestrial and aquatic habitats. To address this issue, the Scottish Government and environmental regulators (Scottish Natural Heritage and Scottish Environment Protection Agency) are using a combination of legal measures and best practice to minimise these impacts.

Become a wildlife detective

At Scottish Canals, we are keen to deliver Scottish Government’s ambition and to work with our many customers and partners to prevent the introduction and spread of alien species and to identify where they currently occur. By doing this we can all contribute to the protection of the valuable wildlife communities on our waterways.

The top 10 alien species we would like you to keep a look out for are:

Images courtesy of Great Britain Non-Native Species Secretariat, Trevor Renals, Matt Brazier Environment Agency and Environment Agency.

You can find information about how to identify these species at GB non-native species secretariat.

To advise Scottish Canals of alien species sightings please take a photo, note the date and location and send it to

Good practice

The old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ definitely applies to alien species as it is difficult to control some species once they become established.

To this end, Scottish Canals is promoting the national Check-Clean-Dry campaign that encourages good biosecurity practices to prevent the spread of alien species to the water environment.  For example, visitors should check and clean their boots, fishing equipment and boats prior to coming to the canal network. Any garden or pond waste should be not be disposed of on canal land.  If you are planning an event on the canals please follow the Scottish Event Biosecurity Guide and Risk Assessment.

Scottish Canals also has an ongoing programme of invasive plant management for Japanese Knotweed, Giant Hogweed and Himalayan Balsam.

A recent success story was prevention of the introduction of invasive quagga and zebra mussels on the hull of a narrow boat originating from England. The boat was thoroughly checked and steam cleaned prior to its launch on the canal.


What next?

Scottish Canals will be developing a biosecurity plan to describe the actions required to prevent the introduction and/or spread of alien species in the future. Please contact us if you would like to get involved.

Your vigilance can help us protect the special wildlife of the Forth & Clyde Canal.

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