One of the pleasures and attractions of life on the canals - whether on the water or beside it - is enjoying the peace and tranquillity of the natural environment. Whether passing through the countryside or the centre of towns, the canals are home to a wide variety of plant and animal life.
Since closure of the canals to navigation in the 1960s, the natural habitats along their banks and towpaths have been largely undisturbed, allowing them to flourish so that they are now considered as important wildlife corridors. There are five designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) along the canals and these are protected under law.
The canals have a rich diversity of wildlife. Flowers such as orchids and yellow flag irises found along the marshy edge of the canals provide a variety of habitats for many spectacular insects and birds. Clouds of azure damselflies can be seen flying close to the water's surface in summer. Waterfowl, such as mallards, moorhens, coots and little grebes, share the canals with the swans which nest there.
Kestrels are also a common sight, hovering above the towpaths and adjacent fields, scanning the ground for their prey of mice, voles and other small wildlife.
The work of restoring the navigation is being carried out in partnership with local and national heritage and environmental protection bodies, including Scottish Natural Heritage, the Government agency responsible for maintaining and protecting the integrity of the natural environment. This partnership is ensuring that, wherever possible, work is being carried out during non-sensitive periods for particular wildlife, plant life is being shielded and, if necessary, removed to be replaced later. Habitats are being protected and disturbance to breeding and feeding grounds is being kept to a minimum.
Once restored, the canals will significantly improve the environment of Central Scotland, providing a major international recreational facility and bringing tangible, quantifiable and long-lasting benefits in terms of new jobs and investment. A neglected asset will be turned into a valued, green community resource which will benefit residents, walkers, sportsmen, holidaymakers, and boating enthusiasts alike.
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