Ground-breaking wildlife project on Huddersfield Narrow Canal

Canal & River Trust ecologist Tom King (far right) with MEM Fisheries in boom boat and University of Salford staff and research students (LtoR) Dr Allan McDevitt, Sam Browett, Dr Chiara Benvenuto and Abbie Sparnenn. PHOTOS: CANAL & RIVER TRUST

THE Canal & River Trust and University of Salford have joined forces on a ground-
breaking project to test the quality of wildlife habitats and biodiversity of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.

The project, funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, is concentrated on a five mile section of the canal between Ashton-under-Lyme and Oldham, which is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The Trust wants to assess the quality and quantity of the fish stocks so it can take measures to improve the wider health of aquatic plants and animals in the canal at this protected site.

Linda Butterworth and Tom King from Canal & River Trust with the MEM Fisheries boom boat.

Staff and research students from the University of Salford’s School of Environment & Life Sciences are employing cutting-edge science to test water samples using environmental DNA (eDNA) profiling. This should allow them to detect all the species of fish, crustaceans and semi-aquatic mammals present in the canal water at a particular spot.

eDNA sampling.

At the same time, the Trust has contracted MEM Fisheries to carry out a traditional fish survey using a boom boat which enables fish to be physically collected, counted and measured.

A pike.

The first stage of the survey has been carried out this month while the Huddersfield
Narrow Canal is in water but after Christmas, a couple of sections around Mossley are due to be drained for lock replacement works, enabling the environmental team to carry out a more detailed fish survey.

Tom King, ecologist with the Canal & River Trust, said: “We know that people who spend time by our canals are healthier and happier. Getting closer to nature and wildlife is one of the reasons people visit.

“By linking up with University of Salford on this eDNA survey, we’re hoping to get an
accurate audit of fish which support all sorts of other wildlife including herons, kingfishers and even otters. The project could have far reaching benefits for everyone involved in managing water spaces.”

Dr Chiara Benvenuto and Dr Allan McDevitt, lecturers at the University of Salford, are
leading on the project. Dr Benvenuto added: “This environmental DNA testing technique has been around for a few years but elements of it are still being refined. This is why we are so pleased to be working with the Canal & River Trust on a real project with tangible outcomes for the health of the canal.”

“If we succeed in not only accurately identifying all species of fish, crustaceans and semi-aquatic mammals that are present by taking a simple non-invasive water sample, but also to quantify abundances, it will be a great break-through for aquatic conservation.”

Data from the fish surveys will be analysed and assessed by the University of Salford and a final report produced by research students towards the end of the academic year.

This initiative on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is part of the Canal & River Trust’s wider 12 month project, Making Special Places for Nature, funded by a £350,000 award from players of People’s Postcode Lottery. The project involves improving vulnerable wildlife waterway habitats across 10 key sites totalling 400 hectares and spans reservoirs and canals in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Greater Manchester, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Berkshire and mid Wales.

It will benefit water shrews, voles, otters, bats, dragonflies and other rare fauna and flora.

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