Canals and rivers are now among the country's most important environmental assets. Rural habitats range from woodland and hedgerow, through to grassland, wetlands and open water – the Canal & River Trust's network alone includes all or part of 73 Special Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and links with a further 1,566 non-statutory nature sites. However, they also reach into the heart of most of Britain's larger towns and cities often bringing a unique cross-section of the countryside right to the urban environment. This wide range of habitats gives canals and rivers a unique biodiversity.
Ornithologists can enjoy a wide range of bird sightings, from those that can be found commonly, such as the majestic mute swan, moorhens, herons and ducks, to those that are harder to spot, such as kingfishers. There are also migratory birds and rarer species – there are ospreys at Rutland Water.
Other wildlife includes the now legally protected water voles and the returning otter population. It is possible to even have a rare sighting of a wild boar. Insects such as dragonflies are in abundance and the environment can allow the increasingly rare and also protected bumble and rare butterflies to flourish.
The wide range of flora and fauna is very different from an urban landscape to a rural wetland.
Those that have an informal appreciation of nature will find wildlife and attractive flora and fauna on a walk at just about any waterways location. However, for those with a keener specialist interest some research will benefit their visit. National and/or local specialist organisations or societies will be able to help. So will navigation authorities or other bodies responsible for waterways. Canal & River Trust and the Environment Agency are the two largest navigation authorities. Between them they operate about 70% of the navigable waterways network and they both promote biodiversity on their waterways. There is an abundance of wildlife and flora and fauna on the broads and the Broads Authority can supply information.