THIS half-term is the last chance for families to take part in the Canal & River Trust’s Great Nature Watch.
The Trust is asking people to help create a living map of habitats that are important for wildlife in and around Staffordshire’s waterways.
While many of Staffordshire’s plant and animal species are retiring for their winter hibernation, and summer visitors such as swallows are leaving us, there is still plenty to see for those treading the towpaths.
Around 17 million birds are thought to migrate to the UK in winter, either as a stopover or from much colder north and easterly climates.
These visitors include many species of waterfowl such as Bewick’s and whooper swans, ducks, geese and waders.
Jonathan Hart-Woods, regional environment manager for the Canal & River Trust, says: “There is still so much to see at this time of the year on our canals, rivers and reservoirs.
"It could be flocks of wintering birds or squirrels gathering nuts and berries for their winter larder, or the beautiful seed heads in the reed beds, and mushrooms and toadstools in adjacent woodland.
“This underlines the importance of the wide range of habitats associated with our waterways and by using the free Great Nature Watch app, you can help to record species and habitats across London’s waterways so we can better identify areas that need support and protection.
"Because canals and reservoirs provide such a valuable source of food and shelter for wildlife, you are bound to see something along most stretches of water.
"However, people living in Stoke-on-Trent and Leek are especially lucky to have the Churnet Valley on their doorstep, a site designated for its ecological importance nationally.”
The Churnet Valley, which runs alongside the Caldon Canal, contains ancient woodland mixed with scrub, grasslands and large areas of mire, marsh and carr, which support an outstanding number of woodland birds.
The extensive area of the woodland supports goshawk, sparrowhawk, all three British woodpeckers, and finches including common crossbill and siskin.
The valley is also home to 30 nationally important beetles and other invertebrates.
You can take part in the Great Nature Watch by downloading the free enaturewatch app, which includes a species ID guide to wildlife you are likely to encounter near to water, and is available on IOS and android platforms.
Those without a smartphone can record their sightings online at www.canalrivertrust.org.uk/great_nature_watch.