Take water taxi and get closer to nature

Wildlife spotting on the River Welland with (from left) taxi manager Simon Clarke, pilot Ron Pannell and voluntary reserve manager Keith Seaton. Photo: SG120712-243NG
Wildlife spotting on the River Welland with (from left) taxi manager Simon Clarke, pilot Ron Pannell and voluntary reserve manager Keith Seaton. Photo: SG120712-243NG
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Enjoy wildlife on the River Welland and the Coronation Channel from the best vantage point – aboard one of Spalding Water Taxi’s boats.

HAVE you seen the otters in the River Welland, the amazing sight of a vibrant kingfisher darting along the bank or a grebe chick sitting on its mum’s back?

They’re all quite hard to spot unless you are actually on the water itself – or live on the banks of the river and are an early riser in the case of the otter.

The best way to see the wildlife is by boat and, as the Coronation Channel is not navigable, the only way to enjoy the varied wildfowl is on a trip with Spalding Water Taxi, which is licensed to take boats to Springfields.

On a trip out with pilot Ron Pannell, voluntary reserve manager at Arnold’s Meadow Nature Reserve Keith Seaton and taxi manager Simon Clarke in rare sunshine on Thursday morning we saw coots – the most common water bird on the river and channel – as well as ducks, grebe and swans, but there are also terns, gulls, cormorants, kingfishers and more to be spotted.

Many of the birds are nesting and Keith explained it’s been a difficult season for them. He said: “The weather has played havoc with the coot chicks because they are not waterproof so they drown or they succumb to the wet and the cold.

“We have several reed warbler nests but the problem this year is the rain is blowing the reed over and they are losing a lot of the nests.”

Keith, who monitors nests by kayak on the Arnold’s Meadow nature reserve next to the Coronation Channel, says the rain has affected breeding. He says: “In April I had something like 25 youngsters along the Channel and ten days later they had disappeared completely. They let the flood water through and it swamps the nests.”

He also keeps nest records for the British Trust for Ornithology and for almost 20 years has peformed a monthly survey of the Welland and the Coronation Channel for the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, the RSPB and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Keith believes over-management of the waterway – to keep the river looking attractive and so that the Coronation Channel does its job as a flood defence – is not helpful to wildlife habitats and that numbers have gone down as a result over the years.

Having said that there are plenty of exciting sights, and the pilots are armed with identification charts and tick lists for children to use. Both Simon and Keith have spotted grass snakes slithering across the surface of the water – their prey are frogs and small birds.

All three men have spotted the otters and believe there are two families – or else one family that moves between the Welland the the channel.

Kingfishers are spotted quite frequently and Keith says the ducks congregate where they know they are going to get fed, at the water taxi pontoon and the footbridge over the river.

There is a large sand martin colony in the pilings to the right of the river going away from town, and there are rare sightings of seals trapped in the channel when the flood gates have been opened.

Ron, who has been piloting the water taxis for seven years, admits he wasn’t particularly interested in wildlife until he started the job and now takes great pleasure in watching chicks growing and the occasional sight of a kingfisher or otter.

The 16,000 to 20,000 passengers who enjoy a taxi journey each season, from Easter to October, also have the wild flowers to enjoy – water lilies currently in flower on the Welland, as well as flag iris, meadowsweet, purple loosestrife, ragwort, teasles and bogbean.

For those who prefer to enjoy nature independently, a new service was launched this season in which people are able to hire a boat and self-drive or even privately charter a boat and pilot, both of which need to be pre-booked.

It’s possible to hire a taxi for half a day (£70) or £120 for a full day, with up to 12 people on the boat, and travel from Spalding all the way to Peakirk, a return journey of about eight hours. It’s a chance to have a picnic afloat, or perhaps moor up at the Bridge Inn at Crowland, and there is cover on the boat in case of rain.

Spalding Water Taxi is run by Broadgate Homes as a not-for-profit company and so taxi prices are kept to a minimum – £3 each way between Spalding and Springfields and a family of four travel for the price of three.

To book a private charter or self-drive hire contact 01406 380532 or 07970 832131 – and visit the website www.spaldingwatertaxi.co.uk to email your wildlife on the Welland/Coronation Channel photographs for a new weekly wildlife watch section.