VISITORS took a behind-the-scenes look at a £4m canal restoration project.

Around 30 people joined the Canal and River Trust to view restoration works at a section of the Montgomery Canal near Oswestry.

They took guided walks to the new Aston Locks Nature Reserve, which is being created next to the canal to provide a protected home for birds, wildlife such as damselflies, dragonflies, otters and water voles, and rare aquatic plants like Floating Water Plantain Luronium natans.

Trust project manager David Hennessey and ecologists Stuart Moodie and Sara Hill explained the works and showed how the plants and animals were being transferred into the new nature reserve from the main line of the canal.

Mr Hennessey said: "The Montgomery is a special canal and its restoration has required a special solution. The absence of boat movements over the last 80 years has allowed the man-made channel to become colonised by a wide range of rare flora and fauna.

"By creating a new three hectare wildlife habitat, we will be able to protect and conserve these species for generations to come, while enabling boats to return by excavating the main channel into a navigation again.”

The project is being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Shropshire Wildlife Trust’s Freshwater First ERDF Programme, supported by the Montgomery Canal Partnership, and delivered by the Canal and River Trust, which cares for the Montgomery Canal and 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales.

Known for its outstanding natural beauty, wildlife and heritage, the Montgomery Canal runs for 35 miles between England and Wales.

The canal is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest on both sides of the border. The whole length in Wales is also recognised as a Special Area of Conservation, confirmation that it is one of the most important wildlife sites in Europe.

Funding for the restoration programme was announced a year ago and since then good progress has been made towards upgrading nearly five miles of towpath, restoring 1¼ miles of the canal to navigation from Maesbury to Crickheath and creating a dedicated turning point for narrowboats, known as a ‘winding hole’.

This will enable boats to return to the area for the first time since 1936 when the canal was closed.

Only around half of the canal is currently navigable but, with the help of Shropshire Union Canal Society volunteers, this phase is expected to be completed by 2020.

The reserve features two new giant ponds which are being constructed next to the canal main line. Specialist environmental matting has been laid along the pond banks, protecting the banks from erosion and enabling vegetation to establish more easily.

Each pond is being connected to the canal with an inlet and outlet channel, allowing fish and aquatic mammals to travel between the two water spaces. Due to the natural topography of the land and the high water table, the ponds have not been lined but rest on a natural bed of peat.

Trust ecologist Stuart Moodie said: “One pond is now constructed and the second pond should be finished in the next few months. They will inevitably take a few years to become established but ultimately we expect them to become self-sustaining, biodiverse eco-communities - a wonderful resource for the local community.

“We are working closely with Natural England monitoring the success of the reserves and hopefully in the next three to five years, they will allow us to double boat movements along this section of the Montgomery Canal from 2,500 to 5,000 per year.”

Sara Hill, the Trust’s local ecologist, said that the reserve was expected to be open to the public from next summer.

The Canal and River Trust works with 15 partner organisations which make up the Montgomery Canal Partnership. The partnership aims to restore the canal fully within the next decade as a haven for people and nature.

For more information about the Montgomery Canal restoration, visiting your local canal or becoming a Friend of the Canal and River Trust, please go to or call 0303 040 4040.