A rare plant fern has been returned to its former canalside home – after spending 25 years in a plant pot in a backyard.
The plant is thought to be Huddersfield Narrow Canal’s only surviving royal fern and was rescued by ecologist Bob Gough in 1992 after the specimen had been discarded during excavations when the canal was undergoing major restoration work.
Dr Gough nurtured the royal fern – scientific name Osmundia regalis – over the years in the backyard of his terraced house in Failsworth, near Oldham, in a black plastic pot, in what he described as a “labour of love.”
Now it has been returned to the canal at Mossley, Greater Manchester.
The move is part of a wider project to improve vulnerable wildlife waterway habitats across 10 reservoir and canal sites in Greater Manchester, the Midlands and mid-Wales.
The Canal and River Trust, which manages 2,000 miles of canals, said the 12-month project, funded by £350,000 from the People’s Postcode Lottery, involves work including restoring banks, removing shade and improving water quality.
It will benefit voles, otters, bats, dragonflies and other wildlife. Experts will also assess the health and populations of rare species such as the water shrew.
The rare royal fern is being brought back to the canal after Tom King, ecologist at th Canal and River Trust ecologist, heard about the specimen and invited Dr Gough to return it to its natural home.
Dr Gough said: “I am so pleased to be able to return this royal fern back where it should be, by the canal. It’s a very graceful plant and I sincerely hopes it manages to take root in its new home.
“Keeping it alive in a simple plant pot through more than two decades of summer droughts and cold snowy winters has been a labour of love. There were several moments when I thought I might have lost it, but each time the plant has recovered and it’s currently thriving. It will be wonderful to see it by water again.”
Mr King said: “There are currently no other known examples of royal ferns on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. Six miles of the canal are protected as a site of special scientific interest so it is fantastic to return one of the original plants back to the canal bank.
“Royal ferns like damp, humid, conditions so we are constructing a special bankside planter to give it the best chance to establish a new colony.”