The Canals of Paris

In 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte decided to build the Ourcq, Saint-Denis and Saint-Martin canals to supply Paris with drinking water, transport goods – particularly firewood – and facilitate navigation by avoiding the twists and turns of the Seine. Today the canals are managed and maintained by the City of Paris: they are used for freight shipping and tourism. One of the City’s partners, the VNF (Voies Navigables de France - French Navigable Waterways) issues navigation bulletins (timetables, works) for all the canals. It manages 6,700 km (4,163 miles) of navigable waterways (operation, development, modernisation) in addition to the 130 km (80 miles) maintained by the City.
These canals joined to the Seine also act as an eco-corridor, a thoroughfare for wild fauna and flora. This blue network is a major asset that Paris is working to strengthen as part of the Biodiversity Action Plan.


Various plants with limited requirements – hawkweed oxtongue, matricaria, reseda and sisymbrium – take root and flourish in the crevices all along the Canal Saint-Denis. London rocket (Sisymbrium irio) bears small yellow flowers above the siliquae, long narrow seedpods almost 4 cm (1.57 inches) long.  This oblong fruit, which is characteristic of the genus, expels its seeds at the slightest contact once it is dry. Wild mignonette (Reseda lutea), common in stony, pebbly places, sends out spikes of fragrant yellow flowers reminiscent of hay and honey. The presence of these wild plants encourages the return of indigenous wildlife. Ecological balances are being re-established in the urban environment. On the stalks of these wasteland plants in summer, the larvae of the black-and-red froghopper (Cercopis vulnerata) are sometimes hidden inside a frothy foam called cuckoo spit. This insect is related to the cicada, and is totally harmless except to the plants whose sap it feeds on.
It is not uncommon to observe the grey heron (Ardea cinerea) on the quays. This grey wading bird is a protected species which has adapted perfectly to the urban environment. With unflinching patience, it waits for its prey – fish, amphibians, small birds and micro-mammals – which it harpoons with its powerful beak before swallowing them whole.

Following stage


The Canals of Paris