Habitat spotlight


Painted lady by Kate Dent

Even rarer than rainforest, heathland is one of our most threatened habitats.  

Wetlands and Rivers

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

  1. Habitats explorer
  2. Wetlands and Rivers

Wychnor Washland - Nick MottWychnor Washland - Nick Mott

The UK’s freshwater wetlands and waterways range from small ponds and trickling streams to gushing rivers and massive reservoirs. From the River Severn to the Norfolk Broads, the Scottish lochs to the ponds of our back gardens, with such a variety of habitats, it’s no wonder that these areas support a diverse range of plants and animals.

A wealth of opportunity

Rivers and streams provide wildlife with ‘corridors’ which they can use to move between fragmented habitats. Internationally-important chalk streams support endangered species such as bullhead, southern mayfly and white-clawed crayfish, while extensive, yellow-brown reedbeds created by stands of common reed are important habitats for birds including threatened species such as bittern, marsh harrier and bearded tit. 

Our wetlands and waterways support many species of fish including brown trout, eel, stickleback, pike, grayling, roach, perch and salmon. Charismatic otters patrol the riverbanks at night, water voles ‘plop’ into the water from their burrows, and metallic-sheened kingfishers skim the water’s surface. 

Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire are rich in a variety of wetland habitats.

A fen is a poorly drained wetland area where peat has accumulated and where the water supply is chalky or limey in nature. It is often a mosaic of different habitats ranging from open water, and reedbeds, to wetland containing willow, birch and alder. Some fens, such as the fen at Sydlings Copse, are the remains of medieval fish ponds. In the Cothill area Dry Sandford Pit, Parsonage Moor and Lashford Lane Fen form the largest surviving area of alkaline fen in central England.

Riverside marshes have been depleted by drainage and dredging. In our three counties only a few places exist, including Cholsey Marsh and Hungerford Marsh. They are particularly important for bird life including water rail and summer breeding warblers.

The standing water of ponds provides a valuable habitat for amphibians. Many were created to provide water for livestock while other ponds and some lakes developed through extraction of stone, gravel or clay, such as College Lake and Decoy Heath.

The River Thames - the second longest river in Britain - and its many tributaries are rich habitats for wildlife. The Thames Valley floodplain holds some of the most important neutral grasslands and wet meadows in Britain, including the nationally acclaimed Chimney Meadows nature reserve. 

Good for people too

As well as supporting an immense variety of wildlife, wetlands also have an economic value – not only to the thousands of people who live on their edge, but also to communities living miles away. They are important sources for food, fresh water and building materials, also providing valuable services such as water purification, flood defence and erosion control.

How we’re helping

For centuries people have had a relationship with the water. It has been used to navigate through town and country, provide power, irrigate the land for agriculture and as inspiration for art and literature. And yet these habitats have been in serious decline – waters have been polluted with chemicals, bank habitats stripped and modified, dams built and wetland wildlife has been lost.

But there is hope. We have started to recognise that healthy wetlands are important, not just for wildlife, but also for us. River and floodplain restoration projects carried out by local Wildlife Trusts are aiding these vital habitats. We’re working closely with planners, developers and farmers to ensure our wetlands are sensitively managed for the benefit of the plants and animals they hold. 

The Upper River Ray Living Landscape project across Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire has been recognised nationally for spearheading landscape-scale wetland wildlife conservation.

You can support work for wetlands by joining your local Wildlife Trust.

Typical wetland wildlife

Minnow, dace, brown trout, eel, stickleback, pike, grayling, roach, perch, salmon, otter, water vole, American mink, kingfisher, mute swan, mallard, little grebe, great crested grebe, swallow, reed warbler, dipper, moorhen, yellow iris, marsh marigold, banded demoiselle, beautiful demoiselle, brown hawker, white-legged damselfly.

Other Wetlands and rivers habitats