Water and wetlands

Wynchnor Washland - part of Staffordshire WT's Farming Floodplains For the Future project (credit Nick Mott)

Wetlands are vital part of our natural world – the lives of animals, plants and people depend on their health. Wetlands provide food, water, transport networks, help reduce the impacts of extreme weather events and are places of beauty and inspiration. The Wildlife Trusts have been helping to lead wetland conservation in the UK for many years - working on rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and estuaries.

Wetlands - habitats under pressure

Unfortunately wetlands are some of our most damaged habitats. Nearly half of all floodplains in England and Wales are now separated from their rivers, wetland habitats are highly fragmented, they continue to be lost through drainage and over abstraction, they are impacted by diffuse and point source pollution in both rural and urban areas. Wetlands are being colonised by non-native invasive species and are under pressure from development. We are living with a legacy of past damage to our wetlands and new challenges threaten what remains. Climate change has already resulted in water temperature increases of 1.5–3°C in many rivers over the past two decades. In some river catchments juvenile populations of salmonids such as Atlantic salmon have declined by about 50–60%. Because wetlands are so dynamic and responsive and because the species they support are sensitive to change, their condition is a good indication of the overall state of our natural environment.

Restoring our wetlands for people and wildlife

There is an urgent need to restore our wetlands and to help some of our most enigmatic species return and thrive across our wetland landscapes. Biodiversity conservation is a major driver for change across river catchments. It benefits communities and businesses as well as the special species and places that our rivers and streams support. Working with nature can help reduce flood risk and help us cope with drought conditions. But action on the ground to protect and enhance wetlands must be supplemented by more sustainable use of water for both domestic and business purposes and supported by a clear understanding of the wider value to society of wetland habitats.

Wildlife Trusts are involved with 96% of local river catchment partnerships

Across the UK Wildlife Trusts are working with the Environment Agency and a range of partners on large and small-scale habitat restoration schemes. We aim to place natural solutions centre-stage in flood risk, drought management, and water purification by providing wildlife-rich places to hold water in the landscape, and by managing land and watercourses to slow the flow of water towards the sea. We have a long history of delivering innovative, sustainable freshwater and wetlands projects, working closely with partners and empowering communities to improve their local area.


We are working with water companies, industry and others to ensure the environment is a high priority, including through PR19 - water companies in England and Wales are currently drawing up their business plans for 2020 to 2025, as part of the ‘Periodic Review 2019’ (PR19). This could involve billions of pounds worth of investment – including for environmental management. We will continue to make the case for the natural environment including influencing the design of future land management schemes.

Our work on rivers and wetlands -  a few examples of our work

Flood Alleviation and biodiversity

The Lunt Meadows Nature Reserve is a newly-created 31ha wetland site designed to temporarily store flood flows from the River Alt whilst providing new habitats for wildlife. Once constructed, the Environment Agency handed over management of the site to Lancashire Wildlife Trust who aim to provide much-needed nesting and feeding areas for wading birds such as oystercatcher and lapwing.

Water quality

Urban stretches of Telford’s rivers have a history of serious pollution problems. Community and school groups formed around the Love Your River Telford partnership of which Shropshire Wildlife Trust are a part, and the Clean Stream Team was born. This trained group of volunteers monitor the watercourse and report cases of pollution, helping to ensure a sustainable supply of potable water downstream.

Chalk stream restoration

With only 200 chalk streams left in the world, Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust’s Living Rivers Project is vital. These rivers are threatened by drought and abstraction, pollution, invasive species and man-made alterations. The Wildlife Trust are restoring this important habitat by reversing physical modifications, such as lowering weirs and installing in-channel features to improve river habitats.

Upland wetland restoration

At least three million people depend on water which falls as rain in the Pumlumon Project area. Over 1,000ha of habitat is under conservation management by Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust at this site including 309ha of restored peatland and 65ha of regenerating woodland. This work has raised the water table by an average 5cm and retained an extra 155 million litres of water.

Species reintroduction

The Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) run the longest standing water vole reintroduction project in the UK. They have worked in partnership to reverse the decline seen at a national level in their three counties. There was a 10% increase in water vole numbers between 2012 and 2015 here. Mink rafts are used to monitor and trap mink to protect water vole populations from over predation.

Natural flood alleviation and water quality

Devon Wildlife Trust’s beaver projects demonstrate how the beaver, a natural ecosystem engineer, can slow the flow of water and reduce the risk of flooding. In an enclosed area, the beavers have constructed 13 dams holding up to 1 million litres of additional water within ponds on the site, reducing peak flows by 30%.