Lochwinnoch RSPB reserve, Aird Meadow Loch and hides, August 2004

Water and wetlands wildlife

Wetland wildlife can tell us a lot about the health of our water environment. Here we tell you which species to look for in different watery habitats.

Water and wildlife

From the bogs and springs which feed upland streams to mudflats and marshes at the mouth of an estuary and everything in between - the great variety of wet habitats in the UK support a wealth of different plants and animals.

Here is just a taster of the kinds of wetland wildlife you can hope to see in different habitats.


Ponds are some of the richest habitats in the UK, sometimes supporting more special plants and insects as nearby rivers. Some specialist species live mainly in ponds, including the natterjack toad - which is found in pools on heathland and in dune-slacks - the great-crested newt and the rare starfruit and pillwort plants.

Ponds are great places to learn about wildlife - many of us got our first experience of natural history from pond dipping. Check out our advice page on how to create a wildlife friendly pond or for more information, visit the Freshwater Habitats Trust website.


Rivers are home to salmon, trout, the native white-clawed crayfish, water crowfoot, and mammals such as the water vole and otter. Otters have gradually re-colonised many parts of the river network in England, due to the banning of deadly pesticides and better sewage treatment, which has improved water quality.

The Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Agency and Northern Ireland Rivers Agency websites have lots of useful information about your local river.


Lakes are home to many birds, fish and plants. The UK is particularly important for its aquatic plants, supporting one of the most diverse floras in Europe. Lakes in the UK range from naturally productive lowland systems such as the Norfolk Broads, to the cold, nutrient-poor waters of lochs in the uplands in Scotland.

Freshwater wetlands

Freshwater wetlands include fens, bogs, reedbeds and wet grasslands. They are the home of an extraordinary array of wild plants (nearly one third of the flowering plants in Britain occur in fenland habitats), as well as many invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians.

Estuaries and coasts

Estuaries and coasts, as well as being vitally important for birds, support specialist plant communities on saltmarshes and mudflats, and myriad crustaceans and other invertebrate life. 

Water and birds

Lapwing: adult feeding in wet meadow at Elmley Marsh RSPB reserve.

Some species are particularly associated with water. These include kingfishers and dippers, which live alongside rivers and feed in their running waters, and lapwings and snipe, which breed on damp grasslands and floodplain meadows.