UK Freshwater Habitats

Freshwater habitats






The UK supports a diverse range of freshwater habitats. These are divided into running waters (rivers and streams), and standing waters (lakes and ponds).


  • Running waters vary from torrential mountain streams to meandering lowland rivers. They are highly dynamic features, being heavily influenced by erosion, sedimentation and water flows. Their make-up is strongly influenced by topography, the chemical composition of the water, and the soils and land-use found in the surrounding catchment. They provide a wide range of specialized micro-habitats, and support many types of aquatic plants and animals. Marginal and bankside vegetation contribute to the biodiversity associated with watercourses. Rivers and streams link fragmented habitats in intensively farmed areas.


  • Standing waters also show great variation. They range from larger lakes and reservoirs to small ponds, and from clear upland lakes to nutrient-rich lowland water bodies. There are specialized standing waters with brackish-water, and turloughs and temporary meres and ponds that are only filled with water for part of the year. As with running waters, their make-up is also strongly influenced by their nutrient status and surrounding catchment. They can change in composition due to natural factors or man-made pollution. Standing waters support a rich-array of aquatic life, including various species of amphibians, dragonflies and fish.


Freshwater habitats are a priority for nature conservation. They are home to an enormous variety of highly specialised plants and animals, and include some of the most natural, appealing and threatened habitat types in the UK. Accordingly, there are six freshwater priority habitats under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and eight freshwater habitat types listed under Annex I of the EU Habitats Directive.


Use the following page links to find out more about UK freshwater habitats: