A river in the countryside

Habitat loss

We dream of a future where rivers thrive with life

Despite covering less than 1% of the earth’s surface, freshwater ecosystems provide habitat for more than 100,000 known wildlife species — but many are struggling to cope in the face of habitat degradation.

When they’re healthy, rivers are home to incredible levels of biodiversity—housing some of the UK and Irelands most iconic species. Otters, kingfishers, Atlantic salmon, and more recently beavers, all rely on healthy rivers for their survival.

Sadly, since 1970, freshwater species have seen an 83% decline globally. That’s faster than any other type of habitat! The reasons for this are complex, but are generally due to the loss or degradation of natural habitats. Some of the main causes include:

  • Weirs, dams and other man-made barriers which disrupt fish and other species from moving freely through the river. In some cases, this can prevent fish from spawning
  • Invasive non-native species taking over the river, outcompeting native species
  • Water pollution from sewage, agriculture and industry. Sediment pollution and chemical pollution are both an issue
  • Loss of wetland habitats and sections of river
  • Over-abstraction, resulting in rivers which don’t have enough water to sustain their populations

Major events, like periods of drought, can have immediate and devastating consequences—but even minor events can have significant impacts on wildlife, when considered cumulatively and over longer periods of time.

Our local Trusts carry out lots of different activities to address habitat degradation, ranging from removing entire weirs to planting new vegetation. They also monitor their local rivers to find out which species live there. Creating baselines like this is really important for helping us to identify events which have impacted the river population—whether that’s in a positive or negative way. It can also help us to identify pressures on the ecosystem, enabling us to address them before they get out of hand.

What are Rivers Trusts doing to help wildlife?

Icon of river habitat in navy

Fish passage


kilometres of river were opened up for fish passage by local Rivers Trusts in 2022-23

Fish barrier icon navy

Barrier removal


barriers to fish passage were removed by local Rivers Trusts in 2022-23

Icon of a wetland in navy



hectares of wetlands were created or restored by local Rivers Trusts in 2022-23

Want to find out more about the iconic species which call rivers home?

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