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Our richest wildlife habitats play an important role in river catchments. Many habitats are excellent at regulating water flow. Trees and hedges channel water deep underground preventing overland flow and run-off. Similarly widlflower meadows, moorland and bogs have a high organic content that holds onto water, helping to ensure healthy river flows during drought and protection from flooding when rainfall is high. By protecting these habitats we are protecting one of our most precious resources – water.

Wonders of the Wye

The Wye catchment supports a rich variety of habitats that in turn support a wealth of wildlife. These areas are hugely important for our native animals and plants but are also places for people to enjoy and connect with nature.

A living landscape from source to sea

The Wildlife Trusts have adopted the ‘living landscape’ approach to conservation which recognises that wildlife is not restricted to nature reserves but needs suitable habitats in surrounding landscapes too. Living landscapes are part of a wildlife friendly mosaic of farmland, amenity land and urban areas managed in such a way that benefits both people and wildlife. There are many living landscapes in the Wye catchment but here are just a few…

The Cwm Marteg living landscape is an area of wild natural beauty near Rhayader, scattered with family farms and small rural communities, alive with rivers and streams like the Marteg, the Wye and their tributaries.  

The lower Lugg Valley living landscape encapsulates the meandering river from Leominster to Hereford with water meadows and old gravel pits forming crucial resting sites for otters and many rare wintering and migratory wildfowl.   

The Usk to Wye living landscape forms a wildlife-rich patchwork of farmland, hedgerows, woodland, meadows and streams. Fragments of species rich meadows and ancient woodland remain scattered across the landscape.

Explore some of the most precious habitats of the Wye catchment…


Woodland is a hugely important habitat within the Wye catchment. Ancient Woodlands in particular support an array of wildlife that is often rare and/or protected. Ancient woodlands have been under continuous tree cover for at least hundreds of years with many in the Wye Valley dating back to the last ice age. They are one of our richest habitats containing species rarely found elsewhere such as the peculiar Herb Paris. They contain many of our most iconic species such as Bluebells, Wood Anenomes and Primroses and many animals make them their home; the charismatic Dormouse is often associated with ancient woodland coppice along with certain butterfly species like the Pearl Bordered Fritillary and Grizzled Skipper.  

Species Rich Grassland

Once very common in the UK we have lost 97% of our wildflower meadows largely as a result of intensive agricultural practices. Within the Wye Catchment we have predominantly acid or neutral grasslands depending on the geology. In the spring and early summer these habitats put on spectacular displays of wildflowers containing many rare species including, Green Winged Orchids, Greater Butterfly Orchid, Adders Tongue Fern, Black Knapweed and Blue Harebells. Butterflies such as the Marbled white, Meadow Brown and Common Blue are all associated with these habitats.  

Heather moorland

Covering vast areas of the Welsh uplands this habitat is in fact a mosaic of habitats that includes blanket bogs, heath and wetlands. They have typically been created through a long tradition of grazing management and are often dominated by heather species which, together with gorse, provide a spectacle of purple and yellow flowers. They are an important nectar resource for our pollinating insects with species like the Bilberry Bumblebee being a specialist of this habitat. Specialist plants include species such as Bog Asphodel and the insect-eating Sundew. Moorland is particularly good for birds, supporting species such as the Red Grouse, Curlew and Meadow Pipit.  

Traditional orchards

Traditional orchards tend to represent a mosaic of different habitats that includes grassland, hedgerows, ponds and scrub. The fruit trees themselves are an important habitat particularly where they are of varying ages. Old fruit trees often provide an abundance of dead and decaying wood, all of which can support a wide range of plants, animals and fungi. Some of our most charismatic species are readily found in orchards e.g. Hedgehogs, Badgers, and Foxes, along with many birds including all three of our woodpecker species. Specialist species include the rare Noble Chafer beetle and other iconic orchard species include Mistletoe which is spread by birds such as the Mistle Thrush and Blackcap. Orchards are more than just an important habitat for biodiversity they form a historic landscape and are part of local folklore and traditions. 

Learn more about the species that call the Wye their home…

Water Vole

Although once common, water vole populations nationally have declined drastically over the past 40 years. Water voles inhabit slow moving streams, rivers, canals, ditches and ponds, particularly those with lush bank-side vegetation. The water vole is the largest British vole, about 20 cm long with small ears almost hidden in its fur, a blunt muzzle and a hairy tail. They are very rare due to predation from mink and lack of viable riverbank habitat. 

Atlantic salmon

Atlantic Salmon spend at least one half of their lives in freshwater as juveniles prior to migrating to sea where they typically spend 1 to 2 years taking advantage of the rich feeding opportunities in the North Atlantic and increase in size by some 95%. On their return ebbing floodwaters encourage upstream migration and allow adults to navigate back to the same river where they spawned to start the process all over again. Clean gravels are required for spawning in the autumn, but soil washed from the surrounding catchment chokes the gravels and dramatically reduces the amount of viable spawning habitat in the Wye. Barriers and access also have a huge influence on Salmon due to their reliance on migrating up and down rivers.  

European Beaver

Beavers, once native to the UK, are now being  reintroduced at licensed trial sites including one in the Forest of Dean.

Marches Crayfish Partnership

The Marches Crayfish Partnership includes input from a number of organisations, and was formed to deliver a shared and exciting regional crayfish strategy. Native White Clawed Crayfish are a designated species in the SSSI Rivers of the Marches area of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Wales. Retaining their presence within the river catchments of this area is of significant regional importance.

If you want to learn more…
As you can see, the Wye is home to many rare habitats and species which need to be conserved. Each one has an Action Plan which highlights the current status, current actions to protect them and targets to ensure their protection in the long-term. Follow the links below to see the plans in full:

Powys Biodiversity Partnership

This is a group of organisations and individuals who work together to conserve Powys’ wildlife for the future. It is your one stop shop for action plans for specific habitats and species in Powys.  

Herefordshire Wildlife Link

Herefordshire Wildlife Link – The Wildlife Link is a forum for conservation organisations across the County to connect, network, support each other and collaborate to achieve conservation objectives for the count. It is your one stop shop for action plans for specific habitats and species in Herefordshire.  


The organisations involved in this partnership are:

Natural England, Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, Wye and Usk Foundation, Severn Rivers Trust, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, National Trust and Shropshire Hills AONB.

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