Wetland establishment


In the past many of our UK wetlands have been drained for conversion to agricultural and development land. However, in recent decades the re-establishment of wetlands through restoration and creation plans has increased in response to regulatory and voluntary incentive programs. This is because wetlands have been shown to provide a variety of ecological, biological, and hydrologic functions that provide economic, aesthetic, recreational, and environmental benefits to society.

Rivers and associated wetlands contain habitats that support a rich variety of plants, mammals and invertebrates as well as often defining our landscapes. Currently wetlands are covered by the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) which aims to protect and enhance habitats for endangered species. BAP Actions for wetlands include reedbeds, lakes and irrigation reservoirs, ditches, fens, rivers and streams and mineral restorations. Different regions of the UK have their own specific BAP in which site-specific management schemes are followed for conservation of the local wildlife.

Practical considerations

The design of wetlands is dependent on a number of criteria:

  • The feasibility associated with water balance
  • Appropriate plants and species selection
  • Restrictions on donor plant material from natural wetlands
  • Specific features of the landscaping plan
  • Wetland buffer
  • Features of the specific maintenance plan.

Current situation

Previous wetland establishment plans have shown that it is important to carry out a variety of actions, for example:

  • Surveys and maps prepared to assess the state of existing rivers, and to locate habitats and identify restoration priorities for rivers, riverside and bog woodland, mires and wet grasslands
  • Remove non-native and invasive species
  • Employ traditional woodland management techniques, such as coppicing and pollarding to cut back tree species such as Oak, Ash, Beech and Holly
  • Re-align fences to restore grazing of river corridors by livestock.
  • Infill drains with heather bales and bank spoil to reduce river erosion and raise water levels
  • Build debris dams to reduce flow rates and encourage seasonal flooding
  • Recreate previous river forms by using clay plugs to block off straightened channels, and raising river bed levels. 

Case studies

A number of projects have been implemented across England and Wales to carry out wetland restoration, including:

Further information

Forestry Commission (undated). Sustainable wetland restoration: Regenerating rare habitats in the New Forest (PDF-153K). Forestry Commission, England.

Patterson, G. and Anderson, R. (2000). Forests and peatlands habitats (PDF-5460K). Forestry Commission, England.

Other resources

Further details on the value of wetlands can be obtained from:


Wetland creation

The creation of a wetland on a site that was historically non-wetland.

Wetland Enhancement

The rehabilitation or reestablishment of a degraded wetland, and/or the modification of an existing wetland.

Wetland Restoration

The rehabilitation of a degraded wetland or the reestablishment of a wetland so that soils, hydrology, vegetation community, and habitat are a close approximation of the original natural condition that existed prior to modification to the extent practicable.

Wetland Wildlife Habitat Management

Retaining, developing, or managing wetland habitat for wetland wildlife.

Shallow Water Development and Management

The inundation of lands to provide habitat for fish and/or wildlife.