Habitat Description

Rivers are exceptionally varied and dynamic habitats forming invaluable wildlife habitat. In Northamptonshire they vary from the fast flowing streams rising in the southern and western uplands of the county, to the wide, slow-moving lowland River Nene. These watercourses form, either in their own right or in association with other habitats, a vital nature conservation and wildlife resource for the county.

  The Rivers Tove, Great Ouse, Avon and Nene all have their sources in the southern and western upland areas of the county. The Tove and Great Ouse flow east towards Bedfordshire, the Avon flows west into Warwickshire, the Nene flows north-east from its source near Daventry across Northamptonshire and into Peterborough. The River Welland forms part of Northamptonshire's northern boundary and flows north-west to The Wash. Major tributaries that drain into the Nene are the Brampton Nene, River Ise, Harper's Brook and Willow Brook.

Current UK Status and Trends

 Water quality improving but problems caused by high levels of abstraction are increasing.

Estimated Current Northants Resource

 Length unknown

Progress Towards BAP Targets 2002-2007


Main Issues and Threats

  • Abstraction for public water supply, industry and irrigation adversely affects flows in the county's major rivers.
  • Barriers to water flow in the form of weirs, locks and flood defence structures alter the natural flow of the river and prevent fish migration.
  • Land drainage and management, particularly in the upper reaches of streams and rivers, has led to the interception of springs and the drainage of wet flushes and mires, reducing the flow of groundwater into rivers.
  • Arable cultivation and livestock grazing extended to the edge of riverbanks results in the loss of marginal, bank-side and in-stream habitat, increased siltation of gravel beds, and increased seepage of herbicides, pesticides and ammonia into the watercourse.
  • Alien plant species such as Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam, and pennywort are highly invasive, colonise new areas quickly, and crowd out native vegetation.
  • Fishing and fish farming can cause conflict because of escapes of non-native fish and crayfish into watercourses, which cause considerable damage to native populations.

General Strategies

  • Reduce the current level of abstraction and restrict future abstraction by the use of Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies and abstraction licensing.
  • Promote good practice through agri-environment schemes and encourage the establishment of buffer strips along riverbanks.
  • Implement habitat improvement schemes at catchment scale, with initial work on small streams and headwaters.
  • Stop and reduce the spread of alien and invasive species.
  • Identify priority barriers to fish migration and develop action plans for their removal or modification to allow fish passage.
  • Produce Slimline Fisheries Action Plans for major river fisheries in Northamptonshire.

Lead Partner

The Environment Agency

Associated National Priority Species

  • Brown/sea trout
  • Compressed river mussel
  • Common toad
  • European eel
  • Grass-wrack pondweed
  • Goat moth
  • Mullein wave (moth)
  • Otter see species action plan.
  • Spined loach
  • Water vole see species action plan.
  • White-clawed crayfish

Specific Management Required for Associated Species


Northamptonshire Status

Management Prescriptions

Key Sites

Grass-wrack pondweed


Retain wet ditches, prevent eutrophication, monitor effects of boat traffic and associated pollution.

River Nene and Grand Union Canal


Target Code

Target Type

Target Description

Target Units

Northants Baseline Resource



Unit Cost £

Total Cost £


Maintain Extent

Ensure no deterioration of River Habitat Quality (National River Habitat Survey Programme).

% Sites in each Habitat Quality Assessment Class


No reduction in quality




Achieving Condition

Ensure all rivers in Northamptonshire meet Good Ecological status or Good Ecological potential by 2015 (according to the Water Framework Directive).

% Rivers reaching standard






Action Code

Action Description

Lead Partner

Support Partner(s)

Related Target


Manage the spread of alien invasive species on watercourses.

Environment Agency

The Wildlife Trust



Provide training and information to everyone involved in managing rivers and riparian habitats by 2012.

Environment Agency

The Wildlife Trust



Encourage better management of agricultural land to eliminate point source pollution.

Environment Agency




Encourage a catchment wide approach to identifying sites suitable for conservation initiatives and for the targeting of improved management regimes

Environment Agency

The Wildlife Trust



Ensure 5 fish passes are created or barriers to fish movement removed.

Environment Agency




Enhancement for biodiversity of 2km of river.

Environment Agency




Survey for the presence of grass wrack pondweed on water bodies in Northamptonshire particularly the Grand Union Canal and the Northampton Arm of the river Nene.

British Waterways