The River Wye is a very Special River and one of the finest in Britain, and so it has been awarded status nationally as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and internationally as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the European Habitats and Species Directive.
It is more natural than most major rivers in Britain, is relatively unaffected by pollution and flows through a largely rural environment. However, constant vigilance and careful management are required to maintain its value for wildlife. The River Wye was voted as the best river in England and Wales in 2011 by the Our Rivers Campaign which includes the RSPB, WWF-UK, the Angling Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association.
These range from algae, mosses and liverworts characteristic of the upper reaches of the river, to the vast water crowfoot beds of the meandering middle and lower sections.
Dragonflies and damselflies and molluscs (including six species of mussel) can be found along most of the river length. In the estuary, brackish water supports other species of molluscs (including a nationally rare snail) and crustaceans such as the Atlantic stream crayfish.
More than 30 species of fish have been recorded in the Wye, making it one of the most important river systems in Northern Europe. Some are characteristic of the river and others are migratory species such as the allis and twaite shad, sea and river lampreys, and the Atlantic salmon.
Many of the bird species associated with the Wye are dependent on the river corridor for nesting sites and food. Species include kingfishers, herons, dippers, sand martins, swans, cormorants and goosanders.
The clean water together with largely good riverbank cover favours many mammal species. The nationally rare polecat has now re-colonised the Lower Wye Valley after an absence of more than a century. The bank side cover provides valuable feeding and roosting habitat for 10 of the 15 British bat species. Within living memory, otters were well established throughout the length of the Wye and its tributaries. However, there was a catastrophic decline in their population across southern Britain in the late 1950's, due to the use of highly toxic pesticides. Populations in the area of the Wye are recovering, but most otters are now on the tributary streams rather than the lower reaches of the main river.
A partnership between the AONB Unit, Ross-on-Wye Town Council and Natural England have started tree management work on the banks of the Wye where it passes through Ross, to benefit biodiversity and create river views.
If you are 14-18 years old and love exploring the countryside of the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean, then the Wye Valley AONB Youth Ranger programme is looking for you! Come along to our Taster Day on September 30th.