While much of Trent Vale's habitat is isolated and fragmented, significant areas have survived large-scale agricultural development that is crucial to wildlife.
There are several nature reserves in the Trent Vale which are important to wildlife, but the surrounding landscape also offers a wide range of important habitats. The river itself has been hugely modified over the centuries for flood management and navigation. The vast majority of the floodplain, especially in the tidal reaches downstream of Cromwell is now separated from the river by long lengths of flood defence embankments and land drainage systems. This separation means that important areas of floodplain grassland are no longer inundated with water during the winter, a practice which is essential for the survival of the specialist wetland plants that thrive there such as pepper saxifrage.
Woodland and scrub
In the past, there would have been more woodland in Trent Vale than there is today. Parishes are arranged so that each has a stretch of riverbank, an area of rich fertile floodplain (often the best places for crops) and some woodland. Woodland would usually grow on the higher ground away from the river. Only fragments of these woodlands survive, although there are some excellent examples at Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust's Treswell Wood, in addition to some isolated copses within farmland.
Due to the lack of significant woodlands in Trent Vale, hedgerows represent the majority of the tree cover. Historically, hedgerows would have been used as a means of enclosure and marking field and ownership boundaries. These small enclosures do not fit into the modern way of farming, and many have been lost as arable fields increase in size. However, some very old hedgerows are still remaining in Trent Vale, especially in the Holmes area, containing ancient standard ash, oak and willow trees and species such as buckthorn and midland hawthorn
Along the eastern side of Trent Vale is a very sandy area, known as the blown sands. This is a very unusual habitat that is rarely found inland, and supports heathland and grass heath communities. Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trusts Spalford Warren nature reserve is an excellent place to view this unusual community.
Traditionally a common sight in the Trent Vale, wildflower meadows are now nationally rare. They are being recreated in the Trent Vale, particularly as part of restored wildlife reserves at Besthorpe, Langford Lowfields and at Girton Grasslands, but also on farmland and in villages such as Church Laneham and Besthorpe. The meadows at Besthorpe and Lea Marsh are designated as Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) because they have distinctive plant communities including yorkshire fog, great burnet, lady's bedstraw, common knapweed, meadow vetchling and pepper saxifrage. An old borrow pit fringed by willows at Besthorpe has an interesting aquatic flora including spiked water milfoil and common water crowfoot.
Reedbed is an important habitat within the Trent Vale and can support a number of important species such as bearded tit, marsh harrier, reed warbler and bittern. Over 30ha is to be created at RSPB's Langford Lowfields with a further 8ha at Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trusts Besthorpe Nature Reserve, and will eventually make up the most extensive area of reedbed in the East Midlands.
Shallows, ponds and scrapes
Shallower areas within watercourses that have developed more naturally provide important habitats for fish, amphibians, reptiles and wetland birds. These habitats are more apparent along the stretch of the Trent west of Newark towards Kelham. Former mineral extraction sites that are being restored into wildlife areas are now also providing shallow ponds and scrapes such as those at Besthorpe and Langford Lowfields.
The bank side of the Trent is where the richest habitats can be found, often hosting a range of marginal and tall herb communities. Old oxbows and palaeo-channels still exist at South Clifton, Fledborough, West Burton and Bole Ings and these offer good habitat sites.
Feeder watercourses (canals, becks, dykes)
The watercourses which run into the River Trent also provide excellent areas of habitat which support important species; the Chesterfield Canal at Misterton and Walkeringham still supports a good population of water voles and the Fossdyke which enters the Trent at Torksey is thought to be a route used by otters to travel from the River Witham.
A number of the drainage ditches across Trent Vale are designated as Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) for their excellent aquatic plant communities. Many of these ditches are on private land and are consequently relatively undisturbed. Appropriate management of these watercourses is vital to the survival of these plants and the important species that they support.
The River Trent
The River Trent itself holds a huge range of biodiversity from freshwater sponges to fish, and water plants to winkles.
There are about 35 species of fish living in the River Trent including roach, chub, dace, bream, barbel, carp, pike, gudgeon, salmon and eels. Built structures such as weirs and locks provide a habitat for wildlife communities. For example, lock chambers in the Trent Vale are a good habitat for freshwater sponges. These are colonies of microscopic animals that most people recognise from the sea. Very little is known about freshwater sponges in Britain but they are considered to be fairly rare, though regular sightings suggest some species may be common. They grow on a solid substrate such as masonry in a flat lichen-like habit, from 50 to 100cm in diameter. Research is underway to identify species found on lock chambers at Cromwell weir and Misterton and to find out more about freshwater sponge populations in Britain.