Reedbeds are a type of wetland or swamp habitat that are dominated by stands of the common reed Phragmites communis, with the water table at or above ground level for the majority of the year.

Key Characteristics

  • Site: Freshwater, brackish or tidal waters
  • Main species: Common reed
  • UK: 5000 ha
  • NI: 3,228 ha

Habitat Description

  • Reedbeds form on the margins of water bodies, along lowland and upland streams, estuaries, reservoirs, clay pits, sewage treatment works, industrial lagoons & as successional habitats on fens & bogs (NIEA, 2005).
  • Reedbeds may be defined as species-poor stands of herbaceous vegetation, dominated by reeds, other large grasses or tussock-forming sedges, typically dominated by one or a few species (NCC, 1990; Fossit, 2000; NIEA, 2005).
  • Reedbeds in Northern Ireland correspond to the NVC plant community: S4 Phragmites australis swamp & reedbeds.
  • Reedbeds tend to occur as discrete stands but may also be a component of a mosaic of other habitat types such as lakes, fen, wet woodland & coastal & floodplain grazing marsh.
  • To be classified as a reedbed priority habitat, the following criteria must be fulfilled:
    – tall herbaceous wetland vegetation with >30% cover of Phragmites
    – reedbed area >0.5 ha
    – reedbed width over the whole area of at least 5 metres (NIEA, 2005)

Current Status in UK & Northern Ireland

  • The area of the reedbed habitat was estimated at 5000 ha (UK Biodiversity Steering Group, 1998), but in 2002 the resource in England & Wales was estimated at 12,400 ha, with an estimated additional 1,138 ha in Scotland (UK Biodiversity Action Plan online report, 2002; NI Habitat Action Plan, 2005).
  • The NICS 2000 estimated that there are 3,228 ha (0.2% of land area) of reedbeds in Northern Ireland. This figure, however, may include stands that of <0.5 ha or 5m width. Studies are required to assess the extent of this habitat.
  • Reedbeds in NI tend to be unmanaged but conservation management could increase their biodiversity.
  • The NICS 2000 estimated that there are 3 ha of Reedbeds in the Antrim Coast & Glens AONB & Sperrins AONB, compared to 67 ha in Binevenagh AONB.
  • In NI reedbeds tend to be associated with lowland wetlands around large lakes & inter-drumlin wetlands. For example, Portmore Lough & Blackers Rock (Lough Neagh) have several large stands (>10 ha) around them. The Bann Estuary has documented Reedbeds. Upper Lough Erne also has extensive reedbeds. An estimated 40 sites in Armagh & Down contain stands greater than 2 ha (Shaw et al., 1996). Larne Lough contains a Phragmites australis reedbed.
  • Reedbeds are threatened by drainage, which can result in desiccation, invasion of scrub & drier vegetation. They are also threatened by fly tipping (building rubble, agricultural & domestic waste), industrial & urban development eutrophication, acidification, nitrogen enrichment & climate change.

Designated Sites

  • Bann Estuary
  • ECOS (stands of <1 ha)
  • Larne Lough

Further Information