• dispersal barriers;
  • field of dreams;
  • habitat structure;
  • introduced species;
  • restoration ecology;
  • scale

Summary  The restoration of physical habitat has emerged as a key activity for managers charged with reversing the damage done by humans to streams and rivers, and there has been a great expenditure of time, money and other resources on habitat restoration projects. Most restoration projects appear to assume that the creation of habitat is the key to restoring the biota (‘the field of dreams hypothesis’). However, in many streams where new habitat is clearly required if populations and communities are to be restored, there may be numerous other factors that cause the expected link between habitat and biotic restoration to break down. We discuss five issues that are likely to have a direct bearing on the success, or perceived success of local habitat restoration projects in streams: (i) barriers to colonization, (ii) temporal shifts in habitat use, (iii) introduced species, (iv) long-term and large-scale processes, and (v) inappropriate scales of restoration. The purpose of the study was primarily to alert ecologists and managers involved in stream habitat restoration to the potential impacts of these issues on restoration success. Furthermore, the study highlights the opportunities provided by habitat restoration for learning how the factors we discuss affect populations, communities and ecosystems.