Riparian areas, the interface between land and freshwater ecosystems, are considered to play a pivotal role in the supply of regulating, provisioning, cultural and supporting services. Most previous studies, however, have tended to focus on intensive agricultural systems and only on a single ecosystem function. Here, we present the first study which attempts to assess a wide range of ecological processes involved in the provision of the ecosystem service of water quality regulation across a diverse range of riparian typologies. Specifically, we focus on 1) evaluating the spatial variation in riparian soils properties with respect to distance with the river and soil depth in contrasting habitat types; 2) gaining further insights into the underlying mechanisms of pollutant removal (i.e. pesticide sorption/degradation, denitrification, etc.) by riparian soils; and 3) quantify and evaluate how riparian vegetation across different habitat types contribute to the provision of watercourse shading. All the habitats were present within a single large catchment and included: (i) improved grassland, (ii) unimproved (semi-natural) grassland, (iii) broadleaf woodland, (iv) coniferous woodland, and (iv) mountain, heath and bog. Taking all the data together, the riparian soils could be statistically separated by habitat type, providing evidence that they deliver ecosystem services to differing extents. Overall, however, our findings seem to contradict the general assumption that soils in riparian area are different from neighbouring (non-riparian) areas and that they possess extra functionality in terms of ecosystem service provision. Watercourse shading was highly habitat specific and was maximal in forests (ca. 52% shade cover) in comparison to the other habitat types (7–17%). Our data suggest that the functioning of riparian areas in less intensive agricultural areas, such as those studied here, may be broadly predicted from the surrounding land use, however, further research is required to critically test this across a wider range of ecosystems.