This dragonfly is found throughout central and southern Europe but only in localised areas in northern Europe. In Britain it occurs in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Kent, but there is evidence to suggest it is beginning to expand its range. It has also been found in North Africa.
In Britain, the Norfolk hawker favours ditches containing the water soldier plant, Stratiotes aloides. In nature, this plant is largely confined to the Norfolk Broads area, but it has been widely introduced elsewhere in Britain.
The largest populations of water soldier and the Norfolk hawker are in dyke systems that are isolated from polluted rivers.