UK Government

Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs: River Basin Management Plans Published

Press Release   •   Dec 22, 2009 15:44 GMT

Defra, the Environment Agency and Welsh Assembly Government today published River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) for ten river basin districts in England and Wales.  The plans set out how good water status will be achieved for each lake, stretch of a river, estuary or coastline.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said:

"The River Basin Management Plans show our commitment to building on the improvements in water quality of our rivers, lakes and coastlines that we have seen in the last 20 years.  The return of fish species and other wildlife that had previously disappeared shows what we can do.

"I’m also pleased to announce £1million for the Environment Agency to bring forward water quality investigations they have planned in England for the next three years, so we can find out where the problems are and get on with dealing with them.  In addition, the money available for farmers to tackle agricultural water pollution will be increased to £7.5million."

Dr Paul Leinster, Environment Agency Chief Executive, said:

"These major plans, approved today by Government, will help improve over 9,500 miles of rivers across England and Wales by 2015.

"The quality of rivers in England and Wales continue to improve.  That is why we have seen the return of otters, eels and salmon to rivers like the Thames, Mersey and Tyne.

"The plans set out actions to tackle sources of pollution and to help reach challenging new EU standards on water quality.  We will be working hard locally to deliver the plans alongside farmers, water companies and groups such as the Rivers Trusts and RSPB, who also have a key role to play."

Welsh Assembly Government Environment Minister Jane Davidson said:

"It is our duty to ensure the quality of our rivers are maintained and protected for future generations.  These plans set out how we intend to achieve this so our waterways are a healthy, thriving environment for both mankind and wildlife."

The Water Framework Directive changes how we measure water quality in England.  Water status is measured by examining the ecological and chemical make-up of the water and the standard required to reach ‘good status’ is common across Europe.  Although the previous assessment method showed a trend of improving water quality, the new assessment process is significantly more challenging.

To meet these tough targets, everyone will need to play their part – including water companies, farming groups, industry and NGOs.

Currently the most common causes of water pollution are run off from rural and urban land and discharge of waste water from industry and sewage overflows.  The Government and Environment Agency is working closely with farmers, businesses and water companies to reduce pollution and improve water quality.

The RBMPs detail how the target water status will be achieved for each river, lake, estuary, coastline and groundwater in England and Wales and have been developed in by the Environment Agency working with co-deliverers, who will also carry out actions within the plans.

Recent key achievements in water quality include:

*   Otters, salmon and other wildlife are returning to many rivers for the first time since the industrial revolution.

*   Otters can now be found in every English county

*   The River Mersey, once the most polluted river in Europe, is the cleanest it has been for a century.  Salmon have now returned to the river.

Notes to editors


1.   The ten river basins are: Thames, South East, South West, Anglian, Severn, Dee, Western Wales, North West, Humber, Northumbria and the Solway Tweed.  The Solway Tweed is shared with Scotland and the Dee and Severn are shared with Wales.

2.  The additional £1million to bring forward water quality investigations will give a better understanding of what causes water quality problems, how to deal with them, and take action to resolve them sooner.

3.   £7.5million (an increase of 50%) will be available to help farmers in priority catchments for low-cost farm infrastructure improvements to tackle agricultural diffuse water pollution.  Part of the England Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative (ECFSDI) will be brought into the Rural Development Programme for England subject to approval by the Programme Monitoring Committee and the European Commission.  Grants are for projects such as fences, gates, and to manage run-off, drainage water, dirty water and sediments.  They will continue to be delivered by Natural England.

4.   The Environment Agency is the competent authority in England and Wales for implementing the Water Framework Directive.

5.   Under the EU Water Framework Directive Members States are required to draw up a River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) for each river basin district by 22 December 2009.  The aim is to prevent deterioration in water status; and to aim to achieve ‘good status’ by 2015 in WFD water bodies.  The plans are available at

6.   Under the Directive alternative objectives (than Good by 2015) may be set provided certain tests are met.

7.   In addition to the plans set out today, over £4 billion is to be invested by the water industry in England and Wales to fund environmental improvements in the five years to 2015, overseen by the Environment Agency

8.   The previous assessment method, the General Quality Assessment of Rivers showed that for England:

*   72 per cent of river length was of good biological quality in 2008, the same as 2007 and 2006.

*   79 per cent of river length was of good chemical quality in 2008, up from 76 per cent in 2007.


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