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Government plans fail to protect rivers in England


Run off from agricultural fields causes pollution and flooding

Plans published today setting out the future management of rivers, lakes and coastal waters in England are woefully unambitious and fail to tackle the main threats facing them, say WWF-UK and the Angling Trust. (1)

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive, The Angling Trust & Fish Legal, said: “While these plans set out clearly the range and scale of the issues affecting rivers across the country, such as farm pollution, key effective solutions to tackle them are absent.  Following our successful legal challenge last year, the government must now assess the use of targeted local regulations to make sure our most precious rivers and wetlands are protected and restored for the benefit of fish, wildlife, people and the rural economy.”

Dominic Gogol, Water Policy Manager, WWF-UK, said: “By publishing such woefully unambitious plans, Ministers have squandered a huge opportunity. The government’s own data shows that getting three quarters of rivers, lakes and wetlands to good health would boost the economy by £8.5 billion.”

He continued: “If the government continues at this snail’s pace, it will take nearly a century to get most of our rivers healthy.  This will be devastating for both the people and wildlife that rely on these special places.”

Currently, only 17% of water bodies, such as rivers and lakes (2) are at good health. The new targets released today by the Environment Agency show that by 2021 it intends only 21% to be healthy. This lowly ambition does not even get them back to where they were in 2009. (3)

In terms of the stresses facing our rivers, lakes and coastal waters, the plans show that farming is responsible for nearly a third of all pressures. This includes pollution running off farmland and taking too much water from already stressed rivers. (4) However, the government has failed to work with farmers to effectively tackle these issues whereas the water industry, also a big polluter and responsible for a quarter of all pressures, has had to take significant steps to address them. (5)


Editor's notes

(1)   River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) are required to be produced every six years to manage the pressures facing England’s water environment under the EU’s Water Framework Directive. RBMPs cover every river in the UK – 4,495 water bodies in total. 

The final River Basin Management Plans can be found here:

(2)  The UK is split into several River Basin Districts (RBDs). There are 11 river basin districts in England and Wales. Each River Basin District contains smaller management units known as Water Bodies. The surface Water Bodies may be rivers, lakes, estuary or coastal.

(3)  In 2009 26% of water bodies were at good health.

(4)  Agriculture and rural land management is responsible for 3966 pressures preventing waters reaching good status (reasons for not achieving good status) in England out of 13,913 overall. That equates to 28.5% of the total. More information available here:

(5)  The water industry is responsible for 3441 pressures preventing waters reaching good status (reasons for not achieving good status) in England out of 13,913 overall. That equates to 24.7% of the total. More information available here:

WWF is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in more than one hundred countries. Through our engagement with the public, businesses and government, we focus on safeguarding the natural world, creating solutions to the most serious environmental issues facing our planet, so that people and nature thrive.  Find out more about our work, past and present at

The Angling Trust is the national representative and governing body for angling in England and it takes action to protect and improve fish and fishing.  It is united in a collaborative relationship with Fish Legal, a separate membership association using the law to protect fish stocks and the rights of its members throughout the UK.  Joint membership packages with Fish Legal are available for individuals, clubs, fisheries and other categories.

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