AnglingTrust The voice of Angling

Keeping Rivers Flowing - Reforming the Water Abstraction System


The Angling Trust, alongside other conservation and fisheries organisations, has long campaigned for complete reform of the existing water abstraction licensing regime. The right to abstract water from rivers, aquifers, reservoirs etc. in England and Wales was formally created by the Water Act of 1963, by amalgamating the plethora of previous licences into a single permitting regime. At the time, this was done with little or no consideration of what level of abstraction water bodies could actually sustain. Since then, we have seen a significant increase in both per capita use of water, population numbers and use of water for irrigation of crops.

It is our belief that the current regime is therefore no longer fit for purpose and has resulted in
inexcusable damage to the aquatic environment through excessive levels of abstraction being permitted.

Addressing unsustainable abstraction – abstraction reform

Environment Agency data obtained by WWF in late 2016 showed that a quarter of rivers in England were at risk from unsustainable abstraction: 
  • 14% were classified as over-abstracted – where current abstraction is causing river flows to drop below levels needed to sustain the ecosystem; and
  • 9% were over-licensed, meaning that they would be over-abstracted if licence holders took all the water they were entitled to). 
Low flows in rivers and water levels in lakes have a variety of damaging impacts on fish stocks: 
  • pollutants are concentrated
  • temperatures increase
  • oxygen levels decrease
  • there is less wetted area for invertebrates and other food favoured by fish
  • they are more vulnerable to predation
  • they are less able to migrate up and down rivers to complete their lifecycle
  • there is a greater risk of disease.
In December 2013, Defra published Making the Most of Every Drop: Consultation on Reforming the Water Abstraction Management System.  This was long-awaited, extremely welcome, and we are broadly supportive of the proposals outlined: the linking of abstraction to availability; the introduction of smart and graduated abstraction limits; protection for the environment at low flows; removal of the archaic requirement to pay compensation to abstractors when making charges to licences; and implementation via a catchment-based approach.  All of these things will address some of the many shortfalls in the current system.  Significantly, the proposals will encourage flexibility and efficiency and enable collaboration (including through shared use of resources and trading) to maximise the value of water and increase resilience in the water sector and water environment. 

When implemented, the proposals will go a long way towards ensuring that we have a sustainable and resilient water management system that encourages efficiency of use while also protecting the environment. In order to prevent further damage to the unique and irreplaceable aquatic environments of the UK it is now absolutely essential that the government includes abstraction reform in the next Water Bill.

New Authorisations
The Angling Trust has repeatedly called for previously unregulated but cumulatively highly damaging abstractions to be included within the abstraction licensing system. In November 2017, the Government finally announced that these previously unlicensed abstractions, including trickle irrigation for agriculture, will be brought into the regulatory system under the banner of 'New Authorisations'.

Trickle irrigation has increased dramatically in recent decades and can have a profound impact on river flows, particularly during drought conditions. Therefore the Angling Trust has welcome the announcement to regulate these abstractions. However, we have expressed concern that they will be regulated with a 'light touch', which may mean that little changes on the ground.

You can find out more here.

Further Announcements
In December 2017, after an intense public campaign by the Angling Trust and WWF, the Government published their plans to further address unsustainable abstraction. You can read all of these plans here.

The Charter for Chalkstreams

In May 2013 the 'Charter for Chalk Streams' was launched on the banks of the over abstracted River Beane in Hertfordshire. Click here to read more.

Water Company Water Resource Management Plans - 2019 Planning Process

More than ever before, the Angling Trust has engaged with the Water Resource Management Plan (WRMP) process for 2019. Every five years, each water company in England is required to produce a revised WRMP to plan for how the necessary water resources will be provided over the next investment period. Due to the pressures of climate change and population growth, many water companies in areas of ‘water stress’ (particularly the South East) are now producing plans looking ahead over much longer periods. In the case of Thames Water – the company supplying the greatest number of households – plans are looking forwards 80 years.

We believe that by engaging with the WRMP process, responding appropriately to particular company plans and lobbying the water companies directly, we will be able to influence decisions on the ground that will make a serious difference for our pressured rivers.

Read about our response to the Thames Water WRMP here.

Contact: Angling Trust Eastwood House, 6 Rainbow Street, Leominster, Herefordshire HR6 8DQ
Tel: 0343 5077006 (For Membership enquiries select Option 1) |
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Angling Trust Limited is a company limited by guarantee, company number 05320350

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