It has been said that, "Water is Life", and in some way or another every species depends on water for its survival. It is no surprise then that so many species, both plant and animal, are associated with rivers, and the health of rivers is crucial for biodiversity. It is not only the obvious species that need rivers, like fish for example,  but others which use rivers as a food source, like Heron and Kingfisher, and bats. Recent studies in Suffolk have even shown a high association between Harvest Mice and rivers. That ubiquitous species, humans, are also strongly attracted to rivers where so many settlements are placed. But human use of rivers has not always been benign, with diffuse pollution from high intensity land use sometimes problematic. Physical modification to rivers – from ancient to modern -  also needs to be re-assessed,  and meaures to re-create more naturally functioning rivers are now being pursued.

Water Framework Directive

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) is designed to improve and integrate the way water bodies are managed throughout Europe. An introduction to the topic can be found on the DEFRA website here http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/water/legislation/water-framework-directive/ .


In the UK, much of the implementation work will be undertaken by “competent authorities”, principally the Environment Agency. The Directive came into force on 22 December 2000, and was put into UK law (transposed) in 2003. Member States must aim to reach good chemical and ecological status in inland and coastal waters by by 2027 with interim targets for improvement by 2015 and 2021. It is designed to:


  • enhance the status and prevent further deterioration of aquatic ecosystems and associated wetlands which depend on the aquatic ecosystems
  • promote the sustainable use of water
  • reduce pollution of water, especially by ‘priority’ and ‘priority hazardous’ substances
  • ensure progressive reduction of groundwater pollution


The WFD establishes a strategic framework for managing the water environment. It requires a management plan for each river basin to be developed every 6 years. The plans are based on a detailed analysis of the impacts of human activity on the water environment and incorporate a programme of measures to improve water bodies where required. In December 2009 the Environment Agency (the “competent authority” responsible for implementation of the WFD) published the first set of River Basin Management Plans for England and Wales.


The Environment Agency river basin management plans have been approved by the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Welsh Minister. Full details can be found from this webpage.