Support the Save Our Waters campaign

The Environment Agency is currently seeking views on the eight new River Basin Management Plans for England, which can be found here, and Natural Resources Wales is seeking views on another two plans that cover parts of Wales that can be found here.

To help people contribute their views to the plans for UK rivers, Blueprint for Water (a partnership The Wildlife Trusts are part of) is running the Save Our Waters campaign where you can share your views on how our rivers should be cared for and what they mean to you.

Add your voice here

Please take a few minutes to complete the questionnaire and poll.  The results will be presented to the Government as part of the River Basin Management Plan consultation.  During the next three weeks, before the consultation closes on Friday 10 April, please join our rallying cry for rivers and help us to ensure that the Government chooses the route to restoration, not the route to river ruin.

Why should you support this campaign?

Water is at the heart of nature’s ecosystems and of life itself.  When in healthy condition our rivers, streams, estuaries, lakes, ponds and wetlands are teeming with wildlife: stunning birds such as the marsh harrier and the kingfisher; mammals like the secretive otter and the much-loved water vole; fish such as the magnificent Atlantic salmon, and colourful dragonflies, enigmatic amphibians and tiny insects that are central to wetland food webs.  We are also totally reliant on water – clean water for drinking, water that enables us to grow food and to make other goods, water that enables us to stay healthy.

But across Europe water is under great pressure.  Figures show that 20% of surface water is at serious risk from pollution.  Three-quarters of Europeans get their supply from groundwater, which is locked in the earth, but 60% of European cities over-exploit their groundwater resources.  It is estimated that 50% of wetlands in Europe are endangered.  In England and Wales 42% of all floodplains are separated from their rivers and over the past 75 years, 45% of wetland habitats have been lost in England and a staggering 75% of rivers in England and Wales are considered to be unhealthy.  The consequence of this loss and damage is that many of the benefits that we get from healthy rivers and wetlands, such as flood storage, clean water and carbon capture, have been degraded, lost or converted to other uses.

In the past we have failed to appreciate just how valuable our rivers and wetlands are and we are now living with the consequences - flooding, the high costs of cleaning up rivers and a decline in freshwater species.  Climate change is adding to the difficulties - with a likelihood of more households being exposed to serious risk of flooding in the future.  The costs of restoring rivers and wetlands that have been polluted are ongoing and despite everything we now know about the sources of pollution, it continues – from run off in urban areas, sewage, and farming activities - for example soils and manures running off the land.  A growing population and demand for housing is putting more pressure on this precious resource.  Nearly half the EU population lives in ‘water-stressed’ countries, where the abstraction of water from freshwater sources is too high.  Much of the south and south east of England has now been classified as suffering from water stress.

We can turn this situation around 

The Government is about to enter a new phase of planning for the management of rivers and other waterbodies, and so we are issuing a rallying call for our rivers and wetlands.  We believe that we have reached a crossroads.  We can continue down the road to river ruin – letting pollution drain off the land, confining rivers between concrete walls and forcing them to burst their banks further downstream, taking too much out of our natural freshwater systems – putting more and more pressure on wildlife.  Or we can take the route to river restoration - returning rivers to their natural form as far as we possibly can, re connecting them with their floodplains so that flood waters can be stored safely away from towns and villages.

Farmers, local authorities, planners, developers and householders need to help

To properly restore our rivers for the long term we must restore the other habitats that help protect them - habitats like woodland, peatland and species-rich grassland that will slow the rate at which water flows downstream and ensure that soils and pollutants do not end up in our rivers.  We must also engage large numbers of people in rallying for rivers: farmers who can protect rivers from soils and pollutants, local authorities, planners and developers who can ensure that sustainable drainage systems are installed in the built environment and who can help to de-pave cities, towns and villages, and householders who can manage their gardens so that the water soaks into the earth rather than washes off into our precious rivers.

The Wildlife Trusts have been working to restore rivers and habitats in river catchments for many years – through a whole host of projects - and we have seen the benefits for species like the otter and the bittern.  We know that river and habitat restoration works, and there is increasing evidence to show that restoring nature helps us reduce the problems of pollution and flooding. Rather than seeing wildlife as one issue, flooding as another and water quality as another still, we want to see an end to the compartmentalisation of river and wetland issues- with a more holistic approach to managing our water environment, and we want to see river restoration on a large scale across the country, delivered by effective partnerships of Government bodies, organisations, communities and landowners. It is important that we get this message across to the Government as it develops its new plans for caring for our rivers from 2016.


Why is the Government developing new plans for our rivers ?

Across the whole of Europe there is a single framework for managing the water environment provided by the Water Framework Directive (WFD). This directive requires Member States to take measures to encourage the sustainable use of water and to protect and improve rivers, and other surface waters, waters below the ground and coastal waters.

A short guide to the WFD can be found on the Europa website here

The directive requires Member States to produce a management plan for each “river basin district”. A river basin district is usually a geographic area of land, or catchment, which drains into a single major river system.

Each district has a river basin management plan that sets out the objectives for water management in that district. It includes environmental objectives for each body of water (e.g. sections of rivers) and produces a summary of the actions that need to be taken. It also has specific objectives and actions for the most important and specially protected areas in the water environment, such as those which provide drinking water, are of European importance for nature or are sensitive to particular pressures.

Member States need to take measures to encourage sustainable use of water and to protect and improve rivers, other surface waters, below ground waters and coastal waters

Once approved by ministers, the environmental objectives are legally binding and all public bodies must have regard to the river basin management plans when exercising any functions that affect the water environment.  The Environment Agency must seek to meet the objectives of the plans when it undertakes its environmental regulation, flood risk management and water resources management work.

The current river basin management plans were published in 2009.  Under the WFD, plans have to be reviewed and updated every six years.  The draft new plans are now available for comment, so now is a one in a six year opportunity to help shape the future of our rivers, wetlands and coastal waters.

In England, the Environment Agency is currently seeking views on the eight new River Basin Management Plans for England, which can be found here, and Natural Resources Wales is seeking views on another two plans that cover parts of Wales that can be found here. The plans set out the long-term objectives for the quality of the water environment, identify the condition of rivers, lakes and coastal waters and the pressures on them.  Once the plans are agreed they will be drive the allocation of funding and the actions that the Environment Agency and partners such as The Wildlife Trusts will take to protect and improve our rivers from source to sea.

How can you make your voice heard?

The Wildlife Trusts will be responding to these plans across the country, but you can also make your voice heard.  The deadline for responses is 10th April 2015.  We want the Government to show real ambition for the future of our rivers and other waterbodies, to increase the level of investment to deliver restoration on a large scale, to manage water holistically at a catchment scale and make sure that the polluter pays principle is implemented effectively and fairly.

One of the best ways in which you can help our rallying cry for rivers is by supporting the Blueprint for Water Coalition’s ‘Save our Waters’ campaign.

Blueprint for Water, first launched in 2006, is a group of likeminded organisations with a bold plan: to revolutionise the way water is managed in England for the benefit of people and wildlife. The Blueprint is a coalition of 16 environmental, water efficiency and fisheries organisations, brought together by Wildlife and Countryside Link. Together with our members and supporters we form a dedicated movement of over six million people.

The photographs above show the restoration work which Wildlife Trusts carry out on local waterways.  This work is vital to the restoration of our waters.

What do you think?

Please take a few minutes to complete the questionnaire and poll. The results will be presented to the Government as part of the River Basin Management Plan consultation. During the next four weeks, before the consultation closes on 10th April, please join our rallying cry for rivers and help us to ensure that the Government chooses the route to restoration, not the route to river ruin.