Plans to improve the quality of England’s waters over the next five years – backed by £5.3 billion of action – have been published.
Whilst the Environment Agency and its partners have made good progress in protecting and enhancing England’s waters over the last couple of decades, it is clear that the water environment must improve. The EA’s River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) are a legally-binding environmental planning framework setting environmental objectives to tackle the chief challenges facing the water environment, including water company pollution, agricultural pollution, climate change and population growth.
The plans bring together an extensive range of actions and investment to tackle these challenges – setting out £5.3 billion worth of action by 2027 which is already planned and funded. This includes around £4.3 billion of action by water companies and more than £500 million to mitigate the impacts of agriculture on the water environment.
A wide range of external groups and organisations have contributed to the plans and will need to work together to ensure that they achieve the ambition the plans set out. This will be delivered through measures such as:
- The Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP), driving improvements in water company abstraction and wastewater treatment.
- The Countryside Stewardship Scheme, rewarding farmers and land owners for their efforts to protect and improve their natural environment.
- England’s Nature for Climate Fund which will help support the delivery of the England Tree Action Plan and England Peat Action Plan.
- Measures funded by the Government’s Water Environment Investment Fund such as local projects to remove barriers from rivers and improve fish passage.
- Regional river, estuary and coast restoration and flood management projects and partnerships to restore natural river flows, improve water quality, restore habitats and reduce the risk of flooding.
RBMPs are published every six years for each of the eight river basin districts of England – with the Severn River Basin District plan produced in close collaboration with Natural Resources Wales - and draw on the latest environmental monitoring data.
Approved by the Environment Secretary, the plans will be used to inform decisions on regulation, investment, development planning and target action to improve the water environment.
Environment Agency Executive Director John Leyland said:
“Whilst progress has been made to protect and enhance England’s waters, it is clear that considerable time and investment will still be needed if we are to see the further improvement in our water environment that we all want.
Without that investment beyond 2027, and if the impacts of climate change are left unchecked, the number of water bodies meeting the required standard could fall to just 6% by 2043.
The plans published set out the next important steps we all need to take together.”
RBMPs underpin the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan goal of ‘clean and plentiful water’ to meet England’s future water needs – with 78% of surface waters having been set the objective of achieving good ecological status or good ecological potential.
However, currently only 16% of water bodies in England achieve good ecological status (GES).
The Environment Agency estimates that without investment in the water environment beyond the end of these plans in 2027, and if the impact of climate change on England’s waters is left unchecked, the number of water bodies meeting good ecological status would fall to just 6% by 2043.
The updated plans will build on the success of projects delivered under previous RBMPs. This includes a variety of projects across the country that received Water Environment Grant funding, and Water Environment Investment Fund support, as well as the multi award-winning Cumbria River restoration programme, bringing together the EA, Natural England and local Rivers Trust partners to complete over 100 projects addressing physical barriers to fish in rivers and reducing flood risk.
The increased investment committed to in the latest plans is encouraging and further water industry investment from 2025 will be agreed through the 2024 price review - attracting benefits for green jobs, creating new cultural and recreational opportunities, boosting tourism and leisure and enhancing public wellbeing.