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Over £5 billion of action set out in latest plans to protect England’s waters

  • River Basin Management Plans bring together local actions that government, the EA, the water sector and partners need to deliver
  • £5 billon of investment over 5 years will help protect and enhance England’s waters, tackling the impacts of pollution and climate change
  • Lincolnshire case studies included.
Market Rasen before the work
Market Rasen after the work

Plans to improve the quality of England’s waters over the next five years – backed by £5.3 billion of action – have been published today (22 December). 

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.

Over the last RBMP cycle in Lincolnshire, we have worked collaboratively with our stakeholders to address issues associated with poor water quality, low flows and lack of morphological diversity. Working with our partners we have been able to carry out projects that restore our rivers and protect them from the pressures of the surrounding land use. For example through partnership working we have:

Dunston Beck

Restored 430 metres of the Dunston Beck and created 1.3 hectares of wetland habitat. By reconnecting the Beck with its floodplain it is hoped that we will see an increase in fish and invertebrate populations.

Installed floating biohavens along 100 metres of concrete wall in Lincoln’s Brayford Pool. The purpose of this project was to try and address the lack of habitat for fish, invertebrates and other wildlife in the area by installing floating islands along the concrete banks.

Protected 500 metres of the River Rase at Market Rasen. The restoration techniques used protect the banks from further erosion and improve the in-channel habitat, hopefully encouraging the chalk streams species to colonise. In addition, the interventions will work with natural hydrological and morphological processes to trap sediment and reduce deposition downstream.

Installed Natural Flood Management interventions on the River Waring, which not only hold water in the upper catchment but reduce the levels of sediment reaching the river channel from adjacent agricultural land whilst also encouraging natural river processes to improve habitat. The River Waring has been modified over the years meaning that the majority of the river habitat has been removed and the ecology we might expect to see in a chalk stream is missing. It is hoped that the work within the catchment will go some way to addressing this.

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 today 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.     

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