Issues affecting our rivers



Taken from the Environment Agency’s “Challenges and Choices” consultation paper

The Environment Agency uses the term ‘water bodies’ to help understand and manage the water environment. A ‘water body’ is part, or the whole, of a river, canal, lake, groundwater, estuary or coastal water. Under the Water Framework Directive (WFD), the Environment Agency assesses the condition of these water bodies through a monitoring process, which produces an annual ‘classification’ or healthy water rating. The classification is based on the biological and chemical condition of the water body and assesses how close it is to its natural state.

There are many pressures that can affect the status of a water body. Controlling these pressures to make sure that there is no deterioration from the water body’s current WFD status, and the resulting benefits society gets from them is an important part of the Catchment Based Approach.

Our rivers are threatened by a number of different issues, including:

  • Physical modifications – changes to the natural habitat by people, for example poorly designed or redundant flood defences and weirs, and changes to the natural river channels for land drainage and navigation. These modifications can cause changes to natural flow levels, excessive build up of sediment, and the loss of the habitat that wildlife needs to thrive.
  • Pollution from waste water – waste water can contain large amounts of nutrients (such as phosphorus and nitrates), ammonia and other damaging substances.
  • Pollution from rural areas – the effects of poor agricultural practice and rural land management on the water environment (also known as ‘diffuse rural pollution’).
  • Pollution from towns, cities and transport – rain water running over hard surfaces and carrying pollutants into waters, chemicals from contaminated land, and sewage from houses ‘mis-connected’ to surface water drains rather than sewers.
  • Changes to natural level and flow of water – taking too much water from rivers, canals, lakes and groundwater means less water flowing.
  • Pollution from mines – contaminated water draining from abandoned mines.
  • Invasive non-native species – the negative effect on the health of the natural environment of plants and animals from outside the UK introduced to UK waters.
Invasive Signal crayfish
Invasive Signal crayfish