The Catchment Based Approach

The government’s catchment based approach was announced on World Water Day, 22 March 2011. It is seen as the tool by which Integrated Catchment Management will be delivered. One of the fundamental ideas is to engage stakeholders via a more local catchment based approach.

A legal challenge to government had been mounted by WWF and the Angling Trust in March 2010 following the government’s submission of their River Basin Management Plans to the EU in December 2009; the organisations believed that the plans did not set high enough targets or clear timescales to address the poor ecological status of many of England’s waterways, with too much reliance on a range of reasons for inaction. After extended talks with Defra and the Environment Agency (EA), the legal action was withdrawn. Commitments made by Defra included £110m of new investment in environmental water quality which encompassed a new ‘catchment restoration fund’. They also made a number of new policy commitments that included the shift to a more localised, catchment-based implementation of the Water Framework Directive, starting with a number of pilot catchments. These would help to develop an understanding of how the catchment-based approach could work in practice.

A total of 25 catchments were chosen as pilots and these were evaluated in terms of the different ways they approached and supported stakeholder engagement. A further 41 smaller pilot catchments were awarded a small sum of seed corn money from Defra to go ahead and initiate the catchment-based approach.

In May 2013, the government published Catchment Based Approach: Improving the quality of our water environment: A policy framework to encourage the wider adoption of an integrated Catchment Based Approach to improving the quality of our water environment. The document states: ‘The water environment is affected by every activity that takes place on land as well as through our actions in abstracting, using and returning water to rivers, the sea and the ground. Catchments are the natural scale to consider this aspect of the environment. We firmly believe that better coordinated action is desirable at the catchment level by all those who use water or influence land management and that this requires greater engagement and delivery by stakeholders at the catchment as well as local level, supported by the Environment Agency and other organisations. This is particularly important when trying to address the significant pressures placed on the water environment by diffuse pollution from both agricultural and urban sources, and widespread, historical alterations to the natural form of channels’.

The report goes on to explain: ‘The pilot and evaluation phase concluded in March 2013 and gives some indication of how catchment level collaboration can better inform river basin district planning. It is also emerging as a key mechanism to better integrate decision making and ‘on the ground’ delivery in relation to water and the environment within a wider socio-economic context. Through the pilot phase, progress has been encouraging and we hope that many of the groups formed will continue their work supported by this framework. Over time, it is expected that the approach will mature as a mechanism for ensuring that there is strong local support, consensus, effective coordination and efficient channelling of existing and new funding and other resources to deliver local aspirations for the water environment’.

Access the full document at:

Guide to Collaborative Catchment Management (August 2013)

This guide is based on the learning from the Catchment Pilots that ran between 2011 and the end of 2012. It is intended as a tool for existing catchment partnerships as well as for groups that are just starting to work collaboratively.


In summary, the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) involves collaborative working at a river catchment scale to deliver improvements to our water environments. Partnerships, bringing local knowledge and expertise, are active in each of the 100+ catchments across England and cross-border Wales. More than 1,500 organisations are engaged with CaBA nationwide including NGOs, water companies, local authorities, government agencies, landowners, angling clubs, farming groups, academia and local businesses.

Environment Agency’s Catchment Data Explorer

Use the Catchment Data Explorer to navigate to catchments and water bodies, view catchment summaries and download data. [This was originally created to support the consultation on the draft river basin management plans for the 2nd cycle of WFD.]

Place name: searches for River Basin Districts, catchments and water bodies within a 10 mile radius, by town and local authority ward.

Postcode: searches for River Basin Districts, catchments and water bodies within a 10 mile radius.

Co-ordinates: searches for River Basin Districts, catchments and water bodies within a 10 mile radius using latitudes and longitude or eastings and northings.

Catchment/Waterbody name: searches for River Basin Districts, catchments and water bodies by name.

CaBA website

The Catchment Based Approach website is the primary location where the CaBA partnerships can showcase their work, network with each other, and access tools, best practice, technical support and news.

The CaBA support team comprise representatives of some of the environmental Non-Governmental Organisations who have been most active in river catchment management over recent years, and who have developed a package of support to sit alongside the local Catchment Partnership Fund grants. The support team organise conferences, workshops and run the website, forum and newsletters to keep CaBA partnerships informed about best-practice, case-studies and training which is available to support their work under the catchment based approach.

Catchment-Based Approach Monitoring and Evaluation - CaBA Benefits Working Group November 2017


Catchment Mapping Portal

The Rivers Trust Mapping Portal is a web-based mapping tool for CaBA partnerships to access and share mapped information with their stakeholders. It provides CaBA partnerships with online access to a selection of datasets from the desktop GIS package, updated with 2016/17 partnership details.





CaBA GIS Data Package

This comprises a convenient package of 70+ key datasets in common desktop GIS formats, clipped to CaBA catchments, licensed for CaBA use and distributed to all CaBA partners. It is backed up by an interpretation guide, training resources, a discussion forum and regular updates.

Water Management Catchments Map



Catchment Partnerships in Operation






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