River Basin Management in the United Kingdom


The EU Water Framework Directive requires all Member States to prepare River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) and Programmes of Measures (PMs), designed to prevent deterioration of aquatic ecosystems and to achieve at least good ecological and chemical status1) for all surface waters within the basin by 2015, whenever possible. The main goals of the WFD apply to all rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters. Groundwater should also achieve good status for both water quality and quantity.

1) Classification of waters

Surface waters are classified according to their chemical and ecological status and groundwater is classified according to its chemical and quantitative status as summarised below.

For Surface Waters

Chemical status is assessed by compliance with environmental standards for those chemicals that are priority substances and priority hazardous substances.

Ecological status is assessed by:

  • The condition of biological elements, for example phytoplankton or fish.
  • The concentrations of supporting physico-chemical elements, for example pH, dissolved oxygen or ammonia.
  • The concentrations of specific pollutants, for example copper.
  • The hydromorphology – depth, flow, structure.

The ecological status has a scale of high, good, moderate, poor and bad. While good chemical status means achieving the required standards for relevant substances.

For a water body to be in overall ‘good’ status, both its ecological and its chemical status must be at least ‘good’.

For Groundwater

Groundwater status has two classes, either good or poor, and must be assessed for both chemical and quantitative status.

Further information on the classification system is available on the UKTAG website:

Quick Guide to
River Basin Management Plans in the UK

RBM Plans are available for each River Basin District. Comments were invited by the Competent Authorities in each country as part of the public consultation and participation process required by the Directive. The consultation period ran from 22 December 2008 until 22 June 2009.

What were Competent Authorities asking for in the consultation?

Each Plan presented a set of consultation questions seeking views, comments and suggestions. The questions covered a range of issues, such as:

  • Have the most significant pressures been identified?
  • Have the correct objectives and levels of improvement by 2015 and by 2027 been proposed?
  • Have all the important existing measures required to meet the objectives been identified and are there any appropriate new measures?
  • How best to work together?
  • How best to link river basin plans with other planning, such as climate change, flood risk management, and land use?

The comments received by the Competent Authority  were used during the development of the first River Basin Management Plans. In England and Wales these plans  were submitted to Ministers on 22 September 2009, and finally published on 22 December 2009.

Were there any responses to the draft plans?

Yes, the competent authorities have published for each RBD a report summarising how the consultation was organised, what were the main national and regional issues of concern, and identifying actions to be taken. Responses have been received from a range of sectors and co-deliverers, including  agriculture and rural land management, angling and conservation, industry manufacturers, mining and quarrying, local and regional government, navigation, recreation and sport, transport, water industry, central government and general public. The response documents are available for download on the Competent Authorities’ RBMPs web pages.

Aim of this quick Guide

The River Basin Management Plans necessarily contain a lot of detailed and useful information for interested parties, whether their interests are sectoral, regional or local. The aim of this Guide is to provide a summary of how the RBMPs were developed and what they contain, and to help the users quickly find the information they need.

How were the RBMPs developed?

The measures in the Plans have been developed by the Competent Authorities with the assistance of River Basin stakeholder advisory bodies that included representatives of a range of sectors such as agriculture, water industry, planning authorities, businesses, environmental organisations, fishing, boating and other water users. The Competent Authorities are: for England and Wales, the Environment Agency (EA), for Scotland, the Scottish Environment Agency (SEPA) and for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)

How are the Plans structured?

The River Basin Management Plans all follow a similar format and the key information provided is to:

  • Describe the current condition of the water environment
  • Set objectives for improving it
  • Propose measures needed to deliver the improvements

What do the RBMPs consist of and how can I find them?

The RBMPs are extensive sets of documents with numerous Annexes and interactive maps. You can find and download the Plans for England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland in our Key WFD Documents section:


Are there any variations specific to devolved administrations?

There are variations in the  Plans specifically related to the situation in the devolved administrations and these can be found by clicking on the countries below:

What about other Member States?

The deadline for publishing River Basin Management Plans (22.12.2009) and the deadline for reporting these plans to the Commission (22.3.2010) have expired.  There are however delays in some parts of the EU, and  the RBMPs have not yet been established. EC DG Environment website provides information on the current status of the RBMPs in Member States and gives extensive links to national central websites on the WFD implementation, to  individual national and international river basin districts and to key RBMP documents:




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