Rivers inter-connect, run from rural countryside to urban towns and cities, through private land and public places, and across different geographical and political boundaries.  They provide benefits to people, to wildlife and to the economy – it’s important to have a healthy freshwater ecosystem.

The latest water classification results for England show just 14% of rivers meet the criteria for ‘good ecological status’, and none meet the standard for ‘good chemical status’.  (NB Latest data published September 2020, and includes new monitoring techniques introduced after 2016 giving a more accurate picture).

One third of the poorest quality rivers in England and Wales are found in the North West River Basin District and, within it, 78% of water bodies are not reaching a recognised good standard.

There are many organisations responsible for managing the water environment (including regulators, operators, influencers and those who undertake projects).  However, there are underlying challenges for EU Water Framework Directive delivery relating to:

  • capacity
  • affordability
  • technical feasibility
  • stakeholder engagement
  • adoption of innovative approaches

A range of factors combine together in the North West River Basin District to create really significant challenges. Unless we start to do things differently, we will fail to meet the target of all rivers reaching a good ecological status by 2027.

The diverse landscape of the North West River Basin District, alongside its industrial heritage, brings with it certain challenges that impact water quality:

  • Physical modifications (affecting 50% of water bodies): habitats are lost because of changes to the natural shape and size of water courses for land drainage, development or navigation purposes.
  • Pollution from waste water (affecting 24% of water bodies): pollution and chemicals can enter water courses from sewage networks, often under pressure from population growth.
  • Pollution from rural areas (affecting 18% of water bodies): too much algae can take oxygen out of water courses and cause harm to fish and other wildlife. This can happen when chemicals, soil and animal faeces are washed into water courses from rural land that has not been managed in the best way.
  • Pollution from towns, cities and transport (affecting 13% of water bodies): pollutants from vehicle emissions, bacteria, metals and other debris can enter water courses as rainwater picks them up when it runs over surfaces in our towns and cities.
  • Changes to flow or levels (affecting 2% of water bodies): wildlife can struggle to thrive when too much water is taken out of water courses by humans or if not enough rain falls.

Other issues include pollution from old mines, and the cost of dealing with non-native invasive species so they do not destroy habitats or dominate native species.

Next: Where we work


North West River Basin District Management Plan

Catchment Data Explorer