Memorandum submitted by the Royal Society
for the Protection of Birds (J21)
1. The Water Framework Directive (WFD, or
"the Directive") is the most important opportunity we
have to achieve sustainable management of water. We must not waste
this opportunity through misperceptions of costs or by underestimating
the long-term benefits to society of WFD implementation.
2. The "no deterioration duty"
commences in December 2003. The UK must start work now on measures
to prevent deteriorationand not wait until 2012.
3. The Protected Areas Register must include
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).
4. Wetlands are a crucial component of the
water cycle and their breadth, location and health will directly
affect "good status" objectives. Wetland restoration
must be seen as an important means of implementing the Directive.
This will also help government achieve UK Biodiversity Action
Plan targets and commitments to water-dependent SSSIs.
5. DEFRA should instigate a public information
and education initiative on water and wetlands.
6. There are critical links between WFD
objectives and the sustainable management of coastal and river
flooding which are not being capitalised on by DEFRA.
7. Agriculture is central to WFD implementation.
Current agricultural reforms must be made compatible with obligations
under EU water legislation.
8. The Environment Agency has a pivotal
role in WFD implementation. However, catchment bodies should be
set up to manage all water issues at the catchment level. They
would develop catchment sub-plans under River Basin Management
9. UK implementation should be guided by
the voluntary Common Implementation Strategy guidance documents.
10. There are many tangible and intangible
benefits to WFD implementation. The key intangible benefitthat
the environment supports quality of lifeis reflected in
the Government's own policies.
11. Assessments of the economic impacts
of the Directive are unreliable and underestimate economic benefits.
The latter include the enforcement of the polluter pays principle,
which by controlling external environmental costs improves social
12. The real question is not whether the
UK can afford to implement the Directive in full, but whether
it can afford not to.
1. The RSPB works for the conservation of
wild birds and their environment. We are Europe's largest wildlife
conservation charity with over one million members. We manage
one of the largest conservation estates in the UK, totalling more
than 100,000 hectares, including extensive wetland habitat. Our
priority wetland habitats are reedbeds, wet grassland and estuaries.
We provide advice on the management of wetland habitats, and input
to a range of water policy issues including flood defence, water
resources, biodiversity and water quality.
2. Wetlandson floodplains, in the
upper catchment, and on the coastare an intrinsic part
of the water cycle, marking the transition between water and land
habitats, and forming important points of exchange between groundwaters,
surface waters and the atmosphere. When the water cycle is broken
we can suffer catastrophic problems, in terms of drinking water
quality, water in the wrong place at the wrong time, and not enough
water for people and wildlife.
3. The Water Framework Directive recognises
the need to protect the water cycle by including all water bodies,
no matter what size or kind, and their physical habitats, such
as riverbanks and beds, in its objectives. It also includes obligations
towards ecosystems such as wetlands that depend on these waters.
The Directive thus sets common standards for "good water
status" across Europe and, importantly, integrates biological
outcomes (eg the life, such as fish, living in water bodies) with
water management in general. The health of aquatic and water-dependent
ecosystems is the best test we have of sustainable water use.
Water capable of supporting characteristic plants and animals
will also be water that is clean, and available, for future generations.
4. Water and wetlands perform crucial life-support
functions for people, providing drinking water, irrigation, transport
and nutrient cycling. Wetlands also drive a range of beneficial
ecosystem services, including flood defence through storing flood
waters, and pollution control through natural filtering systems.
It is for all these reasons that the RSPB supports full implementation
of the Directivein particular trying to manage water as
close as possible to its cycle, rather than working against it.
5. Water and wetlands are fragile ecosystems,
dependent on the way we manage water catchments. While we have
seen vast improvements in some aspects of water quality, particularly
sewage treatment and industrial effluent discharge, UK wetlands
and water are still not managed sustainably. Many aspects of water
and land management impact negatively on wetlands. Not only have
we lost most of our wetland resource through land drainage, but
we continue to damage what remains through drainage, pollution
and water abstraction.
RSPB AND THE
6. The RSPB is a major player in Water Framework
Directive transposition and implementation work in the UK and
across Europe. We have representatives on several WFD Common Implementation
Strategy (CIS) working groups led by the European Commission,
including: WATECO (economics), IMPRESS (impacts and pressures
on water bodies) and REFCOND (reference conditions for water bodies).
We are currently working with the European Commission and Member
States to develop a CIS discussion document on wetlands in the
Directive. We have assisted the Scottish Executive and the Northern
Ireland Department of Environment in public consultation exercises
on the Directive. We sit on DEFRA's Stakeholder Sounding Board
for the Directive.
7. The WFD can play a pivotal role in delivering
sustainable water and wetland management in the UK. In the future,
we envisage healthy aquatic ecosystems across the UKwith
more wetlands restored throughout the catchment, floodplains reconnected
to rivers, and water again healthy enough to support complex functioning
ecosystems. This is not simply for aesthetic reasons. As was made
clear at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg,
water is our most precious resource. Despite this, many people
still take it for granted, assuming there is more than enough
to go round. In fact, in England, there is less waterper capita
than in Ethiopia. With the effects of climate change already being
seen, the resource will become increasingly fragile and more difficult
8. Without healthy and resilient aquatic
ecosystems we will face numerous problems, including increased
flood and drought risks, higher costs of cleaning up drinking
water, more conflicts between different water users, difficulties
supplying water to new housing developments and loss of water-dependent
wildlife, which may threaten the UK's ability to meet its Biodiversity
Action Plan targets for water and wetlands. However, the RSPB
is concerned that the wealth of opportunities the Directive offers
may be missed if current misperceptions of the costs involved
in meeting its obligations, combined with underestimation of its
9. The RSPB believes the entire text of
Article 1 must appear word for word in the transposition regulations
to ensure the purpose of the Directive is not lost. The Scottish
Executive has set a precedent for this by including Article 1
in its Water Environment and Water Services Bill.
10. The Directive provides for staged implementation
through a series of deadlines for Member States. However, in many
cases it will be necessary to undertake these activities before
the deadline to ensure a cost effective approach to implementation
and reduce the likelihood of infraction proceedings. This should
not be mistaken for "gold plating".
11. The evidence does not support the accusation
which is sometimes made of routinely early transposition and over-enthusiastic
implementation of European Directives. Proceedings have been initiated
against the UK in a number of cases over late implementation of
environmental directives, for instance the Waste Framework Directive.
The perception of excessive regulation from Brussels may arise
from British delays in implementation (eg the Nitrates Directive),
which have led to several directives being brought in concurrently
to avoid legal action.
12. While the Programme of Measures in the
WFD does not legally need to be instituted until 22 December 2012,
in reality many measures are either already in place, or will
need to be in place earlier than 2012, to ensure good status can
be achieved by 2015. In particular, many measures will need to
be in place to prevent deterioration of water status from December
2003 (see below), for example those required to prevent damage
to aquatic ecosystems from eutrophication caused by excess nutrients
from agriculture. Meeting the water requirements of SSSIs by 2010
will also require earlier adoption of measures (see paragraph
13. The Directive places a duty on Member
States (Article 4) to prevent the deterioration of the status
of surface and groundwaters. No explicit date is provided in the
Directive, and Member States are interpreting its commencement
differently. An answer to a Parliamentary Question given by the
Minister for the Environment (House of Commons Written Answers
25 June 2002 columns 754-5W) suggests that DEFRA is interpreting
this duty by connecting it to the Programme of Measures, implying
that it does not commence until 2012. The RSPB disagrees with
this interpretation, and legal advice we have received considers
compliance necessary by the date of implementation (22 December
2003). It is also strongly arguable that since 22 December 2000:
Member States' courts and national
authorities have been under an obligation, where possible, to
interpret national legislation in accordance with the requirements
of the WFD; and
Member States have been under a duty
to refrain from taking any measures liable seriously to compromise
the result prescribed by the WFD.
14. The WFD includes a series of complex
and technical tasks that must be undertaken as we strive collectively
to achieve its objectives on time. However, the UK must not delay
through fear of not getting the technicalities exactly right in
the first phases. We must practice adaptive management"learning
by doing". While a definition of what good status is has
yet to be reached, we do understand in many cases what it is not,
and we know some level of restoration will be required in many
15. The RSPB has been disappointed by DEFRA's
response to public involvement on WFD issues. In Northern Ireland
and Scotland, seminars were held early in the transposition process
to engage the main stakeholders on big issues. France has been
holding meetings with stakeholders over the past two years in
each proposed river basin to discuss in detail the implementation
process and get farming, industrial and NGO partners on board.
However, DEFRA has done nothing outside its Stakeholder Sounding
Board processand has not even produced a public leaflet.
16. Everybody has an impact on the water
cycle, and the Directive recognises this through the obligation
in Article 14 to actively involve interested stakeholders through
the River Basin Management Planning process. The RSPB believes
there is an urgent need to raise public awareness of the requirements
of the Directive before this process commences. DEFRA should lead
a public awareness programme for water and wetlands, with the
cooperation of organisations such as English Nature, the Environment
Agency, NGOs and water companies. People will not change their
behaviour without understanding the water cycle and the impacts
of their activities on water and wetlands.
17. Article 1 (a) of the Directive demonstrates
an unambiguous intention to protect and enhance the water needs
of wetlands, which should be reflected during the process of transposition
and implementation. Article 1 (e) also states that the WFD should
contribute to achieving the objectives of relevant international
agreements. This includes the Ramsar Convention and the Convention
on Biological Diversity. The Directive provides an opportunity
to integrate all water management objectives, including those
18. The RSPB has taken legal advice on the
Protected Areas aspect of the Directive (Article 6). The Protected
Areas Register, in relation to nature conservation sites (for
example wetlands), must include sites designated under the Natura
2000 network (eg Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of
Conservation under the Birds and Habitats Directives) where the
status of water is an important factor in their protection. It
must also include sites designated under national and local legislation
(such as SSSIs) where status of water is an important factor in
their protection. This duty on Member States allows protected
areas to be taken into account in relation to other duties in
19. The Government is committed to achieving
favourable condition on 95 per cent of SSSIs by 2010. English
Nature's figures on the current state of aquatic and wetland SSSIs
make it clear this will be impossible without urgent action on
water management. Government has also signed up to targets for
water-dependent species and habitats under the UK Biodiversity
Action Plan, the majority of which require action to tackle drainage,
abstraction, pollution and flood management at a catchment scale.
The extent of the policy changes needed to meet these targets
is outlined in the draft England Biodiversity Strategy, which
reiterates the urgent need for integration within Government if
these public commitments to the natural environment are to be
20. These nature conservation targets cannot
be delivered efficiently or cost-effectively outside the WFD River
Basin Management Planning process. We will have to take the same
kinds of action to support SSSIs and biodiversity priorities as
we will to achieve ecological good status under the WFD, even
if the standards we set in relation to these different targets
may vary. For example, to prevent damage to wetland and aquatic
SSSIs from water abstractions, we will need to assess their ecological
water needs, compare these with the amount of water available
within a catchment, and adjust our abstraction activity accordingly.
This is precisely the same process required by the WFD to meet
the water resource requirements of water bodies. Any search for
added value would lead squarely to one plan and one assessment
method for them all.
21. The Common Implementation Strategy (CIS)
is developing guidance documents to help Member States implement
the WFD consistently across Europe. The RSPB draws the committee's
attention to one discussion document (currently in draft) in this
processThe Role of Wetlands in the WFD. The RSPB is urging
the UK to adopt the precepts of the wetlands paper in implementation
as it provides valuable guidance to Member States on how to interpret
the Directive in relation to wetlands.
22. Article 1 in the Directive requires
Member States to undertake measures that contribute to the mitigation
of the effects of floods and droughts as part of their water management
activities. Despite this obligation, DEFRA and the Environment
Agency appear reluctant to draw together flood policy with the
Directive's objectives. This has been illustrated recently in
two consultation documents on Annexes II and V of the Directive.
The reference to the use of wetlands to help with flood management
in the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency's technical consultation
was removed when virtually the same document was issued by the
Environment Agency a month later. The RSPB was informed by the
Environment Agency that this was due to "a precautionary
approach regarding the proactive creation of wetlands following
discussion with DEFRA during the development of the consultation".
This approach, which we feel misses the point in terms of the
benefits of floodplain restoration, undermines stated commitments
towards integrated catchment planning. This is explained in more
23. Fluvial (river) flooding results from
complex interactions between duration, intensity and timing of
rainfall, the type of land it falls on and runs off, and the type
and size of channels (such as rivers) within catchments. The prevention
of flood damage must therefore be considered across the entire
catchmentnot just at a town where floods are likely to
cause damage. This has been recognised by DEFRA and the Environment
Agency in the recent piloting of Catchment Flood Management Strategies,
although progress to date has been disappointing. While more research
is needed, a sustainable flood management scheme will often include
optimising land use throughout the catchment to reduce run-off,
particularly on rivers prone to flash flooding. This can include
the use of restored or created wetlands in many instancesin
the upper catchment and on floodplains. Such wetland restoration
not only delivers flood mitigation but can also help the Government
meet UK Biodiversity Action Plan targets for wetland habitat (eg
24. The Directive requires Member States
to go through a series of tests when assessing possible impacts
on water status of both existing activities and new modifications.
In both cases, there must be consideration of whether the benefits
provided by the activity or modification could be delivered by
other means which are "a significantly better environmental
option". For example, in the case of a proposed new engineering
modification for flood defence, where this would result in deterioration
of water status by affecting the habitat (morphology) and dependent
biology, Member States must ensure there are no significantly
better environmental options before permitting it to go ahead.
These options may include the restoration of floodplains for flood
storage, and the enhancement of catchment floodwater and run-off
retention capacities in upstream areas. In the case of an existing
human activity which is preventing the achievement of good ecological
status (eg a flood defence wall on a river), Member States must
ensure there are no significantly better environmental options
(such as the creation and restoration of wetlands) before they
can designate a water body as "heavily modified" under
Article 4.3, or set less stringent objectives under article 4.5.
25. Sustainable coastal flood defence options
can also contribute to meeting good status requirements for coastal
waters. Coastal wetlands such as saltmarsh operate as natural
flood defences by dissipating wave power, particularly during
storms. Intertidal habitats can also improve water quality in
estuaries through entrapment and accretion of sediment. Such habitats,
including saltmarsh, are being "squeezed" between rising
sea levels and hard artificial barriers such as sea walls, resulting
in major loss of important wildlife habitats and increasing likelihood
of the seawalls being damaged, threatening low-lying land. One
sustainable solution is "managed realignment"a
soft engineering technique involving the recreation of coastal
habitat which then provides a home for wildlife, contributes to
WFD requirements and helps to mitigate flood impacts. Coastal
flood defence schemes such as these must be integrated into the
River Basin Management process where appropriate.
26. Agriculture is the most powerful influence
on the water environment in England today, and therefore has a
central role to play in WFD implementation. Land drainage and
flood defence regimes, largely driven by policies to maximise
agricultural production, have resulted in radical changes to the
hydro-morphology of rivers and the loss and degradation of wetland
habitats. Water quality is also heavily influenced by modern agriculture,
with estimates that 40 per cent of phosphates and 80 per cent
of nitrates entering UK waters come from agriculture. 46 per cent
of English freshwater SSSIs are adversely affected by nutrient
27. However, the scale of these environmental
problems must also be seen against the backdrop of the recent
crises in farming, and tempered with an understanding that the
solutions lie in supporting, not scape-goating, the agricultural
sector. Most farmers conduct their business in the manner demanded
of them by the market. They will not be able to respond to altered
expectations unless doing so does not threaten their livelihoods.
Opportunities exist now to make the necessary changes. The Mid
Term Review of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is being driven,
in part, by recognition of the need to make the CAP more compatible
with EU environmental regulations. Nationally, the Strategy for
Sustainable Farming and Food is an opportunity to implement measures
to ensure farmers are better equipped to meet environmental challenges.
However, it is imperative that these reforms are integrated with
parallel proposals to address the impacts of farming on the water
environment. In particular, the DEFRA Diffuse Pollution Review
must be linked to major agricultural reform initiatives if it
is to have any significant impact.
28. Understandably, farmers have expressed
concern about the costs the agricultural sector may incur as a
result of WFD standards. This concern is in part based on an initial
Regulatory Impact Assessment, which research (Hanley & Fundingsland,
2001) has since shown was flawed and partial. Crucially, the RSPB
feels little effort has been made to look in combination at the
economic effects on farming of the forthcoming reforms at European
and national level and the improved environmental standards of
the Directive. Such an analysis should reveal where the current
reforms will help to reduce the costs of implementation for farmers,
and where further action is needed to ensure those meeting the
highest standards are rewarded rather than penalised.
29. The Directive requires detailed analysis
of the economic costs and benefits of water management and use.
The costs of water companies in England and Wales are currently
regulated by Ofwat. However, the economic analysis required by
the WFD must include environmental and resource costs, as well
as business and consumer costs.
30. The RSPB believes that if Ofwat is responsible
for the economic analysis required by the Directive, it must have
statutory duties to liaise with other agencies (such as the Environment
Agency and English Nature) and to achieve sustainable development.
Ofwat would need significant extra resources and expertise in
environmental economics to fulfil the Directive's economic requirements.
31. The RSPB believes the economic guidance
provided by WATECO (the Common Implementation Strategy Working
Group on economics) provides adequate definitions from which to
develop implementation of the Directive. However, DEFRA's recent
approach of interpreting the articles of the Directive individually,
rather than through their collective purpose, is a potential source
of confusion. For example, they sought to interpret Annex III
separately from Article 9, even though both are linked to the
analysis of environmental and resource costs. Such inconsistencies
may also result in unfair treatment of companies (as described
32. The RSPB has commissioned work on the
costs of the WFD (Hanley & Fundingsland, 2001). This makes
it clear that the costs of implementing the Directive may fall
within a very wide range and that previous studies had underestimated
the ratio of benefits to costs. We believe that, if the provisions
in the Directive are properly implemented, its costs will be effectively
targeted toward environmental problems and fairly apportioned
across society, penalising polluters while taking social needs
into account. Over the long term, the Directive can ensure water
prices reflect environmental needs and provide appropriate incentives
for efficient water use.
33. In particular, the requirement of the
Directive to examine the environmental and resource costs of water
services should provide a clear basis from which to assess the
incidence of water management costs across society. However, the
RSPB is concerned that the UK Government's narrow interpretation
of the Directive on these definitions will not result in a level
playing field for all UK companies.
34. Much of the recent debate around the
costs of the WFD has used the term "gold plating", referring
to costs that are incurred earlier or in excess of those necessary,
and that do not yield net benefits. The RSPB believes this term
has been misused in relation to current proposals to implement
the Directive, such as for the register of protected areas.
35. Whatever the costs are, they will be
minimised by early planning and timely implementation. However,
the RSPB believes the UK has already fallen behind on the path
towards implementation and could risk infraction proceedings.
36. The RSPB supports the role of the Environment
Agency as Competent Authority in implementing the WFD. However,
although leading much of the thinking about integration, the Agency
does not have the resources or policy frameworks required for
genuine integrated catchment management or the public participatory
processes required by Article 14. Water issues are not currently
managed by the Agency in an integrated way. This is illustrated
by the lack of initiatives on floodplain restoration, which could
not only provide flood mitigation but also contribute to improved
wetland habitat for birds, aquifer recharge, and improvements
in in-stream water quality. The various policy catchment initiatives
undertaken by the Agency, for example Catchment Abstraction Management
Strategies and Catchment Flood Management Plans, are not linked
either spatially or temporallynor do they contain active
commitments to wetland UK Biodiversity Action Plan targets.
37. The Environment Agency will be unable
to meet the environmental objectives of the WFD alone. Current
problems with agricultural diffuse pollution, the poor state of
designated wetlands and recent flood damage illustrate this. One
way of improving this situation is to institute a key recommendation
of the partnership-based EU Life Environment funded Wise Use of
Floodplains Project (WUF). The WUF recommended that catchment
bodies be set up to manage water and wetlands at the catchment
scale. These bodies would include key agencies and stakeholders,
who would make, in consultation with local communities, the strategic
decisions for water issues such as flood management and water
resource demands. Such bodies would need the powers and resources
to achieve real integrated catchment management. The management
bodies should be aligned along geographical boundaries, to reflect
the environmental processes being managed and reduce bureaucracy.
38. An opportunity to start developing this
approach exists with the current proposed reforms of flood defence
by DEFRA, whereby regional customer bodies could have their duties
expanded to integrated catchment managementie all water
issues. However, for such an initiative to work more needs to
be done nationally to ensure agricultural, water, biodiversity
and planning policies are consistent and coherent. The RSPB would
like to see this option piloted in a number of catchments.
39. The RSPB believes the transposition
regulations must explicitly refer to sub-plans under River Basin
Management Plans. Ideally, these would include integrated catchment
plans developed by catchment bodies.
40. The RSPB believes the voluntary Common
Implementation Strategy guidance documents being developed by
the European Commission and Member States are designed to provide
the necessary common understanding of definitions and concepts
within the WFD to support smooth and equitable transposition.
However, DEFRA officials have not always grasped the opportunities
these guidance documents offer to promote integrated, cost effective
and sustainable approaches to implementation. They have insisted
on a minimalist approach which we believe will, in the long run,
increase the risk of infraction proceedings and minimise rather
than maximise the benefits the WFD offers the UK. Officials have
justified this approach by a fear of "gold plating",
but we believe such an approach will stifle innovation, which
will be in neither the best interests of the water environment
nor stakeholders. The RSPB is also disappointed that the UK is
not participating in piloting the CIS guidance documents. This
is a lost opportunity and suggests a lack of commitment to the
41. The RSPB believes the most undeveloped
part of the WFD transposition process lies in the links between
the River Basin Management Planning process and current and proposed
land use planning regimes. Many land use planning decisions affect
the good status of waters (eg water requirements for new housing
developments, water run-off from developments which exacerbate
flooding and cause pollution). Local Authorities will play a key
role in achieving WFD objectives. Decisions must be made about
how River Basin Management Plans will influence land use plans
such as Structural and Community plans. Decisions also need to
be made about how the River Basin Management Plans will operate
in terms of right of appeal.
42. The RSPB is disappointed that benefits
are the last item on the Committee's list, are not considered
alongside costs, and are restricted to tangible benefits. Many
intangible environmental benefits are important to quality of
life and are also a source of economic competitiveness. For example,
populations of wild birds are a Government Quality of Life indicator,
and policies to conserve populations of geesebirds that
depend on wetlandswere recently valued at over £10
million in Scotland. Full implementation of the Directive will
result in a range of benefits. The fact that some are difficult
to quantify in monetary terms does not reduce their importance,
and they should count in any cost-benefit analysis. Tangible and
intangible benefits include:
safer and more secure water supplies;
healthier rivers, lakes, coasts and
streams for recreation, relaxation and job security (for example
in fisheries and tourism);
reduced pollution clean-up costs
for water companies by tackling pollution at source. Many water
consumers are effectively paying for water twice, with their taxes
going towards subsidising intensive practices on farms, which
result in pollution that water companies subsequently need to
clean up. These clean-up costs are passed on to consumers;
assisting in achieving objectives
for our designated wetlands, eg Special Areas of Conservation
and Special Protection Areas under the Habitats and Birds Directives,
and favourable conditions for our SSSIs; and
improvement of our management and
mitigation of floods and droughts. Flood damage is expensive and
generates fear and uncertainty. It is important to recognise the
social benefits, such as avoiding the distress of flooding, that
sustainable water management can bring.
43. The Directive can also contribute to
sustainable development by initiating better use of land and water
resources. The RSPB has worked to develop more sustainable flood
management practices on the Somerset Levels and Moors. A recent
study examining the opportunities for flood management washlands
stated that: "it would appear in the public interest to redirect
funding, both from agricultural support and flood defence for
agriculture, into flood storage and washland creation." (Morris,
2001) This locally commissioned report points the way towards
efficient flood management. Redirecting budgets from hard flood
defence towards soft flood management options, such as washlands,
allows strategic management of floodwaters, thereby giving better
flood protection for settlements; enhances the environment; contributes
to nature conservation; and results in better use of public money.
44. The potential benefits of Water Framework
Directive implementation are substantial, and cover a wide range
of areas. The RSPB hopes the Committee's Inquiry will help to
shift the terms of debate away from what all too often appears
to have been a climate of fear about costs, and encourage the
Government to be innovative in espousing the Directive's benefits.
20 September 2002
Hanley & Fundingsland (2001) An assessment
of WRc's cost-benefit analysis of implementing the WFD. University
of Glasgow report to RSPB.
Morris (2001) Economic of Washland Creation,
Cranfield University at Silsoe.