Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Further supplementary memorandum submitted by the Environment Agency (J24 (b))


  1.  Currently, the Agency uses macroinvertebrates in rivers as the main indicator of the ecological health of river systems. The information is gathered from over 5,000 sites covering 40,000 km of rivers in England and Wales on a three year rolling programme. The data from this survey is used to classify our rivers for the "Biology General Quality Assessment" of river quality, and is reported to Defra for inclusion as one element of the Government's "River Water Quality" indicator. This is one of the 15 UK headline indicators of sustainable development.

  2.  River macroinvertebrates are used for this indicator because the UK has a system called the River Prediction and Classification System (RIVPACS), which provides targets for macro-invertebrate communities, based on the physical and chemical attributes of the river at the survey site in relatively undisturbed conditions. The requirement to use reference conditions in the Water Framework Directive classification schemes makes RIVPACS potentially well suited for use in the Directive.

  3.  The Agency also carries out monitoring of most of the other biological quality elements in the Directive for other purposes. Examples of this include the use of river macrophytes and diatoms for assessment of eutrophication for the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and of benthic macro-invertebrates in transitional waters for quality assessment for the National Marine Monitoring Programme and the Titanium Dioxide Directive. We also carry out biological monitoring in some of our lakes, such as the Norfolk Broads and the Lake District lakes and monitor fish in rivers for fisheries management purposes. Whilst these programmes are appropriate for collecting the information needed for these purposes, they are not designed to meet the needs of the Water Framework Directive. In particular, they do not have suitable Classification schemes developed, which use reference conditions for "high status" in the context of the Water Framework Directive.

  4.  At present, the Agency's Water Framework Directive Programme is developing the relevant Classification schemes and is putting in place research needed to fill any gaps in sampling and assessment methods. This will be strongly influenced by the outcome of the guidance made by the European Commission's Common Implementation Strategy Working Groups on reference conditions (REFCON) and the coasts (COAST). Although we can make an assessment of the likely impact of the Directive on river classification using macro-invertebrates, there is some uncertainty about where the class boundaries will be drawn until the inter-calibration work on reference conditions has been completed.


  Although the criteria for "good status" will not be finalised across Europe until after the completion of the inter-calibration exercise in 2006, the Agency has taken an initial view that "good status" may be met by those stretches of river where the Biology General Quality Assessment class is A or B in both 1995 and 2000.

  6.  Attached is a map of England and Wales detailing those stretches of river likely to meet "good status" based on this understanding. It should be noted that the Biology General Quality Assessment window only uses invertebrates, and also that this system does not consider all the WFD biological elements used to assess status within rivers (aquatic flora and fish). This exercise therefore only approximates to an analysis of good status, and it is likely that a somewhat larger number of rivers will not meet good status when the full analysis has been completed.

Environment Agency

29 November 2002

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