England government urged to strengthen plans to improve water environment

LONDON, England, UK, Aug. 17, 2009 -- The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the water industry and the UK watchdog for water consumers are standing shoulder to shoulder for the environment by calling for action on rivers and wetlands...

LONDON, England, UK, Aug. 17, 2009 -- The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the water industry and the UK watchdog for water consumers are standing shoulder to shoulder for the environment by calling for action on rivers and wetlands with an open letter to Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Defra is currently considering the results of the public consultation into the Water Framework Directive, a blueprint for the way we care for our rivers, lakes and wetlands in England.

The RSPB, Water UK -- which represents water companies -- and the Consumer Council for Water became concerned when draft River Basin Management Plans, setting out proposals for meeting new water quality targets under the Water Framework Directive, were published last December. Analysis showed that the Plans rely almost entirely on water customer funded investment to meet the required targets, while pollution from farming and urban areas will continue with few, if any, new controls.

In response they have sent a joint open letter to Hilary Benn asking him to ensure that the River Basin Management Plans across England make the most of the opportunity to tackle the issue of sustainable water management head on.

"There has never before been such a strong united voice for our water and wetland environment," said Graham Wynne, RSPB chief executive.

"With this letter we are making it clear that conservationists, the water industry and its customers all need Government to find the most sustainable ways forward and protect our rivers, wetlands and wildlife by removing pollution at its source, before damage is done.

"Agriculture, industry and local government all need to play their part and the Water Framework Directive provides the ideal opportunity to set the agenda for sustainable rivers and wetlands."

Dame Yve Buckland, Chair of the Consumer Council for Water said: "It is not acceptable to load the costs of cleaning up the rivers and wetlands on to water customers. Those responsible for polluting the water environment should be called to account and made to take responsibility for its sustainable management."

Pamela Taylor, Chief Executive of Water UK said: "Investing in the environment, is investing in the economy and our future. We need integrated plans that identify the right challenges and solutions, and the right investment for all sectors to act together.

"The draft plans are not there yet and we expect significant improvements before they are finalised and endorsed by ministers."

Background
A major new assessment of the health of the rivers and lakes of England and Wales was completed in 2008. It found that less than 20% of them are currently at 'good status'. The health of many rivers and lakes are in long-term decline, with threats from pollution, abstraction and habitat destruction exacerbated by a range of growing pressures such as agricultural intensification, urbanization and climate change.

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) requires us to aim to achieve 'good status' in water bodies by 2015 (extensions are permitted to 2021 or 2027 under some circumstances). These objectives are to be achieved through the production of River Basin Management Plans. The consultation period on the River Basin Management Plans has now closed and final plans will be submitted to Secretary of State in September.

Between 1982 and 2002 bird species which rely on floodplains and wet grasslands saw their numbers reduced across England. Figures for the period show that curlews and lapwings dropped by 40 percent and snipe dropped by 61 percent.

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