What the EU referendum means for water

The water environment and everything it means for us needs to be protected in an era of change post the EU referendum results. Our wetland wildlife, our drinking water, our enjoyment of walking by a river full of life, and the food and farming industries all rely on a healthy water environment.

This is in no way secure. Our major legislation supporting clean water is driven by being a member of the European Union, from the Water Framework Directive and the Urban Waste Water Directive to the Common Agricultural Policy which supports good land management. We need to ensure that the Government does not weaken the protections that give us clean water and that the amount of water we take from the environment is sustainable. This will not be easy. There are so many demands on our water environment from the energy industry, agriculture, not to mention climate change and population growth; the health of our waters is bound to be more vulnerable as everyone clamours to be heard. We need to be the voice for water, for nature.

We need to deliver more bang for our buck

We need to take this opportunity to look at our laws and think how we can make this better – better for the environment, better for people and better for business – how can we deliver better bang for our buck. Water is a major part of our natural wealth; our interaction with water has direct impacts on flooding, climate adaptation and mitigation, health, water availability, biodiversity and many other benefits. We need Government to support integrated catchment management and value our natural wealth properly to guarantee our well being and well functioning of our country. This will help ensure the sustainability and resilience of all these additional benefits.

What’s next?

Three opportunities include:

Abstraction reform: We continue to support Government’s reform of abstraction management to ensure we have enough water for everyone, today and for the future. The reform does not need to rely on any EU drivers but from a common sense approach to deliver a fair share of water for all those who need it, including the environment.

Land management: A system which rewards good land management and supports land use change for public good such as allowing, where farmers are willing, to use their fields for flood storage, or to create wetlands to filter our water. We need to recognise that they are delivering a service and afford them a long term, secure income for doing so.

Improve water quality: Only 1/5 of our rivers, lakes and other wetlands are currently at good status – we can do better than that – according to the Environment Agency, achieving “good” status for all water bodies could bring £21bn of benefits at a cost of £16bn. We need a system which adequately accounts for all these benefits rather than prioritising purely economic benefits.

But more than that all of these opportunities are connected, as water is connected to everything we need and everything we do. We need to think of how we manage and fund our land and water management to be much more integrated and delivered at the landscape scale.

Blueprint for Water will work with government to make sure these opportunities are realised; that despite the unknowns and challenges ahead our amazing natural environment is not neglected, or over-exploited. We need to take this chance by the horns to make our management of land and water better – for people, for the environment and for business.


Hannah Freeman
Government Affairs Officer, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust