Water Framework Directive

The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) promotes a new approach to water management through river basin planning.

The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) promotes a new approach to water management through river basin planning. It aims to prevent deterioration in water quality; improve and protect inland and coastal waters and groundwater; lead to better and more sustainable use of water; create better habitats for wildlife; and help reduce the effects of floods and droughts.

The Directive applies to all water bodies, including rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters up to 1 nautical mile offshore. Planning and implementation takes place at river basin level. 10 River Basin Districts have been set up in England and Wales, one in Scotland and one cross-border between England and Scotland. However these do not coincide with RYA regional boundaries.

The competent authorities for implementing the Directive are the Environment Agency (England and Wales), the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Department of Environment (Northern Ireland).

The Directive introduces six-year cycles of planning and action. The first River Basin Management Plans were approved by the Secretary of State and published on 22 December 2009, for implementation by 2015. The Plans set out in general terms how the water environment will be managed and provide a framework for more detailed decisions. Actions include:

  • A major programme of investigations, now almost complete, to discover why water bodies are failing and what actions are needed to improve them
  • Investment and improvements by water companies
  • Government investment of £92 million in river improvement Introduction of catchment planning (a catchment is an area with several, often interconnected, water bodies), starting with 25 pilot catchments (the pilot phase finished in December 2013) 


Planning for the second cycle has now started and the RYA has submitted responses to the public consultations so far. Draft second cycle plans will go out for public consultation in June 2014, with final plans being approved and published in December 2015.

In the first planning cycle, impacts from recreational boating have been shown to be relatively minor. However, future planning cycles could affect recreational boating, including:

  • Maintenance dredging
  • Bank protection and weed control
  • Navigation and vessel movements
  • Discharges e.g. boat waste, scrub-down residue
  • New developments, moorings and pontoons
  • Spread of non-native invasive species


The RYA is closely monitoring implementation of the first cycle Plans and work on the second cycle plans, and is represented on the WFD National Liaison Panel, the National Water Stakeholder Forum, and on some River Basin Liaison Panels. If you want to get more involved in implementation at regional or club/marina level, please contact the RYA Planning & Environmental team on environment@rya.org.uk for further information.