The Water Environment Regulations 2017 are the predominant mechanism to deliver England's water quality policy framework. They transpose a framework for community action in the field of water policy and and replace the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003.
Key provisions in the regulations concern the following:
The Regulations recognise that some water bodies, such as the Solent, have been significantly physically modified to support various uses which provide valuable social and economic benefits. In many cases these modifications cannot be removed without having a major negative effect on the social and economic benefits that these uses bring. If achieving ‘good status’ would require changes to a water body’s hydromorphology that would have significant adverse effects on the social or economic activity, then it can be designated as an artificial or heavily modified water body. These bodies have to achieve an alternative objective of "good ecological potential" (GEP). The objective of GEP is similar to good status but takes into account the constraints imposed by the social and/or economic uses.
RBMPs aim to prevent deterioration of the water environment and improve water quality. Please see our RBMP page for more detail.
The Marine Strategy Regulations 2010 require the United Kingdom to take the necessary measures to achieve or maintain Good Environmental Status through the development of a Marine Strategy. The Strategy set out a comprehensive framework for assessing, monitoring and taking action across our seas to achieve the vision of ‘clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse ocean and seas’. There are strong links between the Marine Strategy and the River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) under the Water Environment Regulations (WER), 2017. The RBMPs address the improvement and protection of the chemical and ecological status of surface waters over the whole river basin ranging from rivers, lakes and groundwater through to estuaries and coastal waters out to one nautical mile at sea this overlaps with the Marine Strategy in coastal waters. The overlaps are on chemical quality, the effects of nutrient enrichment (eutrophication) and some aspects of ecological quality and hydromorphological condition already covered by the WER (noise, litter, aspects of biodiversity).
Shellfish Water Protected Areas seek to protect or develop economically significant shellfish production. Good water quality is essential to prevent shellfish contamination, molluscs e.g. oysters, are filter feeders and will concentrate contaminants from polluted waters. They draw water across their sieve-like gills, where contaminants like micro-organisms, heavy metals and organic material can accumulate. Sewage contamination appears to be the most significant cause of shellfish-associated illness. Waste water discharge improvements in the Solent have had a significant beneficial effect on shellfisheries. Contamination levels reduced by factor of 10 or more at some sites; classifications improved from prohibited to class B (and A) in some cases, although intermittent discharges into the Solent continue to have an impact. The Environment Agency monitors contaminant levels in shellfish waters to make sure they meet the standards set by the The Food Safety (Fishery Products and Live Shellfish) (Hygiene) Regulations 1998. The Food Standards Agency sets out the overall policy for the monitoring and classification of shellfish harvesting areas and makes all final classification decisions.
The Bathing Water Regulations, 2013 aim to protect public health and the environment by designating coastal and inland waters regularly used for bathing. An annual classification (poor, sufficient, good or excellent) of the long-term water quality standard is made for each designated site based on a minimum of 16 samples from the previous summer. Bathing Water Profiles are displayed for each beach which also show the potential for short term pollution events. In the Solent, we have the Solent Bathing Water Quality Awards managed by the Solent Forum.
The Government has designated Nitrate Vulnerable Zones under the Nitrate Pollution Prevention Regulations 2015. This requires compliance with mandatory action plans for farming activities.
Nutrient Sensitive Areas often coincide with NVZs and can require water companies to implement additional nitrate and phosphate removal techniques through The Urban Waste Water Treatment (England and Wales) Regulations 1994.
Due to eutrophication of the Solent's designated sites, Natural England have issued guidance requiring all new and additional overnight accommodation developments that feed wasterwater into the Solent to be 'nutrient neutral'. Planning permission can only be gained by submitting a 'nutrient budget', demonstrating how it will be nutrient neutral, or can be made neutral through the securing of appropriate upfront mitigation. Many Solent Local Planning Authorities now have mechanisms in place to deliver nutrient mitigation. A Solent Nutrient Market Pilot is being developed as a trading scheme to link developers with those who can provide mitigation.
While the Environment Agency is the main body responsible for regulating water quality and ecological protection, Ofwat plays an important role in driving and enabling the water sector to protect and improve the environment. As part of its price review process, it ringfences investment for environmental initiatives and ensures water companies deliver environmental improvements efficiently using its regulatory tools.
Under the Environment Act 2021, water and sewerage companies must produce drainage and wastewater management plans looking at current and future capacity, pressures, and risks to their networks such as climate change and population growth. They must detail how companies will manage these pressures and risks through their business plans and how they will work with other risk management authorities or drainage asset owners. The first plans will be published in 2023.
This Bill proposes a legal duty on water companies to upgrade wastewater treatment works. This will include nutrient pollution standards for nitrogen and phosphorous and the publication of sensitive catchment areas and nitrogen/phosphorus significant wastewater treatment plants.
Litter and plastics are an area of increasing concern in our water environment. The following legislative drivers seek to reduce and minimise this material.
MPAs are defined geographical areas of the marine environment established and managed to achieve long-term nature conservation and sustainable use. The development of a network of MPAs in the marine environment is part of the UK’s commitment to protecting its seas and they include European Marine Sites and Marine Conservation Zones. Natural England assess the condition of MPAs and water quality is one of the key considerations; in the Solent, the Solent Maritime SAC is in unfavourable condition partly due to its eutrophic waters. Please refer to our Protected Areas page for more information. The Environment Agency's River Basin webmapper provides the location of designated sites.
The Solent Forum manages the secretariat for the Solent Marine Site (SEMS) Scheme of Management. The SEMS Annual Monitoring has identified that there is concern amongst some statutory authorities (SEMS Relevant Authorities) in the Solent about the impacts of littering. Although at present there has not been a proven link that littering is having an adverse effect on SEMS at a site level, it is important to acknowledge that on a national level evidence shows that littering is damaging the marine environment. In the Solent there are gaps in current knowledge with respect to both the direct and indirect impacts of litter and hotspots exist within the Solent's designated sites.
The MMO are the statutory body who manage non-licensable activities in MPAs. The Solent Forum, in its role as SEMS Secretariat, monitors activities in the Solent's designated sites as part of the Solent Marine Site (SEMS) Scheme of Management. This monitoring has identified concern amongst statutory authorities (SEMS Relevant Authorities) about the impacts of littering on our coast and marine environment. Although at present there is no proven link that littering is having an adverse effect on SEMS at a site level, it is important to acknowledge that on a national level evidence shows that littering is damaging the environment. In the Solent there are gaps in current knowledge with respect to both the direct and indirect impacts of litter and hotspots exist within the Solent's designated sites.
Marine plans are developed by the Marine Management Organisation. They set out priorities and directions for future development within the plan area, inform sustainable use of marine resources, help marine users understand the best locations for their activities, including where new developments may be appropriate. The Solent lies within the South Marine Plan area.
Part 3 of the UK Marine Strategy (Programme of Measures) recognises that marine planning will make a positive contribution towards the achievement of Good Environmental Status and has the potential to contribute to all descriptors. Objective 11 in the South Marine plan is: To complement and contribute to the achievement or maintenance of Good Ecological Status or Potential under the Water Framework Directive and Good Environmental Status under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, with respect to descriptors for marine litter, non-indigenous species and underwater noise.
The Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) replaces the European agri-environment schemes. It forms a major plank of the Agriculture Bill. ELMS is based on public money for public goods, with pricing based on a natural capital approach. The types of benefits included are improved air, water and soil quality, increased biodiversity, climate change mitigation, cultural benefits, and better protection for historic environments. One objective is that ELMS will support and help implement actions that meet the targets of Defra's 25-Year Evironment Plan.
There are three proposed schemes under ELMS: