Aerial view of the reservoir at RSPB Lake Vyrnwy NAture REserve

Protecting the UK’s freshwater

The RSPB works to help secure better protection for freshwater and coastal wildlife and habitats across all four countries of the UK.

The Water Framework Directive (WFD)

Lush green hills surrounding a calm, grey reservoir, against a white cloudy sky

The WFD is policy designed to protect and improve our rivers, lakes and coastal waters. It sets out targets for European nations (and UK) and requires them to achieve Good Ecological Status in all waters by 2027. The actions needed to achieve this standard are included in River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs).


So far, all UK countries have failed to meet WFD standards. Creating a vision for water policy post-2027 is increasingly a priority for the RSPB.  


View across a lake, from the dense green foliage and reeds on the bank

The RSPB works closely with government bodies and authorities to advocate for better protection of our freshwater habitats. In England we consult with the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Environment Agency and Natural England on issues such as flood management, pollution and upholding commitments to protected areas.


The RSPB is one of 24 members of the Wildlife and Countryside Link’s group Blueprint for Water, who provide a coordinated response to water related issues in England.

Northern Ireland

Aerial view of the wetlands of Lough Beg surrounded by green countryside

We work with Government and the WFD stakeholder forum to improve the management of freshwater and wetlands for wildlife and people. We are also a member of Northern Ireland's Environment Link's Freshwater Taskforce whose members collectively campaign to preserve and improve freshwater habitats.


View across a reflective lake, with purple heather in the foreground and dark green woodland in the background, with faint mountain silhouettes in the far distance

In Scotland we work closely with the Scottish Government, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Scottish Natural Heritage and others to more effectively implement the WFD.


We are championing for the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act of 2009 to result in more natural flood management measures, benefitting people and wildlife.


We are also influencing the Scottish water industry to take a more sustainable approach to maintaining and improving water quality.   


Ariel view of Gwent levels reserve, showing the patchwork of landscape management, coastal and fields

The RSPB works with the Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales to ensure they deliver on legal obligations for water and wetland conservation. In doing so, we are making sure European legislation such as the Water Framework Directive is applied to achieve maximum benefits for people and wildlife, especially in important areas such as the Gwent Levels.