Council Directive 2000/60/EC establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy (Water Framework Directive)


Rivers, lakes and coastal waters are vital natural resources: they provide drinking water, crucial habitats for many different types of wildlife, and are an important resource for industry and recreation. A significant proportion of them are environmentally damaged or under threat. Protecting and improving the environment is an important part of achieving sustainable development and is vital for the long term health, well being and prosperity of everyone. The EC Water Framework Directive  is a welcome and radical improvement on earlier, piecemeal EU water legislation. It expands the scope of water protection to all waters and sets out clear objectives that must be achieved by specified dates.


In October 2000 the 'Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy' (Water Framework Directive or WFD) was adopted and came into force in December 2000. The purpose of the Directive is to establish a framework for the protection of inland surface waters (rivers and lakes), transitional waters (estuaries), coastal waters and groundwater. It will ensure that all aquatic ecosystems and, with regard to their water needs, terrestrial ecosystems and wetlands meet 'good status' by 2015.


The Directive requires Member States to establish river basin districts and for each of these a river basin management plan. The Directive envisages a cyclical process where river basin management plans are prepared, implemented and reviewed every six years. There are four distinct elements to the river basin planning cycle: characterisation and assessment of impacts on river basin districts; environmental monitoring; the setting of environmental objectives; and the design and implementation of the programme of measures needed to achieve them.


The Directive has a series of implementation deadlines which stretch to December 2015 (the date by which environmental objectives must be met). Information about UK implementation can be found via the Defra website. 


JNCC's work in relation to the Water Framework Directive is discharged through various groups. These include the Inter-Agency Water Framework Directive Nature Conservation Group  (NCG), and the UK Technical Advisory Group's (UKTAG’s) Marine Task Team (MTT) and its Alien Species Group (ASG).


The NCG focuses on all aspects of the WFD that are especially relevant to nature conservation. In particular the group has contributed to UKTAG’s work on wetland habitats, monitoring methods for fresh waters, river basin characterisation and small water bodies, ecological status classification, and river basin management plans.


The MTT advises on the technical aspects of typology, reference conditions, classification and monitoring requirements for transitional and coastal waters. This group has also contributed to the development of European guidance for the EC's Common Implementation Strategy and an extensive programme to inter-calibrate classification tools across Europe. JNCC has been working through MTT to integrate and harmonise tools, monitoring approaches (including Quality Assurance/Quality Control), and where possible, monitoring programmes to ensure maximum use of resources and data to inform condition assessments for the Habitats Directive.


Under the MTT are a number of sub-groups which feed into the development of classification tools for the biological quality elements. One of these sub-groups, the Marine Benthic Invertebrate Task Team (MBITT) has developed classification tools for the benthic invertebrate fauna to be assessed, although some gaps still remain. JNCC's focus in this group has been on its relationship to monitoring and the assessment of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) condition. JNCC has worked with MBITT on investigating methods for assessing both soft sediment and hard substratum benthic macroinvertebrate communities.


The ASG has helped guide the work on how non-native species should be addressed under the WFD. This has resulted in a continually updated list of species of concern in aquatic habitats and guidance on how non-native species data should be incorporated into classifications of ecological status. The ASG has also played a major role in work on these matters at a European level through the European Commission’s ECOSTAT group.


River Basin Management Plan consultations carried out by the Competent Authorities with responsibility for the Water Framework Directive across the UK closed in June 2009, with the intention to have the final plans published in December 2009. These plans will inform the Directive’s Programme of Measures required to help minimise impacts on Annexed features.


Transposition to UK Legislation


Transposition into national law in the UK occurred through the following regulations: The Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003 (Statutory Instrument 2003 No. 3242) for England and Wales; the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003 (WEWS Act) and The Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003 (Statutory Rule 2003 No. 544) for Northern Ireland. 


February 2010