The Water Framework Directive and FCERM

Flood risk management activities have a big role to play in meeting the requirements of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) through the: 

  • development of strategies and plans
  • schemes constructed
  • maintenance works undertaken
  • permits issued.

This page looks at:

What is the WFD?

The WFD is a European directive which aims to protect and improve the water environment.

What is a water body?

The WFD divides the water environment into water bodies. These can include lakes, reservoirs, streams, rivers, canals, groundwater, transitional waters (estuaries) and coastal waters.

What are river basin management plans?
River basin management plans (RBMPs) describe how the WFD will be achieved in your region. They also outline, at a local level, which actions and measures need to implemented to achieve the objectives of the WFD. RBMPs can be found on the 
River Basin Management Plan external page – on the Environment Agency's website

RBMPs and ecological objectives
Your RBMP sets out:

  • ecological objectives for each water body; and
  • deadlines by when ecological objectives need to be met.

In FCERM work mainly falls in artificial or heavily modified water bodies (AWB/HMWB). These are water bodies which have been altered through human activity (for example, by flood risk management activities, urbanisation and land drainage).

What is good ecological potential?
AWB/HMWBs need to achieve good ecological potential (GEP) by a set deadline. GEP is the best ecology that can be achieved in a water body while still enabling FCERM works to be undertaken to protect people and property from flooding.

What the WFD means to FCERM

FCERM impacts on watercourses
Flood risk management works can impact upon the shape of a watercourse and the natural processes that occur within it, such as:

  • flow patterns
  • width and depth of a channel
  • features such as pools, riffles, bars and bank slopes
  • sediment availability/transport
  • interaction between a channel and its floodplain, and
  • biology (habitats and species or physio-chemistry (for example, water quality, temperature, pH).

In the WFD the flow, shape and physical characteristics of a watercourse is referred to as its ‘hydromorphology.'

When FCERM works impact on these natural processes they can damage important habitats which support plants and animals. This can cause a water body's ecology to deteriorate and prevent environmental improvements from being undertaken.

FCERM works can also be beneficial, they can be designed to help achieve environmental improvements included in your RBMP, enhancing the water environment for plants and animals.

WFD screening

When undertaking FCERM works we need to:

  • not worsen the ecology of water bodies; and
  • seek opportunities to improve water bodies.

This can be achieved through screening and assessing works, and finding opportunities to undertake the environmental improvements included in the RBMPs.

Screening is important as it identifies proposed works which could impact on the achievement of WFD objectives. Works can then be looked at in more detail and changes made to them to help improve the water environment.

WFD actions, measures and investigations
RBMPs (Annexes B, C and D) tell us at a local level what needs to be done to achieve GEP and by what deadline.

Annex B of your RBMP is useful – it includes one page summaries for each water body, explaining what environmental improvements need to be undertaken to achieve GEP. Annex C, explains what environmental improvements we have committed to undertake, and Annex D explains what needs to be done to achieve WFD objectives on protected areas.

FCERM plans and strategies
FCERM plans and strategies explain what needs to be done to protect people and property from flooding. When looking strategically for a solution to a flood risk problem, we can also help to achieve the objectives of the WFD by undertaking environmental improvements.

Capital and maintenance works
Capital FCERM schemes and maintenance works can affect a water body's ecology, either worsening it and causing deterioration, or improving it by undertaking environmental improvements.

Flood defence consenting and enforcement
When issuing flood defence consents be sure that they won't make a water body's ecology worse, and where possible they help to achieve environmental improvements.

Further information

Preliminary flood risk assessments (PFRAs) which have been produced by lead local flood authorities (LLFAs) in England and Wales, provide a summary of significant historic floods, information on future flood risks and information on whether a LLFA is within a Flood Risk Area.

More about preliminary flood risk assessments (PFRAs)

Strategic flood risk assessments should consider the risk of flooding from all sources. They should be undertaken by specialists and inform both flood risk management strategies and local planning policies.

More about flood risk assessments

SWMPs will look at existing problems and inform planning decisions for new development. They are generally most appropriate for use in urban environments or in specific neighbourhoods.

More about surface water management plans (SWMPs)

These assessments and plans should be used by LLFAs to help develop their local flood risk management strategies. A local flood risk management strategy should be put in place to provide communities with information on how local flood risk is being managed in their area.

More about local flood risk management strategies