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Government in the Dock over 'Illegal' River Basin Plans

The Angling Trust and WWF have today launched a legal challenge over inadequate plans to safeguard the health of rivers and lakes in England. Lodging the documents at the High Court is the first step in the process of applying for a judicial review of the government’s River Basin Management Plans which were submitted to the EU in December to comply with the Water Framework Directive.

Our rivers and lakes are extremely valuable as they not only supply our drinking water but also support a thriving biodiversity of plants and wildlife. But many are suffering the impacts of pollution from agricultural chemicals and run-off, over-abstraction and physical modifications such as concrete banks and barriers to fish migration.

The two organisations are challenging the legality of the plans because they do not set specific targets or a coherent timeframe to address the poor ecological status of many rivers and lakes in England. The plans also rely heavily on a wide range of reasons for inaction which the Directive only allows to be used in exceptional circumstances.

If the challenge is successful, and the plans are found to contravene the law, the government could have to produce supplementary plans correcting these illegalities and commit to giving full details of how our rivers can be improved by 2015 and beyond.

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Angling Trust, said: “The Angling Trust has been working for nearly a decade to remind government and the Environment Agency of their responsibilities to implement this Directive which would restore the vast majority of our rivers and fisheries to good health by 2015.

“The plans that have been put forward fall way short of what we and our partner organisations expected and most importantly short of what the law requires. Instead of a clear and comprehensive plan of action, we have been presented with an impenetrable tangled web of excuses for failing to achieve the objectives of the Directive in all but a small percentage of water bodies.

“Anglers invest millions in caring for the waterside environment each year for the benefit of fisheries and the water environment as a whole. We hope that this legal action will lead to a rethink of the approach the EA has adopted so that we can work closely together to help deliver a really meaningful programme of action for the benefit of our rivers, lakes and wetlands."

David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, said: “The Water Framework Directive is the most important piece of environmental legislation ever passed for our rivers and should be the cornerstone of sustainable freshwater management for decades to come.

“We have worked with senior decision makers in Defra and the Environment Agency to achieve the high quality water in our rivers and lakes we all aspire to have. Sadly, we have concluded that their plans do not yet match the ambitious set of actions required to protect these vital natural resources. We have reluctantly decided that taking legal action is the best route to the outcome we all desire for our rivers and lakes.”

Martin James Fishing