Environment Improvement Plan 2023

The Government’s Environment Improvement Plan 2023 was published today with much fanfare.

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said:We are transforming financial support for farmers and landowners to prioritise improving the environment, we are stepping up on tree planting, we have cleaner air, we have put a spotlight on water quality and rivers and are forcing industry to clean up its act.

Here is what is says about water.

Our 25 Year Environment Plan goal

We will achieve clean and plentiful water by improving at least 75% of our waters to be close to their natural state as soon as is practicable.

  1. We have the following targets and commitments:
    • Reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution from agriculture into the water environment by at least 40% by 2038, compared to a 2018 baseline, with an interim target of 10% by 31 January 2028, and 15% in catchments containing protected sites in unfavourable condition due to nutrient pollution by 31 January 2028.
    • Reduce phosphorus loadings from treated wastewater by 80% by 2038 against a 2020 baseline, with an interim target of 50% by 31 January 2028.
    • Halve the length of rivers polluted by harmful metals from abandoned mines by 2038, against a baseline of around 1,500km (approximately 930 miles), with an interim target to construct eight mine water treatment schemes and 20 diffuse interventions to by 31 January 2028.
    • Reduce the use of public water supply in England per head of population by 20% from the 2019 to 2020 baseline reporting figures, by 31 March 2038, with interim targets of 9% by 31 March 2027 and 14% by 31 March 2032, and to reduce leakage by 20% by 31 March 2027 and 30% by 31 March 2032.
    • Restore 75% of our water bodies to good ecological status.
    • Water companies to cut leaks by 50% by 2050. We will reduce leakage by 20% by31 March 2027 and 30% by March 2032.
    • Require water companies to have eliminated all adverse ecological impact from sewage discharges at all sensitive sites by 2035, and at all other overflows by 2050.
    • Target a level of resilience to drought so that emergency measures are needed only once in 500-years.

To deliver these, we will:
Ensure water companies are delivering on our targets and commitments through enhanced transparency and monitoring mechanisms in the Environment Act, targeted enforcement from regulators and increasing the maximum fines.

Direct water company fines relating to environmental breaches to improving the water environment.

Crack down on sewage pollution by holding water companies to account for delivering the targets set out in the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan.

Require water companies to upgrade 160 of their wastewater treatment works to meet the strictest phosphorus limits by 2028, and upgrade a further 400 by 2038, to reduce harmful nutrient pollution from treated wastewater.

Reduce agricultural pollution across England by paying farmers to protect and enhance watercourses through new farming schemes, and investing in improved slurry storage and management through our grants, providing advice to farmers to improve their practices through the expanded Catchment Sensitive Farming partnership scheme, and ensuring farmers are meeting legal standards of responsible farming through our expanded and targeted farm visits programme.

Increase our resilience to drought by working with regulators and water companies to reduce household and non-household water use, and ensuring water companies are delivering a 50% reduction in leakage by 2050.

Roll out new water efficiency labelling and deliver our ten actions in the Roadmap to Water Efficiency in new developments.

Deliver a ten-fold increase in the Water and Abandoned Metal Mines programme, upscaling the existing three treatment schemes with 40 more by 2038, to tackle harmful pollutants from abandoned metal mines.

Protect our chalk streams by supporting the Chalk Stream Strategy.

Make Sustainable Drainage Systems mandatory in new developments subject tofinal decisions, following consultation, on scope, threshold and process.


Spreading the word

End of year figures show an increase in traffic and views to our website in 2022. A total of 1771 visitors viewed a total of 5226 pages through the year, which is a 25% increase in page views compared to 2021


The most popular posts or pages in 2022 were;

Our Facebook group now has 259 group members and we have 526 followers on Twitter, 190 on Instagram and 164 subscribers to our newsletters.

Our thanks to everyone who has shared our posts and follow us on social media. Spreading the word on our chalk streams and the challenges they face is critically important in improving their condition and protecting these unique environments.

abstraction, pollution

A letter from Defra

Towards the end of October, Friends of the Rib & Quin wrote to Sir Oliver Heald, Member of Parliament for our constituency and catchment as well as FORQ’s President, for some advice.

Our work documenting the pollution and abstraction impacting our two chalk streams has raised some clear and obvious questions, which we laid out in the attached letter and sought his suggestions as to how we might best receive answers, from the water companies as well as the local planning authorities.

The letter was copied to our local councillors, and the parish councils and angling interests that we have met and gained the support of over recent months.

Sir Oliver was good enough to immediately write to Therese Coffey, the new Secretary of State for Defra, raising our concerns. Jan Goodeve, East Herts District Council Executive Member for Planning & Economic Growth also responded having read our letter with interest and shared it with appropriate EHDC planning officers.

November and December came and went but nothing more was heard until early January, when Sir Oliver wrote with a reply from Rebecca Pow MP, Defra Minister for Environmental Quality and Resilience.

The FORQ executive will be considering the Minister’s response.


iNaturalist project stands at 680 species

At the end of 2022 our iNaturalist project that records the animals found in our catchment stood at 680 species. Total observations stand at 1844, with over 3000 identifications supporting the identifications.

The top 10 most observed species are:

  • Pyramidal Orchid – 22 observations
  • Himalayan Balsam – 19 observations
  • Red Kite – 17 observations
  • Scarlet Tiger – 15 observations
  • Fallow Deer – 14 observations
  • Giant Hogweed – 14 observations
  • Bee Orchid – 13 observations
  • Harlequin Ladybird – 12 observations
  • Banded Demoiselle – 12 observations
  • Field Scabious – 12 observations

Now that the project has been running for nearly 3 years, we can start to see how our observations and coverage have grown.

Catchment iNaturalist observations – April 2020 / January 2023

If you would like to get involved, you can download the app for both Apple and Android phones. Here’s a short video that shows how the app works. It’s a simple as that.


New Thames Water website maps raw sewage spills

image credit: Thames Water

Thames Water have recently launched a new website that reports when raw sewage is entering rivers from facilities they operate. The site uses the same data that has been historically published by the Rivers Trust on an annual basis, but has now made this available in real time.

Not all sewage treatment sites are included, but casual monitoring since its launch has shown a number of spills already in our catchment, as the screenshots below show.

You can visit the website here.

riverfly monitoring

Two riverfly discoveries on the River Mimram in 2021

Robin Cole, one of Hertfordshire’s volunteer riverfly coordinators has written a paper covering the discoveries of case sharing in the cased caddis Agapetus fuscipes, and the first record of the mayfly Heptagenid sulphurea on the River Mimram. Click here to read the paper that was published by Hertfordshire Natural History Society and shared by Robin to the Riverfly Partnership website.

riverfly monitoring

Buntingford Aspenden Road Bridge Riverfly Monitoring – December 2022

Site: Aspenden Road Bridge, Buntingford, River Rib
Recorders: David Edwards, John Hood
Survey date: 3rd December 2022
Time: 1500hrs
Air temperature:
Water Temperature: 4 deg
Flow: 2
Phosphate: 2.50+
Nitrate: 50.0
Nitrite: 0.5

Cased Caddisfly51
Caseless caddisfly00
Mayfly (Ephemeridae)00
BWO (Ephemerellidae)00
Olives (Baetidae)00
Shrimps (Gammarus)00
Stickleback (1), Water hog louse (30), leeches (15), Crane fly larvae (1)
riverfly monitoring

Buntingford Watermill Bridge Riverfly Monitoring – December 2022

Site: Luynes Rise, Buntingford, River Rib
Recorders: David Edwards, John Hood
Survey date: 3rd December 2022
Time: 1400hrs
Air temperature:
Water Temperature: 4 degrees
Flow: 2
Phosphate: 0.53
Nitrate: 10
Nitrite: 0.15

Cased Caddisfly11
Caseless caddisfly00
Mayfly (Ephemeridae)00
BWO (Ephemerellidae)11
Olives (Baetidae)00
Shrimps (Gammarus)402
Stickleback (1), Water hog louse (100) snails (10), Leeches (10)

Buntingford’s River Rib Restoration Project underway

We are pleased to report that Buntingford Town Council’s River Rib Restoration Project is now underway. The following is taken from the Town Council’s website.

Back in 2018 Buntingford Town Council embarked on a project to enhance 2km of the River Rib for wildlife and people of the town. The River Rib, classified as a Chalk Stream and one of only 200 in the WORLD, has been damaged through historic activities such as dredging and flood defence, as well as suffering low flows and flash flooding at different times of year.

Through the town, the river is set within an artificial concrete channel and a number of fords, culverts and weirs interrupt its natural course. The condition of its habitats is poor; there is a large build-up of silt smothering the river bed, it lacks in-stream vegetation as refuge areas for wildlife and the flow is stagnant and pooled in places.

In partnership with the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, a restoration plan was developed in 2018 with the aim of listing out shared objectives for improving the river.

Over the course of 2021, Five Rivers, a company expert in river restoration, were brought on board to develop this plan into designs for a river restoration scheme through the town.

In 2022, work began to deliver the river restoration scheme in sections, as funding allows. This involved gaining “Permits to Work” from the Environment Agency, which led to some changes to the design.

Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust (HMWT) has now received all the permissions they require from the Environment Agency (EA) to start this work.

A river restoration contractor has been engaged and we are now pleased to announce that the proposed work on the river Rib through the town will start during WC 21st November.

The works will change and improve the structure of the river in the way water flows through the channel. This will be by constructing low level ‘berms’ in the riverbed to adjust the flow of water and to plant in them native chalk stream plants. The new planting will encourage wildlife.

Funding for this project has been secured by HMWT to work with the Town Council to deliver the river habitat improvements. This funding has been kindly provided by the Environment Agency’s – Herts. & North London Area, via the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, administered by DEFRA and National Lottery.

The main section of works will be from the Ford towards The Tannery (Reach 2). Along the Layston Court Garden stretch it will be necessary to remove some of the tree overhang to allow light and rainfall to get to the river. Without this extra light and rain the new planting will not thrive. There is no plan to fell any trees; just to remove branches overhanging the river. The removed branches will be used to form the ‘berms’ in the river.

Buntingford Town Council thank Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust for all their help and especially Sarah Perry, their Living Rivers Officer; without her expert guidance none of this would have been possible.