09.07.24

EA denial over decades-long failure to restore English rivers and lakes

3 minute read
 
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  • Wildfish
  • Wildfish
  • Wildfish
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In the UK, only 15% of our rivers are in good ecological health but still the Environment Agency is unaware of its failings.

WildFish fears that the Environment Agency (EA) is still in complete denial of its failings to meet the obligations of the Water Framework Directive with just a few weeks left for the regulator to respond to the Office for Environmental Protection’s (OEP) highly critical report (linked here). 

Figure 1 shows the sequence of events from the publication of the OEP report in May to today.

 

In May this year, WildFish wrote to the EA’s chief executive, Philip Duffy, following the publication of the OEP’s report which described the EA’s poor performance in regulating and protecting the water environment under the WFD.

When first introduced, the WFD promised real improvements to rivers and lakes. But the implementation has been woeful and the EA as well as DEFRA have simply hidden behind a technocratic veil.

The OEP report found that the EA was finding slippery ways of avoiding taking action and that it hadn’t described the steps required to meet ecological targets.

The OEP also concluded that rivers and lakes are clearly in decline and there had been insufficient investment. 

Missed opportunities

In its report, the OEP threw the EA a lifeline. It just has to use its powers under the WFD Regulation 25 to “take urgent action” which includes listing “measures” to achieve the environmental objectives with proper timetables. That might include further investigations and reviewing polluter permits to make sure they are tightened up to prevent further damage being done to English rivers and lakes.

In a letter to the EA dated 23 May 2024, WildFish suggested that the EA should act immediately –  by triggering Regulation 25 – and without waiting for the final outcome of the OEP investigation. WildFish recommended this action because the EA has legal duties under the legislation to act, whatever the OEP might choose to do next.

The Environment Agency’s response

The EA’s chief executive responded in a letter (dated 17 June 2024) which does not bode well for their compliance with either the law or the OEP’s recommendations.

We were disappointed to read that the EA is still under the misapprehension that it is doing a good job.

Nick Measham

Chief executive, WildFish

In its response, the EA even went as far as patting itself on the back, stating that it had “directed more than £14 billion of investment” for the water companies, or that it had set under-whelming targets for inspections.

Most worrying of all, the OEP report highlighted a lack of regulatory action. In its letter to WildFish, the EA instead celebrated its list of business incentives and plans “to tackle serious environmental offending” using only ‘light-touch’ civil sanctions such as enforcement undertakings and variable monetary penalties with no mention of prosecutions – even when such light-touch sanctions are clearly inappropriate for persistent offences by water companies and by some farmers.

WildFish has therefore put the EA on notice.

If it continues to fail to meet its legal obligations (for instance, failing to act under Regulation 25, to restore and avoid further deterioration of water bodies), the WildFish lawyers will come knocking.

 
Comments
  • Leigh Durrant
    10th July 2024

    Thanks for the great work the group is doing 👍, keep it up.

    Cheers Leigh and family

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