The Water Framework Directive

The WFD is a piece of EU legislation that was created with the aim of improving the ecological and chemical status of all types of water bodies in Europe. This directive was transposed into UK law so, despite leaving the EU, we still adhere to this legislation. Ireland has its own set of laws implementing the framework guidelines. The water bodies covered by the WFD are:

  • Surface water bodies (streams, rivers, lakes)
  • Groundwater
  • Transitional water bodies (estuaries)
  • Coastal waters

In the UK and Ireland, the authorities who are responsible for implementing the WFD are the Environment Agency (England), Natural Resources Wales (Wales), Scottish Environmental Protection Authority (Scotland) and Northern Ireland Environment Agency (Northern Ireland). In Ireland it is the Environment Protection Agency.

Water body from the air

Requirements under the WFD

The key requirement under the WFD is that if a proposed development has the potential to impact a WFD water body, then a WFD assessment will need to be undertaken and submitted to the competent authority.

The WFD compliance assessment identifies the current ‘baseline’ hydromorphology, biological and chemical status of the water body and assesses the potential effects of the proposed development on that status. The WFD compliance assessment will determine if the proposed development is compliant with the WFD in terms of prevention of deterioration of ecological status of the WFD water body and allowing future targets for the water body to be achieved.

If WFD compliance assessments are not considered when submitting plans for a relevant project, this could incur significant costs and delays in the planning process and hold up its delivery. A compliance assessment must be explored early on in planning for projects that could potentially impact WFD water bodies. Early engagement with the relevant authority is vital for any development that has the potential to impact the water environment. Planning permission may be denied if a WFD compliance assessment is deemed necessary but has not yet been considered by the applicant.

Some developments may require specialist surveys to provide evidence for compliance with the WFD. APEM offers guidance, support and expertise in relation to the design of surveys to support WFD compliance assessment and completion of the assessments themselves, and we always recommend early action to avoid unnecessary and costly delays.

Whitegate, Cork

How APEM can help

APEM has worked with clients producing WFD compliance assessments for all levels of development, ranging from small riparian (land near watercourses) projects to large scale infrastructure schemes (for example, major new road developments and power stations).

We undertake assessments in both freshwater and marine environments (where assessment approaches and regulator guidance differ). We ensure developments are compliant with the WFD through our rigorous reporting process and engagement with the relevant authority.

If during the assessment process it becomes clear that a development does not comply with the WFD requirements, then we advise on suitable mitigation steps to ensure all aspects of the project are compliant.

To help inform marine WFD compliance assessments, APEM developed the SeDiChem tool for the Environment Agency. The SeDiChem tool applies site-specific data to predict quantitative changes in concentrations of chemicals in the water column when there is disturbance of bottom sediments. These water quality changes are compared against Environmental Quality Standards to determine potential for changes in chemical status of a water body. This tool has proved to be highly effective at informing WFD assessments and is now applied routinely by APEM.

Our services relevant for WFD compliance assessments include surveys and assessment associated with:

  • Aquatic ecology (fish, macroinvertebrates, phytoplankton, diatoms, macrophytes, macroalgae and angiosperms)
  • Water quality and sediment quality
  • Geomorphology/hydromorphology including walkovers / fluvial assessments
  • Invasive non-native species (INNS)

Our WFD services are delivered by environmental specialists across APEM, backed up by technical expertise and world-class technology. Our team includes field scientists that can mobilise quickly to carry out specialist surveys throughout the UK and Ireland. Our own in-house biological laboratories perform analyses quickly to ensure that there are no or minimal delays. Our INNS, geomorphology and river restoration experts are also on hand to support with all the complexities that may arise during the delivery of projects with an aquatic element.

Have a question about this service?

The team at APEM would be happy to answer any questions you have about WFD compliance, SeDiChem or our laboratory work. Please email us if you have any questions.