The news that water pollution in the UK is a problem is not exactly a surprise. Whether the pollution is from plastic, sewage, or chemical runoff, it is clear that more action needs to be taken to safeguard our rivers, lakes and seas.

In 2021, the Environment Act was passed into UK law, designed to protect and enhance the environment, create new habitats for nature, reverse the decline of native species, tackle deforestation, clean up the air and protect the health of our rivers. The UK’s different governments are also introducing plans and legislation about water pollution, so in this blog, we’ll take a look at what actions they are taking to help tackle the problem.


In July, new plans were announced to help drive down nutrient pollution in England’s waterways, stating that “Increased levels of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus can speed up the growth of certain plants, disrupting natural processes and devastating wildlife.” The aim is to fast-track progress in hotspot areas, and the plans place a new legal duty on water companies to upgrade wastewater treatment works by 2030 to provide ‘nutrient neutrality’.

Earlier in the year, the government announced a consultation for a Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan which will significantly limit when water companies are allowed to use storm overflows, in order to reduce the impact this has on the environment. The aim is to gradually eliminate the number of discharges, with a target of reaching an 80% reduction in discharges by 2050.


At the end of 2021, the Scottish government launched the River Basin Management Plans, investing millions of pounds in a number of measures that will “ensure that Scotland’s rivers, lochs, estuaries, coastal areas and groundwater can continue to supply drinking water, support fisheries, offer an essential resource for business and agriculture, and serve as a source of recreation that promotes health and wellbeing”. At the same time, Scottish Water announced its own half-billion-pound investment in its wastewater system to protect beaches and waterways from spills and debris.


In July, the Welsh government hosted a summit on river pollution to discuss possible solutions to the problem, with specific reference to phosphorus pollution in Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) rivers. Representatives from government, farming, food producers, the building industry, water companies, regulators and environmental agencies came together to agree areas of action. The Welsh government announced it is investing £40m over the next three years to tackle river pollution and to protect our environment, £10m to support farmers, and £227m over the next three years to support farmers, foresters, land managers and food businesses. Measures agreed include nutrient offsetting and the development of nature-based solutions.

Northern Ireland

In 2021, Northern Ireland put out a consultation for its third River Basin Management Plan. The second plan ran between 2015 and 2021, and it was reported that “Since the last River Basin Management Plan was published in 2015 the status of our water bodies has remained virtually unchanged, with 38% being at ‘good or better’ status, compared to 37% of bodies in 2015”. The third plan came into force at the beginning of 2022 with the aim of dealing “with the significant pressures on the water environment”, owing to the pressures of agriculture and wastewater.

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