Rivers under the spotlight

Our rivers are one of our most important natural resources – they provide water to drink, homes for wildlife, places to enjoy and sustain livelihoods. But the pressures upon them are great. Climate change, declining biodiversity, and the way we all live today are all real challenges to the health of our rivers.

Our aim is to improve and sustain the health of our rivers. We want to protect our most environmentally important rivers and ensure that they are healthy for future generations.

The picture of progress towards our aim is mixed – some things are better; some are worse, and others have stayed about the same. Not all rivers and water bodies are facing issues at the same scale.

  • The Water Framework Directive classification that we published last year showed that 40% of 933 water bodies are at good or better status. This represents an improvement of 3% from that reported in 2015 and an 8% improvement since 2009.
  • The bathing waters around our coasts are in a much better state than they were twenty years ago. In 2021 100% met or exceeded the minimum standard for the fourth year in a row, with nearly 75% achieving the Excellent standard.
  • However, there are too many pollution incidents from both from incidents and from diffuse sources and the way we all live today has a huge impact on the water quality in our rivers.

It is not an issue for NRW or one sector alone. Everyone has a role to play in terms of changing behaviours. Collectively we need to develop long term, catchment-scale solutions to contribute to healthy rivers. We need to rethink how we manage nutrients in agricultural land and how we treat wastewater, as well as how we can establish practical, nature-based solutions such as river restoration programmes, that can both improve water quality and habitat but also reduce nutrient inputs.

As an organisation, we’re doing everything we can within the resources and legal powers that we have at our disposal to improve water quality. These include:

  • Expecting the water companies to reduce pollution, tackle the areas of biggest concern like storm overflows, and invest in an improved water environment: the companies are putting in £30m over the next five years to do that.
  • A team of agriculture officers are carrying out pollution control visits across Wales offering advice and guidance to farmers, helping ensure they are compliant with legislation and reduce the risk of pollution.
  • More than nine million pounds will be invested into bringing four Welsh rivers into good condition through the 4Rivers4LIFE project. An estimated 500km of the Teifi, Cleddau, Tywi and Usk will be improved. This builds on the LIFE Dee River project and we’re developing a similar programme for the Wye too.
  • We have a programme of projects and grant funding on river restoration, fisheries and metal mine remediation – all of these will help deliver improved water quality.
  • Responding to environmental incidents to stop and reverse damage to our rivers and prosecuting the most serious polluters.
  • Working with partners on actions from our River Basin Management Plans.

We are asked questions every day about our work to protect Wales’ rivers, and we’ve set out some responses to some of the most common questions.

Explore more

Newsletter sign up

Sign up to receive monthly updates from Natural Resources Wales