Water Restoration Fund ‘just a fraction’ of what is needed

The government’s latest efforts to improve UK waterways have been heavily criticised by the Rivers Trust.

The Trust has taken umbrage to the introduction of a Water Restoration Fund by the Department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra), claiming that it is not big enough to make a difference and has been implemented poorly.

The fund is worth £11 million and will support local groups, farmers, landowners and community-led schemes in the regions where pollution incidents have damaged waterways.

The £11 million has been sourced directly from fines and penalties levied at water and sewerage companies for pollution incidents since April 2022.

However, the Rivers Trust slated the fund is “just a fraction” of what it will cost to restore waterways.

When the Water Restoration Fund was first announced in November 2022, government referred to the £141 million that had been secured in prosecutions since 2015, however it will only include fines issued since April 2022.

River Trust chief executive Mark Lloyd, said: “What’s more, it is hard to see how this fund will improve the health of our waterways as the government claims, when it is entirely resourced from water company fines and therefore relies on environmental damage happening in the first place.”

Lloyd also expressed disappointment that the scheme was rolled out “without warning and consulting with stakeholders” and called for a major boost in funding and resources to enable an integrated approach to land and water management.

The £11 million includes fines paid by: Anglian (£3 million); South West (£2.1 million); Thames (£3.3 million); United Utilities (£800,000); Yorkshire (£1.6 million).

The money will be available as grant funding that groups can bid on for projects that improve the water environment such as biodiversity and community access to blue and green spaces.

Environment secretary Steve Barclay said: “I will be making sure that money from fines and penalties – taken from water company profits only – is channelled directly back into our waterways.”

He praised community-led projects as vital to improving and maintaining water quality across the country.

Natural England’s chief executive Marian Spain was more optimistic about the difference the money could make.

She said: “The fund is great opportunity for landowners, communities and nature bodies to help make a real difference to the condition of our Sites of Special Scientific Interest and to restore natural processes in catchments to provide the nature and health benefits that society needs from water.”

The largest fine the Environment Agency has dished out to date was £90 million in July 2021 to Southern Water, which will not be included in the fund.

Applicants from organisations in England, including farmers and landowners, eNGOs, Local Authorities, catchment partnerships, National Parks and National Landscapes can apply from today for eight weeks for funding.