B7. Surface water status


Type: State Indicator


Indicator Description

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) is an important mechanism for assessing and managing the water environment in the EU, through a six yearly cycle of planning and implementing measures to protect and improve the water environment.  This indicator shows the percentage of surface water bodies in each status class and the change in the percentage of water bodies in the UK awarded a good or high surface water status class under the WFD.  Around 10,000 water body assessments are included each year of the indicator; including rivers, canals, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters.



There was a decrease in the overall number of water bodies awarded high or good surface water status between 2011 and 2016.  In 2011, 37% of surface water bodies were assessed under the Water Framework Directive (WFD) in the UK as being in high or good status, falling to 35% in 2016; the indicator is therefore assessed as declining in the short term.


Figure B7i.  Status classification of UK surface water bodies under the Water Framework Directive, 2009 to 2016.

Figure B7i. Status classification of UK surface water bodies under the Water Framework Directive, 2009 to 2016.


  1. Based on numbers of surface water bodies classified under the Water Framework Directive in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  Includes rivers, canals (Northern Ireland does not report on canals), lakes, estuaries and coastal water bodies.
  2. A water body is a management unit, as defined by the relevant authorities.
  3. The results published each year relate to data reported in that year under the Water Framework Directive, data reported in a given year relates to data collected over the previous year. From 2016, England, Wales and Northern Ireland have moved to a triennial reporting system, Wales and Northern Ireland reported in 2015 and will report next in 2018, England reported in 2016 and will report next in 2019. As classifications are valid until they are next assessed (which could be 1, 3 or 6 years), for years where a country does not report their latest available data is carried forward, as it is still valid.
  4. The percentage of water bodies in each status class has been calculated based on the total number of water bodies assessed in each year.
  5. Number of water body assessments included varies slightly from year to year: 10,832 water body assessments were included in 2009; 10,761 in 2010; 10,782 in 2011; 10,704 in 2012; 10,763 in 2013; 10,799 in 2014; 10,379 in 2015 and 9,297 in 2016. This reduction in the number assessed in 2016 was primarily due England moving to cycle 2, and the removal of a number of water bodies that were below the 10km2 catchment area in line with guidance.
  6. Water bodies that are heavily modified or artificial (HMAWBs) are included in this indicator alongside natural water bodies.  HMAWBs are classified as good, moderate, poor or bad ‘ecological potential’.  Results have been combined; for example, the number of water bodies with a high status class has been added to the number of HMAWBs with high ecological potential.

Source: Department of the Environment Northern Ireland, Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Environment Protection Agency.


Assessment of change in status of UK surface water bodies


Long term

Short term

Latest year

Percentage of UK surface water bodies
in 'High' or 'Good' ecological status

2010 indicator - insufficient or no comparable data

 2010 indicator declining2011–2016

No change (2016)


The WFD specifies the quality elements that can be used to assess the surface water status of a water body. Quality elements can be biological (e.g. fish, invertebrates, plants), chemical (e.g. heavy metals, pesticides, nutrients) or indicators of the condition of the habitats and water flows and levels (e.g. presence of barriers to fish migration, modelled lake level data).  Classifications indicate where the quality of the environment is good, where it may need improvement and what may need to be improved.  They can also be used, over the years, to plan improvements, show trends and monitor progress.

The ecological status of UK surface water bodies is a measure that looks at both the biological and habitat condition status of a water body.

Some small differences exist in the way the administrations and environment agencies implement the methods and tools for assessing water body status.

The introduction of new WFD monitoring data and classification standards (including a new baseline adopting all of the new standards, tools, designations and water body boundaries) in 2014 has led to a step change in the number of water bodies assessed as being in each status class in following years.  The formal reporting of new standards in cycle 2 of WFD has used the second cycle plans published in 2015.  The introduction of reporting the cycle 2 standards has differed amongst the UK countries (see background section for more detail).


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Last updated: August 2017

Latest data available: 2016