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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 6-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 classification and assesses the change in the percentage of water bodies in the UK awarded a good or high surface water status classification under the WFD. Around 10,000 water body assessments are included in the indicator each year; including rivers, canals, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters.


  1. Summary


There has been a small decrease in the overall number of surface water bodies in the UK awarded high or good ecological status since the indicator was first prepared in 2009 and a similar decrease in the short term, between 2013 and 2018 (Figure B7i). In 2018, 35% of surface water bodies were assessed under the Water Framework Directive (WFD) as being in high or good status compared with 36% in 2009 and 37% in 2013.

Figure B7i. Status classification of UK surface water bodies under the Water Framework Directive, 2009 to 2018.

A 100% stacked bar chart showing how the status classifications of UK surface water bodies have changed between 2009 and 2018. Although there have been small year-on-year changes in the percentages of UK surface water bodies classified as high, good, moderate, poor and bad, the overall breakdown has remained relatively stable since 2009. In 2018, 5% of surface water bodies in the UK were assessed under the EU Water Framework Directive as high, 31% as good, 47% as moderate, 15% as poor and 3% as bad.


  1. Based on numbers of surface water bodies classified under the Water Framework Directive (WFD) 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. 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 classification has been added to the number of HMAWBs with high ecological potential.
  4. The results published each year relate to data reported in that year under the WFD; data reported in a given year relate to data collected over the previous year (for Scotland) and previous 3-year period (for England, Wales and Northern Ireland). From 2016, England, Wales and Northern Ireland have moved to a triennial reporting system. Wales and Northern Ireland reported in 2018 and will report next in 2021; England reported in 2016 and will report next in late 2019. Classifications are valid until they are next assessed; therefore, for years where a country does not report, their latest available data are carried forward.
  5. The percentage of water bodies in each status classification has been calculated based on the total number of water bodies assessed in each year.
  6. The number of water body assessments included varies slightly from year to year: 10,835 water body assessments were included in 2009; 10,763 were included in 2010; 10,783 in 2011; 10,705 in 2012; 10,764 in 2013; 10,799 in 2014; 10,379 in 2015; 9,297 in 2016; 9,298 in 2017; and 9,300 in 2018. These figures were revised for the 2017 publication.
  7. The reductions in the number of assessments made in 2015 were due to England, Wales and Northern Ireland adopting the monitoring and classification standards laid down in cycle 2 of the WFD. This means that data from 2014 onwards (when Scotland adopted the cycle 2 monitoring and classification standards) are not directly comparable to those in earlier years.

Source: Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs for 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


No change (2018)

Note: The short-term assessment is based on a 3% rule of thumb. The base year for this assessment uses a 3-year average. See Assessing Indicators.



Download the Fiche and Datasheet from the JNCC Resource Hub

 Last updated: September 2019

Latest data available: 2018



UK Biodiversity Indicators 2019

Published: .

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