The WaterLIFE project began in 2014 and ran for 3 years, funded through the EU’s LIFE+ Programme for the Environment and implemented by WWF, The Rivers Trust and Westcountry Rivers Trust. 

Rivers really are the lifeblood of the country and yet, throughout Europe, they are under threat. WaterLIFE tackled some of the major issues and challenges blocking these water bodies achieving Good Ecological Status in 5 demonstration catchments. More information can be found in the factsheets by clicking on the map.


In addition to these Demonstration Catchments, WaterLIFE also worked with the government, Defra and its agencies, regulators such as Ofwat, water companies and other e-NGOs to develop and define appropriate policy enabling conditions: new or amended legislation, statutory guidance or other mechanisms that, when implemented, could enhance collaborative delivery of the Water Framework Directive.  This policy work was led by WWF and had a focus on chalk streams: the crystal-clear, havens for wildlife rivers characteristic of southern and eastern England.  This film is an evocation of a landscape and habitat unique to England. 

The current state of England’s Chalk Streams was captured in a report, which also set out a Manifesto to conserve and enhance chalk streams by:

  • Reducing abstraction.
  • Decreasing pollution;
  • Reviving natural river processes.
  • Improving habitat.
  • Promoting better river management.

Project Highlights

  • Strengthened and grew the Catchment Based Approach, including hosting a high-level, and very well received, WaterLIFE Final Conference. This saw over 120 delegates come together from government agencies, businesses and communities to celebrate five years of the CaBA.
  • Generated an announcement at this Conference from the Water Minister, Thérèse Coffey MP, that the government would invest £6.3 million in catchment partnership working and the water environment.
  • Enabled the five WaterLIFE demonstration catchment partnerships to leverage at least £3 million in additional funding into their catchments, from a range of public and private sector sources.
  • Built liaison and collaborative working between catchment partnerships within river basins; as well as engaging “non-usual” organisations in catchment issues - such as Local Enterprise Partnerships on flooding issues.
  • Enhanced business stewardship of the water environment, including the establishment of the development phase for a new CaBA Water Stewardship Service to support business engagement with catchment partnerships.
  • Developed recommendations to re-shape water abstraction policy, with a particular focus on England’s unique chalk stream: gaining a commitment from government to seek to implement these recommendations through primary or secondary legislation.
  • Developed innovative catchment-scale initiatives in the five demonstration catchments – ranging from data platforms and sediment fingerprinting to profile-raising catchment branding.
  • Drove regional and national knowledge exchange through a range of approaches, including the development of river-basin wide information platforms. This resulted in a stronger, more informed and more empowered Catchment Based Approach initiative.
  • Better understood how to engage local people with their local rivers; through initiatives such as participatory websites and river festivals.
  • Worked with over 150 farm businesses in the five demonstration catchments to develop and implement “water-friendly farming” practices – such as silt traps, cover cropping and riparian fencing – to reduce diffuse agricultural pollution to water bodies.
  • Specifically in the Broadland Rivers and CamEO catchments, enabled on-farm changes in farming practice that will replenish over 750,000m³ of water back to the environment by summer 2018 that would otherwise run-off into rivers: a volume equivalent to 300 Olympic swimming pools!


Throughout WaterLIFE, we learnt what conditions are needed to achieve our vision of healthy rivers for people and nature. The WaterLIFE Declaration set out three principles to deliver these conditions.  By the end of the project, it was signed by over 100 businesses, government agencies, national NGOs, rivers trusts and catchment partnerships. 


The Catchment-Based Approach website is designed to showcase the work of catchment partnerships aross England and Wales and to encourage the sharing and adoption of best practice in stakeholder-led catchment managment planning, delivery and evaluation.
Email: info@catchmentbasedapproach.org


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