Better Thames Network


The Better Thames Network is a research project maintained by the University of Westminster. Visit our parent site at:


The Water Framework Directive (WFD) is the most important piece of legislation for management and protection of natural water resources in the E.U.,

promoting sustainable water use, conserving habitats and progressively reducing pollutants that present a significant threat to the aquatic environment. At its core, the WFD has a set of demanding targets that aim to prevent deterioration in the status of aquatic ecosystems, protect them and improve the ecological condition of waters. 

There is a requirement under the WFD to achieve at least good overall status for most water bodies in the E.U. by 2015. This is to be achieved through an integrated risk assessment and risk management approach. Implementation of the WFD is done at a regional, catchment (or river basin) level. For each river basin (such as the Thames) a River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) has been published by the Environment Agency that describes the catchment, the pressures (e.g. point or diffuse sources of pollution) that impinge on it, the risks these pose for achieving the good status target, and measures that can be taken to manage such risks and achieve the environmental objectives. 

The Thames River Basin District covers an area of 16,133 km2, from the source of the River Thames in Gloucestershire through London to the North Sea. The eastern and northern parts of the river basin district are heavily urbanised whereas the area to the west of London has considerable areas of rural land interspersed with small towns and cities located in tributary headwater catchments (e.g. Banbury, Oxford, Swindon and Basingstoke). The River Thames is itself an important water source, providing two-thirds of London’s drinking water. Groundwater is also very important, providing around 40 per cent of public water supplies, emphasising the need to maintain and improve such water bodies. Even though the district is one of the most densely populated and urbanised parts of the UK, agriculture is one of the most important industries, with 35% of the district classified as arable.

The Environment Agency aims to achieve an additional  two per cent improvement to surface waters across England and Wales above the current level by 2015, but many stakeholders have urged the EA to be more ambitious. For the scientific community, and in particular those who live and work in and around the catchment, the challenge is what they can do to improve this prognosis. 

Integrated river basin planning is a new approach within the UK, and requires an understanding of the environmental issues and technologies that might be used to monitor and remediate water bodies. Classification of water status under the WFD involves a wider range of elements than previous monitoring and classification schemes, and since many of the key pressures are complex and occur in combination, the reason for a failure of good ecological status is frequently uncertain or even unknown. 

By improving the quality of science underpinning the RBMP and addressing key knowledge gaps scientists, working with stakeholders, have strong potential to drive better environmental outcomes for the Thames catchment, specifically those water bodies which achieve status by 2015. This is the primary aim of the Better Thames Network.


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