Information - This Indicator is an experimental statistic and has been published in order to facilitate user involvement in its development – information on how the data have been obtained and how the indicator has been prepared is available via the link(s) in the metadata below. We would welcome any feedback, particularly on the usefulness and value of this statistic, via 25YEPindicators@defra.gov.uk.

B3: State of the water environment

Interim Interim

Short description

This indicator takes a broad overview of the condition of the water environment; it relates to freshwater bodies, wetlands, groundwaters, estuaries and coastal waters. The indicator comprises several metrics including percentage of water tests meeting good (or better) status for ecology and chemistry, percentage of water bodies achieving good ecological status, and compliance of waters specially protected for specific uses such as drinking water abstraction and nature conservation. ‘Status’ refers to quality as measured under the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2017 (the WFD Regulations). Some of these data relating to protected sites are also included in indicator ‘D2 Extent and condition of protected sites – land, water and sea’. All the Water theme indicators are linked, but 2 indicators that are important to consider as part of the wider state of the water environment are ‘B4 Condition of bathing waters’ and ‘B6 Natural functions of water and wetland ecosystems’.

This indicator is not available for reporting in 2022 in a finalised form. A revised interim indicator is presented here as an experimental statistic that was first presented in 2021. It includes metrics from the WFD Regulations status tests for (a) surface water bodies (rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters) and (b) groundwaters; as well as additional metrics for (c) waters protected for a specific reason such as drinking waters and nature sites. For each water type, we include a representative element that is tested to assess the condition of a water body, reflecting water quality and/or hydromorphology (the physical character and water content in water bodies). There are many more elements assessed and tests undertaken; the data represent a snapshot of the complete WFD Regulations dataset. There are no new assessments included in the 2022 report.

Supporting detail for each of the water types and a more detailed dashboard of data are available on the updated B3 Evidence Pages. These data have been published as an experimental statistic to facilitate user involvement in the development of this indicator.

We would therefore welcome any feedback on these statistics, particularly on their usefulness and value, via 25YEPindicators@defra.gov.uk.

Further work is required to develop the indicator which may, for example, show change over time. We will continue to work with partners to develop our approach for future reporting. Data and evidence will begin to come from different sources as Environment Agency monitoring networks are updated as part of the Natural Capital Ecosystem Assessment development. Piloting and rollout of new networks has begun, and data will start to feed into indicator reporting from 2023. Existing source data are currently published (WFD element status , protected area data, State of the environment and the water quality report).

Trend description for Figures B3a, B3b and B3c

B3a) Surface waters (including rivers, lakes, estuaries and coasts)

In total, 16% of surface water bodies met all the relevant criteria of the WFD Regulations in 2019. For rivers, invertebrates and the combined test for macrophytes and phytobenthos (plants and algae) are reported to indicate biological quality, where 76% and 45% of tests carried out passed for the water bodies assessed, respectively. For lakes, the representative biological element shown is phytoplankton with 52% of water bodies assessed passing. For estuaries and coasts saltmarsh is used to reflect the extent and quality of habitat; results show 36% and 50% of water bodies monitored pass the test, respectively.

B3b) Groundwaters

In 2019, 75% of groundwaters passed quantitative tests and 45% passed chemical (qualitative) tests.

B3c) Sites specially protected for specific uses such as drinking water abstraction and nature conservation

In 2019 to 2020, 52% of surface water and 53% of groundwater areas (sites) protected for drinking water abstraction were assessed as not being at risk of deterioration. For protected nature sites, 46% were in favourable condition and 47% were in an unfavourable but recovering condition in 2019.

Assessment of change

No assessment of change was undertaken for this indicator as a suitable time series is not yet available in the Outcome Indicator Framework.


Choose categories from the dropdowns below to see different breakdowns of the data. Some will not be available until a higher level is chosen.

This table provides metadata for the interim or final indicator presented above.

Indicator name

State of the water environment

Indicator reference


Outcome Indicator Framework theme


Headline indicator status

Water and water environment

Relevant goal(s) in the 25 Year Environment Plan
  • Clean and plentiful water
  • Thriving plants and wildlife
Relevant target(s) in the 25 Year Environment Plan
  • Improving at least three-quarters of our waters to be close to their natural state
  • Reaching or exceeding objectives for rivers, lakes, coastal and ground waters that are specially protected, whether for biodiversity or drinking water as per our River Basin Management Plans
  • Restoring 75% of our one million hectares of terrestrial and freshwater protected sites to favourable condition, securing their wildlife value for the long term
  • Reversing the loss of marine biodiversity and, where practicable, restoring it
Position in the natural capital framework
  • Condition of assets - freshwater
  • Condition of assets - seas
  • Condition of assets - species and ecological communities
Related reporting commitments
  • Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2017
  • Water Framework Directive (Standards and Classification) Directions (England and Wales) 2015
  • Reporting under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended) for water dependent sites
  • Reporting under the Marine Strategy Regulations 2010 and the assessment of Good Environmental Status in Regional Seas
  • Reporting under the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) convention 1992 and associated Annexes
  • May provide evidence in support of Climate Change Risk Assessment under the Climate Change Act (2008)
  • Relevant to the Sustainable Development Goal 6.3.2 – Proportion of bodies of water with good ambient water quality
Geographic scope

England; data at site, water body, catchment and river basin district level are also available.

Status of indicator development


Date last updated May 19, 2022