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 is composed of several metrics including: percentage of water tests meeting good (or better) Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2017 (the WFD regulations) 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. Some of these data relating to protected sites are also included in ‘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 2021 in a finalised form. A revised interim indicator is presented here as an Experimental Statistic. This expands on previous reporting to show data across the water environment. It includes metrics from the WFD Regulations status tests for (a) surface water bodies (rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters); (b) groundwaters; and (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. There are many more elements assessed and tests undertaken; this represents a snapshot of the complete WFD Regulations dataset. Supporting detail for each of the water types and a more detailed dashboard of data are available in the Evidence Pack. These data are being published as an Experimental Statistic in order 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 work with partners continue to develop our approach for future reporting. Source data are currently published WFD element status; protected area data; State of the environment: water quality report.

Trend description

a) For surface waters (including rivers, lakes, estuaries and coasts)

16% of surface water bodies met the “one out all out” 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. Saltmarsh is shown for estuaries and coasts and reflects the extent of habitat and show 36% and 50% of water bodies monitored, pass the test respectively.

b) Groundwaters

75% passing quantitative tests and 45% pass chemical (qualitative) tests.

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

52% of surface water areas and 53% of groundwater drinking water protected areas are not at risk of deterioration. For protected nature sites, 46% are at favourable condition and 47% are in an unfavourable but recovering condition.


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
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
  • 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

11 June 2021