Bridging the gap between policy and regulation: new assessment tools for implementing the EU Water Framework Directive
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Dundee
Unit of AssessmentGeography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology
Summary Impact TypePolitical
Research Subject Area(s)
Environmental Sciences: Environmental Science and Management
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Summary of the impact
Research by Rowan and ERG colleagues Black, Bragg,
Cutler, Duck has addressed the science and policy challenges
faced by statutory authorities meeting their duty to implement the EU
Water Framework Directive (WFD) 2000. Assessing the sensitivity of aquatic
systems to physical, chemical and biological pressures is the central
theme, and through a series of commissioned projects funded by UK
environment and conservation agencies, the research has:
- Developed new assessment tools used by statutory regulators to
characterise the degree of flow alteration and physical modification to
rivers and lakes;
- Developed the lake habitat survey (LHS) method, complete with
accreditation programme, incorporated as best-practice in a CEN European
- Been translated directly into legally-binding and currently used
environmental standards across the UK and Ireland (through new enabling
- Informed regulatory practices across Europe, particularly in Italy,
Poland, France, Norway, Serbia and Montenegro.
The introduction of the EU Water Framework Directive in 2000 is widely
regarded as the most important environmental legislation introduced in
Europe for a generation. Whilst politically ambitious, implementation is
very challenging due to gaps in basic data and limited understanding of
how rivers and lake respond to multiple pressures.
Since 1999 the Environment Research Group (represented by Black,
Bragg, Cutler, Duck and Rowan) has
undertaken a series of research projects (c. £0.5M) commissioned on behalf
of statutory UK and Irish environment agencies. Early funding to Black
et al. (2000) developed a modelling framework (DHRAM) quantifying
the extent to which river flows and lake water levels deviate from natural
due to water use pressures3. Black et al.
(2002) developed guidance for determining when the degree of change would
qualify as `heavily modified' and hence management targets would
have alternative environmental objectives. These studies highlighted the
absence of robust field methodologies and decision support tools leading
to development of the Lake Habitat Survey over three phased projects (Rowan
et al. 2003-2010). This research developed a comprehensive survey
scheme, extensively tested by statutory regulators across the UK, Ireland,
Italy, Poland, France, Norway, Serbia and Montenegro5,6.
The absence of established evidence linking physical impairment to loss of
ecological function required the adoption of risk-based approaches,
including an important role for expert solicitation to define thresholds
of change3,4. Acreman et al. (2008) used
workshops and practitioner-based focus groups to define environmental
standards for how much water can be abstracted from rivers without
unacceptable risk to biota and to set statutory guidance on environmental
flow releases from dams1,2. A similar approach was taken
by Rowan et al. (2012) in setting thresholds of physical
modification in the Lake-MImAS classification and decision-support tool7.
This research was published under the auspices of the UK Technical
Advisory Group (UKTAG) following extensive peer-review and a formal public
consultation process before the results were translated (transposed) into
legally-binding environmental standards. Overall this was ground-breaking
research, with a strong co-production ethos required because the policy
aspirations of the legislation were ahead of the science base.
References to the research
1. Acreman, M.C. and 13 co-authors inc. Black, A.R. 2008.
Developing environmental standards for abstractions from UK rivers to
implement the EU Water Framework Directive. Hydrological Sciences
Journal, 53, 1105-1120. DOI: 10.1623/hysj.53.6.1105
2. Acreman, M.C. and 15 co-authors inc. Black, A.R. 2009.
Environmental flows from dams: The Water Framework Directive. Proc.
Inst. of Civil Engineers: Engineering Sustainability, 162, 13-22. DOI:
3. Black, A.R., Rowan, J.S., Duck, R.W., Bragg,
O.M. and Clelland, B.E. 2005. DHRAM: a method for classifying river
flow regime alterations for the EC Water Framework Directive. Aquatic
Conservation — Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 15, 427-466. DOI:
4. Bragg, O. M., Black, A. R., Duck, R. W. & Rowan, J. S.
2005. Approaching the physical-biological interface in rivers: a review
of methods for ecological evaluation of flow regimes. Progress in
Physical Geography, 29, 506-531. DOI:
5. CEN 2011. Comité Européen de Normalisation (European Standards
Agency). Water Quality — Guidance Standard on assessing the
hydromorphological features of lakes. EN16039:E, pp. 39. (lead
author Rowan, J.S.).
6. Rowan, J.S., Carwardine, J., Duck, R.W.,
Bragg, O.M., Black, A.R., Cutler, M.E.J., Soutar,
I. and Boon, P.J. 2006. Development of a technique for Lake Habitat
Survey (LHS) with applications for the European Union Water Framework
Directive. Aquatic Conservation — Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems,
16, 637-657. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.786
7. Rowan, J.S., Grieg, S.J., Armstrong, C.T., Smith, D.C. and
Tierney, D. 2012. Development of a hydromorphological classification and
regulatory decision-support tool for lakes. Environmental Modelling
and Software, 36, 86-98. DOI: 10.1016/j.envsoft.2011.09.006
Selected Funding and Underpinning Research
£2.4 M GLOBOLakes (Global Observatory of lake responses to environmental
change). NERC Consortium Grant (NE/J02211X/1) with Universities of
Stirling, Glasgow, Edinburgh, CEH & NEODASS. CI, £397k to Dundee
(2012-2015). Cutler (PI), Rowan & Dawson.
£20 k Assessing the legacy of historic mining on the hydromorphology and
ecology of the Loch Fitty catchment. Funded by Scottish Coal (2010-2011),
£16 k Developing a lake hydromorphology typology for the UK. Funded by
SNIFFER (2009-2010), SNIFFER Report WFD104 (2010), Rowan (PI).
£142 k Development of a method of Lake Habitat Survey. Funded by SNIFFER
(2004-2010). Reports WFD40 (2004), WFD42 (2006), WFD99 (2008) Rowan
(PI), Black, Bragg, Cutler & Duck.
£22 k Development of a European Water Quality Guidance Standard on lake
hydro-morphological assessment. Funded by the British Standards
Institution (2007-2009), Rowan (PI).
£45 k Development of decision-making frameworks for managing alterations
to the morphology of lakes. Funded by SNIFFER (2005-2009), SNIFFER Reports
WFD49a (2005) and WFD49f (2008). Rowan (PI).
£65 k Development of environmental standards (water resources) for rivers
and lakes. Joint award between CEH Wallingford and Dundee. Funded by
SNIFFER (2004-2005), SNIFFER Report WFD48 (2006). Acreman (PI) et al.
CEH, Black, Rowan & Bragg.
£13 k Hydromorphology of lake systems in the UK. Funded by SNIFFER
(2002-2003), SNIFFER Report WFD06 (2003). Duck (PI), Rowan
£77 k Assessing Heavily Modified Waters in Scotland. Funded by SNIFFER
(2001-2002), SNIFFER Reports SR11A-D (2002) Black (PI), Rowan,
Duck & Bragg.
£34 k Anthropogenic impacts upon the hydrology of rivers and lochs: phase
1. CI, funded by SNIFFER (1999-2000), SNIFFER Report SR01 (2000) Black
(PI), Rowan, Duck & Bragg.
Details of the impact
With respect to the water resources (WFD48, 2006) and hydromorphological
alteration (WFD49f, 2008) projects, the legislative obligations to
implement the WFD meant that the commissioned research was rigorously
peer-reviewed, and refined through public and stakeholder consultation,
before being transposed into legally-binding environmental standards1,2.
These are published under the auspices of the UK Technical Advisory Group
(UKTAG), which is responsible for harmonising WFD implementation across
the devolved administrations. Rowan served as an invited
hydromorphology expert in its Lakes Task Team during the period 2006-2010.
The significance of the Dundee-based research is its adoption into
regulatory practice and how it informs on-going policy development. In
relation to environmental flows and lake hydromorphology findings adopted
in UKTAG 2008a&b: "UKTAG believes the proposals in this report are
based on the most robust assessment possible, given current scientific
understanding. Our report aims to advise the UK administrations on the
standards and conditions that we believe the environment agencies should
use for the first River Basin Management Plans" (UKTAG, 2008b, p.
17). These standards were used to "help guide decisions on the
management of lakes" (p. 54). Lake-MImAS tool was adopted for
classification and impact assessment in the six-yearly cycle of statutory
River Basin Management Plans3and implemented through new
enabling legislation, e.g. Statutory Rules Northern Ireland 2011, making
its use legally binding for all current and future lake
management activities within the devolved administrations, as well as in
the Republic of Ireland4,5,10,11,12,13.
A key element in the dissemination of the Lake Habitat Survey was the
development of an accredited training programme for environment and
conservation agency staff6. Field-based training
workshops, typically running for three days, were held throughout the UK
(e.g. Lake Windermere 2008, Lough Neagh 2010) as well as internationally
(Novi Sad, Serbia 2008 and Lago Maggiore, Italy 2009). In total, more than
60 environment and conservation agency staff (SEPA, EA, NIEA and EPA) were
trained and achieved accreditation by Rowan (with inputs from
Research Assistants Bragg, Soutar and Carwardine).
A number of academics, graduate students and external commercial
consultants were also trained7. Dissemination was also
achieved through a series of international workshops and field
demonstrations, e.g. Rowan was invited to CEN Mainz 2011; CNR
Maggiore 2009; CEN Vienna 2008; UKTAG Dunadry 2008; JNCC Edinburgh 2008.
The international dimension of our research impact is also evident
through the translation of our lake research into the 2011 European
Committee for Standardisation (CEN) Water Quality — Guidance standard
on assessing the hydromorphological features of lakes (EN16039),
which endorsed the Lake Habitat Survey as the only internationally proven
method trialled by statutory authorities in the UK, Ireland, Netherlands,
Italy, France, Portugal, Poland, Norway, Spain, Serbia and Montenegro8.
EN16039 was ratified in 2011 through a formal weighted-voting procedure
involving all 34 CEN national member states and thereafter translated into
French and German. Supported by the British Standards Institution, Rowan
led the development of what is now the de facto standard method
across Europe10. The significance of standards is that
they are "...one of the most important issues for businesses...
crucial in facilitating trade... A standard represents a model
specification, a technical solution against which a market can trade. It
codifies best practice and is usually state of the art". The
standard is available in the UK as BS EN 16039:201, published by the
British Standards Institution9.
The research programme has generated a suite of characterisation,
monitoring and assessment tools accompanied by an accredited training
programme to promote quality assurance and the adoption of common
standards across all of the environment agencies of the UK and Ireland.
Research outputs disseminated through a series of commissioned reports,
academic papers and stakeholder engagement activities have been drawn
formally into UK and Irish statutes, and more widely proven in an
international context through the CEN Guidance Standard. The impacts
discussed have occurred throughout the current 2008-2013 REF period, and
indeed are on-going and will be used in the forthcoming round of River
Basin Management Plans within the UK and Ireland.
Sources to corroborate the impact
The following links confirm the transposition and on-going application of
Dundee lake hydromorphology research directly into national
- UKTAG 2008a. UK Environmental Standards and Conditions (Phase 1) (SR1
- UKTAG 2008b. UK Environmental Standards and Conditions (Phase 2) (SR1
- Northern Ireland Environment Agency. 2010. River Basin Management
- Statutory Rules of Northern Ireland 2011 No. 10 Environmental
Protection The Water Framework Directive (Priority Substances and
Classification) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011(http://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2011/10/made).
- EPA (Environmental Protection Agency Ireland) 2011. Water
Framework Status Update based on Monitoring Results 2007-2009.
Ecological Status and Chemical Status of Surface Waters and Chemical and
Quantitative Status of Groundwaters. Prepared in fulfilment of Articles
24 and 25 of SI 272 of 2009. ISBN: 978-1-84095-406-7
- SNIFFER 2008. Lake Habitat Survey in the United Kingdom. Development
of a method of Lake Habitat Survey (LHS): Phase 3 (http://www.sniffer.org.uk/search?q=wfd99).
- Testimonial highlighting importance of being one of the few commercial
consultants outside of the statutory authorities to have LHS
- European Committee for Standardisation. Website listing the
availability of CEN Water Quality — Guidance standard on assessing
the hydromorphological features of lakes (EN16039), Standard BS EN
- BS EN 16039:2011. Water quality. Guidance standard on assessing
the hydromorphological features of lakes, September 2011, ISBN 978
0 580 69599 5
- Head of Ecosystems & Biodiversity Unit, Scottish Natural Heritage.
- Evidence Scientist, Environment Agency, England.
- Senior Scientific Officer, Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
- Senior Scientific Officer, Environmental Protection Agency, Office of
Environmental Assessment, Dublin, Ireland.