Public Attitudes and Water briefing note

Public Attitudes and Water briefing note

Project Summary

The ‘Rethinking Water – Public Insights’ survey conducted by QaResearch was commissioned to support the development of the Environment Agency strategic approach to water.

The research aims to understand:

  • How the public interacts with the water environment
  • Views, opinions, preferences, concerns and wants regarding the water environment at both a Local and National scale.
  • Public perception of the link between climate change and the water environment
  • Which organisations do the public trust to understand and represent their local needs
  • Behaviour, the need for behaviour change, which route for education would be the most effective to influence behaviour change.


  • Online surveys with 1492 adults in England in February/March 2023. Boost sample of 203 surveys to capture views of ‘Frequent Water Contact’ sub-sample. 102 Face-to-face interviews to include non-internet users. All data combined and weighted according to Region, Age, Gender, SEG and Ethnicity to ensure a representative sample of Adults in England.
  • 12 Depth interviews to explore issues and add depth to the survey data. Quotas set on region, recreational use, Age, Gender, Social Grade, Ethnicity, digitally disengaged.


  • Adults in England are engaged with the water environment. A substantial proportion (c.17%) frequently participate in activities that involve contact with the water. This sub-group tend to have more interest in the water environment.
  • The water environment is viewed as a relatively important priority for the country to fund. It is not viewed as highly as other national considerations, particularly funding health and social care.
  • There’s concern about a range of issues related to water, pollution in the water is of particular concern (whether visible or not). It seems likely that concern about water pollution to some degree reflects the high level of publicity about this issue in the media in the 12-18 months before the research.
  • There’s limited understanding regarding the complexities of the water environment (the causes of problems and how best to tackle them). There is a preference for making infrastructure changes and using the law, rather than approaches such as financial incentive for good management.
  • There’s limited understanding about the way local management structures operate. This in part reflects that people are happy to defer to experts about management of the water environment. People do want to have an opportunity to be involved in local decision making ‘as and when’ there’s a big decision likely to have an impact in their area, eg a new development proposal.
  • No single over-arching custodian of the water environment is identified. There is little consistency in who people would approach if they wanted to get involved locally. The wide range of organisations mentioned (Local councils, charities, water companies, EA) reflect the range of issues of concern, some being more appropriate for certain organisations than others.
  • Most recognise they can have an impact on the water environment, often considered only ‘small’. Despite this people are regularly taking action to help protect it e.g. what they flush and water conserving measures.
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