WaterLIFE – Project overview

Organisation: WWF

Location: National

Type: Case Studies & Projects

The WaterLIFE project, which ran from 2014 to 2017, sought to tackle some of the big issues hindering our rivers being classed as healthy, such as over-abstraction, pollution and unsustainable management. It did this by:

  • Working with decision-makers to make sure the right conditions are in place nationally.
  • Building capacity and expertise in five demonstration catchments across the UK to support the delivery of collaborative and innovative water management.
  • Working in partnership with business, civil society and other key stakeholders to drive greater collaboration and understanding of the benefits to all sectors that can be realised.
  • Upscaling the catchment-level initiatives both regionally and nationally to drive wider collaboration and knowledge exchange.
  • Proving the success of partnership working through capturing the environmental, social and economic benefits that it realises.

Everyone – communities, business and nature – relies on clean water. This means our rivers, lakes and streams must be managed sustainably so that they can continue to provide for all – from farmers who need water to irrigate their crops to kingfishers who rely on fish for their food. However, we are not managing our water environment sustainably, and that is what WaterLIFE sought to tackle.


Less than one-fifth of rivers in England are classed as healthy.

Globally, 81% of freshwater species are in decline.

Here in the UK, 13% of freshwater species are threatened with extinction.

Nearly one quarter of rivers in England are at risk from unsustainable abstraction.

Where We Worked

Between 2014-2017, WaterLIFE worked in five demonstration catchments across England and Wales.

In three catchments – Soar, Camlad and Tamar – WaterLIFE worked with individuals and community groups to strengthen their understanding and awareness, enabling them to fully engage and helping to improve their rivers.

In the remaining two catchments – Broadland Rivers and Cam and Ely Ouse – WaterLIFE worked to secure business commitment to the water stewardship approach.

Click below to view the highlights of what WaterLIFE achieved.


River Tamar Demonstration Catchment

The primary pressures in the catchment relate to its livestock-focused agriculture, with widespread elevated levels of phosphorus and sediment.

Read the case study

Broadlands Demonstration Catchment

Over half of Broadland rivers have been physically modified – often as a result of historic flood defence, land drainage or milling activities.

Read the case study

Camlad Demonstration Catchment

The primary pressures in the catchment relate to its livestock-focused agriculture, with widespread elevated levels of phosphorus and sediment.

Read the case study

Soar Demonstration Catchment

With increasing urbanisation, and due to the modified watercourses being over-wide, over-deep and separated from their flood plain, the Soar is prone to flooding.

Read case study

Why Is Collaboration Important?

WaterLIFE was a collaborative project. Whilst regulation has a critical role to play within land and water management, it alone cannot address the breadth and complexity of the issues or fully realise the full range of environmental, societal and economic benefits that can be achieved. To do so requires a collaborative approach that engages all sectors of society, including businesses, civil society and local authorities.

Collaborative working means that a diverse range of funds can be tapped, enabling partnerships to get more for less and deliver benefits for people and the environment. A partnership approach also brings local knowledge and expertise to bear and encourages individuals, organisations and communities to take ownership of issues. Working collaboratively can also resolve conflicting viewpoints, bringing about improvement through consensus rather than legislation.

The Water Declaration

Throughout WaterLIFE, we learnt what conditions are needed to achieve our vision of healthy rivers for people and nature. The WaterLIFE Declaration set out three principles to deliver these conditions.  By the end of the project, it was signed by over 100 businesses, government agencies, national NGOs, rivers trusts and catchment partnerships.

evidence example

Engaging Local Communities In River Health

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ERRC Vienna

Engaging Business In The Water Environment

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Influencing Decision Makers & Legistaltion

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There would be an £8.5bn boost for the economy if three quarters of our rivers and lakes were healthy.

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