River Improvement Project

What is the River Improvement project and why is it happening?

The River Mease Partnership is working together to protect and improve the River Mease. The Mease is a lowland clay river supporting nationally significant populations of Spined Loach and Bullhead; it is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) to conserve and protect these rare species for the benefit of present and future generations. The treated wastewater discharges from Packington and Measham Sewage Treatment Works means the river does not flow naturally, and water quality is poorer.  

Natural England advises on what needs to be done to protect the river and restore the catchment to favourable status.  Natural England have determined the current condition of the River Mease SAC as unfavourable; they advise on what needs to be done to protect the river and restore it to favourable conservation status.

Natural England, the Environment Agency and Severn Trent are committed to making improvements. 

Severn Trent Water will be delivering a project to transfer the treated wastewater out of the catchment as part of the Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP). The primary role of the WINEP is to set out the actions water companies in England need to take to meet environmental legislative requirements.. The project is complex, and Severn Trent are working through plans to determine the most suitable location where the treated wastewater will be discharged.  The project is scheduled to be completed by March 2027. Enhanced phosphate removal at several other sewage works will also be delivered by Severn Trent to 2030 deadline. The River Improvement project has previously been called the ‘pump out’ in past public announcements

The Environment Agency sets permit conditions that protect the environment. To transfer the treated wastewater to a new location Severn Trent will need to apply for the relevant permits. The permit conditions will ensure the new treated wastewater discharge will not downgrade the overall water quality status of the receiving river and will not prevent a good status from being achieved in the future.

Water Resources 

Managing our available water resources will be a challenge in the future with climate change and a return to lower natural river flows from 2027. It is currently thought that by 2070 UK summer temperatures could rise by up to 5.4ºC and summer rainfall could decrease by up to 47%.

Managing water resources is now the priority for many catchments. In a growing number of catchments abstractors are forming water abstraction groups to build water resilience and to have a strong voice in decisions about water resources. 

Government Commitments

Defra – Plan for Water

  • 66% more on-farm storage by 2050
  • continuing to work with licence holders to deliver sustainable abstraction, such as more water storage and improving drainage practices.

Farm to Fork Food Summit May 2023

  • National and regional agricultural water resource management planning
  • Supporting farmer led groups to identify Local water Resource Options (LROs)

Local Resource Options Local Resource Options (LRO) screening studies are targeted projects to support farmer-led groups to identify local water resource schemes, such as multi-farm reservoirs or aquifer recharge schemes, which will ensure the resilience of the water supply for agriculture in a local area. You can also read the Defra Farming Blog to find out more.

The formation of a Mease Water Abstraction Group could give farmers a strong unified voice and open up new opportunities such as LROs.

The UK Irrigation Association have produced a booklet about forming a Water Abstraction Group (WAG)

Water Resources West:  is a group of abstractors, their representatives and their regulators. They are working together to ensure the sustainability of water resources, considering wider societal needs, environmental improvement and working across sectors.

A thirst of collaboration, survey of non-public water supply abstractors

The Courtauld 2030 Water Roadmap (‘A Roadmap towards Water Security for Food & Drink Supply’) sets out a vision and key pathways to address the challenges we collectively face in protecting critical water resources for food supply, for nature and for local communities.

It is a joint vision for the outcome we are seeking across the UK food & drink industry as a whole, to deliver the Courtauld Commitment 2030.

WRAP is working directly with WWF to support and encourage the entire food and drink sector to take action, as set out through the Courtauld Water Roadmap, to deliver on the commitment to source 50% of fresh food from areas with sustainable water management by 2030. Over 55 UK food & drink businesses have signed up to this Roadmap, including all major UK food retailers.

Water availability within the catchment

What is abstraction?

Taking water from a surface source (such as a river, stream or canal) or from an underground source is called abstraction. If you plan to take more than 20 cubic metres (20,000 litres) a day, you are likely to need an abstraction licence from the Environment Agency.

The Environment Agency assesses applications to abstract water against local water availability.

A time limit of 31 March 2026 applies to new abstractions or increases to existing licensed abstraction in the River Mease catchment.

If you want an abstraction licence but are unable to get one because there is no water available in your area, you may be able to enter into an agreement with an existing licence holder. You can agree for them to give you part or all of their water abstraction right permanently or temporarily. This is called the trading of water abstraction rights.

If you already have an abstraction licence, you can agree to give the rights to some or all of that water to someone else, subject to approval from the Environment Agency.

Trade water abstraction rights

There is no guarantee that a trade could be approved, abstraction must be sustainable. Over-abstraction can cause:

  • slower river flows which increase the amount of sediment build up and pollutants.
    • an increase in water temperatures
    • less space for habitats which affects fish and other wildlife

    There is no obligation on Severn Trent Water to discharge wastewater into the river.

How could the River Improvement project impact water availability in the catchment?

Treated wastewater from Packington and Measham sewage treatment works entering the River Mease currently makes up part of the river flow. When the project is completed in 2027, river flows will become lower again as they return to a more natural state; this means that there will be less water available for abstraction. Seasonal variations in weather will also continue to impact the future availability of water in the catchment with prolonged drier periods more likely. It is not possible to say exactly how much water will be available in the future because this depends on the weather.

Holding an abstraction licence does not guarantee the amount of water authorised for abstraction will be available or the quality of the water.

Abstractors can manage their licence online and sign up for email alerts which can be sent quicker than postal alerts. This means licence holders and operators:

  • are better able to prepare for any disruption to abstracting
  • can quickly start taking water again once river flows or groundwater water levels have recovered

Plan now to build water resilience in the future.

What about other sources of pollution?

 Often driven by rainfall and how we manage land, diffuse pollution occurs when nutrients, pesticides, faecal bacteria, chemicals and fine sediments are lost from the land into rivers, and groundwater. 

Diffuse pollution is often from a range of sources but the effect is cumulative.  So what appears to be small amounts of runoff from one field, when added to all the other sources that also feed into the river, can have a big overall effect on water quality.

Many farmers across the Mease are already involved in schemes to protect water quality and to create habitats.  Check out some of the projects that have already made a difference.

Tackling diffuse pollution and river restoration is a priority for the Mease catchment. You can get involved today and start making a difference to our area of stunning natural beauty.

How could the River Improvement Project affect the fish population?

Natural England recently commissioned a fish feature survey assessment which was carried out by independent experts at Hull International Fisheries Institute. The survey confirmed that both Spined Loach and Bullhead are present, but at lower levels than the targets for healthy populations. Encouragingly Spined Loach numbers were higher than in the last assessment period and the species was found in all units that make up the River Mease Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Also, strong numbers of Bullhead fish were found.

The assessment recognises it will take time for the ongoing work of improving water quality and river restoration to show benefits for the special fish. This is partly because the treated wastewater is expected to flow into the river until 2027.

One of the many uses of the survey assessment is helping to guide habitat restoration work.  Varied bed structure, submerged aquatic vegetation and future-proofing features like drought refuges will be important. A mosaic of bare, sandy substrata with submerged plants, including mid-channel, will be important for Spined Loach recovery.  Trent Rivers Trust will use the report to guide future river restoration actions in the catchment.

Severn Trent have agreed with the Environment Agency and Natural England a compensation flow regime that will help the river transition to a more natural flow pattern. Compensation releases will only be made when measured flow in the Gilwiskaw brook falls below the agreed level.  The volumes and number of days when a compensation release is made will be limited to protect water quality. Compensation releases will taper over time and are expected to cease 5 years after pump out commences.

New developments and growth

The River Mease Partnership recognises the catchment needs to be able to grow and thrive both socially and economically. Creating new development which is environmentally sustainable is an essential element in achieving this.

Nutrient pollution, especially phosphates and nitrates, is an urgent problem for our freshwater habitats and rivers, many of which are internationally important for wildlife. We must tackle this pollution to help meet our legal commitments to restore species abundance.

Under the Habitats Regulations, ‘competent authorities’ such as local planning authorities and the Environment Agency must assess the environmental impact of projects and plans (such as planning applications or local plans) which affect habitat sites. Local planning authorities can only approve a project if they are sufficiently certain it will have no negative effect on the site’s condition.

The nutrient load is created by the additional wastewater produced by the assumed increase in people moving into the area.

One way developers can demonstrate that new projects will not cause additional pollution is through ‘nutrient neutrality’. Natural England leads the nutrient mitigation scheme. This scheme is supported by up to £30 million of funding from Defra and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. This involves mitigating the ‘nutrient load’ generated by the population growth due to new housing developments. In the River Mease catchment developers need to have nutrient neutrality solutions and work with the River Mease Partnership to identify additional opportunities to reduce or remove phosphate entering the river.

The River Improvement Project will move the River Mease towards a more favourable status, enabling Local Planning Authorities to progress their Local Plans and applicants to bring forward development in a more sustainable way.

Further advice and information for new developments is available at North West Leicestershire Council’s website.