The role of the UK conservation agencies in protecting river flows


Chris Mainstone, Natural England, Touthill Close, City Road, Peterborough PE1 1XN, UK (e-mail:


Abstract  An outline is given of the scale and nature of special wildlife designations in the UK river network, the general approach of the UK conservation agencies to their evaluation and management, and the specific way in which impacts of river flows are handled. The need for a holistic ecological and biodiversity view of water resource impacts on river systems is stressed, within which the specific needs of individual species, such as Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar L., can be framed. An approach founded on the provision of a natural flow regime within a natural physical channel not only provides the most suitable conditions for characteristic riverine wildlife to flourish but also provides the best local defence against global climate change. Arguments are made for a future focus on the generic evidence base for flow targets and its strengthening through strategic and demonstrably fit-for-purpose research. The practical constraints to an approach based on protection of the natural flow regime are discussed. Ultimately, transparent separation and consideration of what river ecosystems really need, and what can realistically be provided, is the key to shared ownership of the water resource dilemma.