The Environment Agency’s (EA) latest Annual Report and Accounts shows improvements across a number of key areas, including climate change, but performance in other areas still needs improving.

The 2018–19 report outlines progress being made against the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan targets and sets out the EA’s own performance against the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Waste crime — the EA closed at least 2 illegal waste sites every day representing a 12% increase in performance on the previous year. But there has also been a 5% increase in illegal waste activity over the same period. Regulators now have new powers to lock up sites, force rogue operators to clear them up, and seize and destroy vehicles being used in waste crime, which the Agency says is likely to reduce crime in this area in the future.

Water quality improvement — the Agency set itself an ambitious target of enhancing 2,000km of the water environment and managed to enhance 1,719km. Failing to meet its own target was largely because of prolonged dry weather over the summer, the report concludes.

Pollution incidents — the highest on the EA’s scale (class 1 or 2) rose from 432 incidents in 2017 to 493 in 2018. Four sectors accounted for 66% of all category 1 and 2 incidents in 2018/19. Water companies, illegal waste sites, agriculture and other non-regulated sectors.

Reduce flood risk — flooding continues to be a major problem in the UK, due to climate change. This year the Agency has improved protection for a further 50,754 homes and worked on a number of new flood barrier and wave barriers to protect coastal areas from tidal surges.

New habitats — In 2018-19 the EA exceeded its target of 410 hectares of new priority habitats, delivering 460 hectares — these include habitats that are most threatened and requiring conservation action Biodiversity Framework. Working with partners such as Natural England, local authorities, National Trust, the EA has helped to created 28 hectares of blanket bog and restored a further 575 ha on moors projects. According to the EA, this has also helped reduce downstream flood risk.

Climate change — much of the EA’s improvement works helps mitigate climate change, but for the first time the Agency’s pension committee has been lobbying major companies at their AGMs to discover whether they are sufficiently preparing for the escalating physical risks of climate change. Last year the EA generated around 400,000 Kwh of power from its own renewables, which together with in-house energy efficiency improvements, will save 180 tonnes of carbon emissions and reduce energy bills by approximately £70k.

Launching this year’s annual performance report, Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, said: “Over the past year, the Environment Agency has shown how committed it is to addressing both the causes and impacts of the climate emergency, while demonstrating the links between sustainability and business opportunities by mirroring the vision set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

Last reviewed 7 November 2019