20/02/2015 09:29 GMT | Updated 21/04/2015 06:59 BST

Beneath the Surface, Our Waters are in Trouble...

The phrase 'water is the source of all life' rings truer than most for me; there are few things in this world that we genuinely can't live without. Water tops the list. Perhaps that's unsurprising though as much of my working life has been spent working on water.

It isn't just a resource. Put simply, we can't live without it. I don't think enough people realise this. If it were up to me, everyone would unite under this common cause and share the responsibility to ensure a healthy, secure and sustainable water supply - I can't see any argument against this. Unfortunately, it's just not the current reality. For a lot of people, it isn't on their agenda.

It surprises me though how little value we can place on it as a society. I can't think of many things I do that don't involve water - have a cup of tea, take a shower, throw a load of washing in. But often people don't give a second thought to where the water is coming from and what the consequences are of taking so much, even given the droughts we've had in the past few years.

However, I bet if our tea consumption or ability to put a load of washing in was rationed, people might think differently. Equally, if we weren't able to take a summer stroll alongside our favourite river or go paddling in the sea on one of those rare hot summer days (even if the water is still freezing!) then people may take more of an interest.

It's when you dig down into the statistics, the situation really hits home. The much-loved, native water vole (think Ratty from Wind in the Willows) has declined by 90% in some areas. England's only native crayfish species, the White-clawed crayfish, has declined by more than 50% since the 1970's and the Atlantic salmon is not far behind, seeing a 40% fall. This is happening to the same waterways that inspired some of the country's most memorable works of literature and art. These are pretty scary figures but they don't seem to be leading to any scary action.

That's not to say nobody cares or that there's nobody out there trying to reverse these changes and restore our wondrous rivers and precious wildlife - I've worked with more groups and individuals than I can count over the years who are passionate about their local rivers or lake or stream. Ordinary people who care and are having a real impact on the ground; you don't have to necessarily be part of a wildlife organisation or commit hours of your time to make a difference.

Every six years, the Environment Agency produces River Basin Management Plans (catchy title, I know).

Despite their name, these plans are actually really important. In a nutshell, they will determine how our waters, which include rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches and wetlands, are managed over the next six years. The plans are fairly meaty and so I don't necessarily blame people for turning off if they ever stumble across them. But what they are trying to achieve is important (healthy rivers, clean beaches) and we should all be getting involved.

There are so many reasons to fall in love with our rivers - least of all the fact that water really is an essential ingredient for life. We can't wait until all of our native wildlife has disappeared or rivers we once walked beside are dried up. The time to act is now.

If have two minutes to make your views count as part of this crucial consultation around River Basin Management Plans, visit

Rose O'Neill, Water Policy Manager, WWF-UK