Catchment Planning

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                     ADVICE  -  Speak to us about your catchment plan
                  TRAINING  -  Find out more about our Catchment Planning Training Course

The need for effective catchment planning

A good catchment plan identifies the main issues within a catchment and prioritises works which will improve the catchment as a whole. This puts us in a better position to achieve Water Framework Directive (WFD) targets, as well as other environmental and social goals.

Catchment planning also allows us to demonstrate our success and better understand why we are not achieving our objectives. By doing this we can learn from our experiences and help to justify future investment in our rivers. cRHS is a method that we can use to collect data to enable us to assess our catchments and make data-driven decisions at the catchment scale.

A framework for creating a catchment plan

RRC has developed a framework using experiences learnt from catchments across the UK. It follows RRC's catchment-centred river restoration planning approach, and uses a hydromorphological framework as a basis for the catchment assessment. The catchment planning framework has been designed to be adaptable and flexible, to account for differences in river environments, funding, project aims, survey methods, expertise, land use and more.

The steps:  
  • Set overall aims and catchment vision
  • Engage stakeholders throughout
  • Understand your catchment
    • ​Reach delineation
    • Desktop assessment
    • Walkover survey
    • Pressure and impact analysis
  • Prioritisation
    • Identify restoration options
    • Prioritise options
  • Objectives setting
    • Define SMART objectives for your catchment
    • Define SMART objectives for your projects
 Engaging stakeholders

It is important to engage stakeholders at the beginning of your project to understand what work is ongoing in the catchment and how you can work with other people to achieve shared goals. This will maximise the benefits of the project and ensure there are no conflicts or miscommunications.

 Understanding your catchment

Reach delineation: Create hydromorphologically homogenous reaches for data collection, usually between 1km and 5km in length. Assessing river reaches facilitates the assessment process and the identification of catchment issues.

Desktop assessment: Identify data sources in the catchment and compile data to assess your catchment. Use desktop data to plan and inform your cRHS surveys.

Pressure and Impact assessment: A key step to creating a catchment plan is to understand condition of your catchment and the source of its issues. This is done by analysing the links between pressures and impacts at both the reach and catchment scales, with the aim of diagnosing the catchment condition. cRHS outputs such as River Habitat Quality Scores, Habitat Modification Scores, and comparisons to similar RHS sites can be used to inform this assessment. Modification scores indicate the presence of pressures, whilst habitat quality scores reveal the type and extent of the impacts. The result  should be an understanding of the most significant catchment impacts and where they are sourced from.


The aim of the prioritisation process is to select measures which will result in the biggest improvement in the catchment. This can be achieved by prioritising measures which reduce the most significant catchment impacts by addressing the reach pressures (the source of the impacts). It is important that the prioritisation is based on data and information collected in the 'Understanding your catchment' section.

 Objective setting

With a full understanding of your catchment, including the pressures, impacts and realistic measures, you can then create SMART catchment-scale objectives to measure success against. Objectives created before this point are likely to be unrealistic because they will not be based on a thorough analysis of the condition of the catchment.


We are continually updating our catchment planning framework by helping people to apply it to their catchments. We can talk to you about the principles of the framework, review parts of your catchment plan, or undertake a complete catchment assessment and prioritisation study.

If you would like to hear about the latest developments and get advice on planning improvements in your catchment, please contact us.


We run a Catchment Planning training course which goes into detail on each step outlined above. The course is a mixture of presentations and group exercises where you will learn how to practically prioritise options based on an analysis of catchment pressures and impacts. After the course you will be sent a pack of information and resources which you can use in your own catchment plan.

If you would like to learn more about this training course, please visit our dedicated training page.


Comments from attendees:

"This is really useful in opening communication with stakeholders and mapping the feasibility study of my project"

"Really useful to help me devise catchment plans for every catchment in my area"

"We will be putting this into practice straight away"