NRW crackdown on illegal gravel removal and modification works to rivers

A task force set up by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to tackle illegal physical modifications to rivers and streams across the country has seen more than 30 legal notices to stop and remediate served on landowners.

Illegal work such as dredging, realigning and gravel removal on watercourses continues to have a negative impact on the animals, fish and plants that make their home in and around Welsh rivers and streams.

These types of modification cause long-term damage, potentially lasting many decades with harm to habitats and species often extending miles downstream from where the modification work occurred.

Oliver Lowe, Geomorphology Specialist Advisor for NRW said:

“During lockdown, Wales experienced an unprecedented increase in unconsented physical modifications to its watercourses, including dredging, removing shoals, realignment of water courses and inappropriate bank protection.
“We set up a Physical Harm to Rivers task force to improve our response to such incidents and we have delivered more than 30 regulatory notices on unconsented work.
“Our improved response is changing landowner behaviours as word of our action spreads. We also have the option of pursuing prosecution if the incident is particularly severe. Should a notice not be complied with then this can result in a fine and criminal prosecution.”

Regulatory notices are legal documents that can be issued to a landowner or contractor to  stop unconsented work and restore the harm caused.

Oliver added:

“Protecting our rivers and the wildlife that depend on them is a priority for us and we are using these notices to great effect.
“For example, in 2021, works were undertaken on a river to install a gabion basket wall which resulted in the narrowing of the channel, increased water velocity, erosion, flood risk and destruction of river habitats.
“Our officers visited the site to stop the work and then issued a formal notice to restore the river channel.
“Today, the landowner has restored the bank profile, reseeded the ground with native wetland grasses and wildflowers and willow and alder trees are being planted on the bank to improve stability. Once the plants have established, this site will resemble a natural riverbank bursting with native species and supporting the riverine environment.”

Hilary Foster, Specialist Advisor for Freshwater Habitats and Species for NRW said:

“This work is part of our Wales-wide River Restoration Programme which also includes the delivery of ambitious river restoration projects.
“Our improved response to these incidents is successfully protecting our rivers from harm and supporting our goal of ecosystem resilience. This work has generated interest from the regulatory authorities in England, Scotland and as far afield in Norway.
“If you are considering undertaking any work on a watercourse you should contact NRW for advice. We will provide information on any necessary permissions and measures to avoid environmental harm.
“If you do not consult NRW prior to undertaking works on a river or stream, you are at risk of committing an offence. Enforcement measures may include the requirement to restore the damaged habitat.”

For more information please call NRW on 0300 065 3000 or email

If you see or suspect that someone is working in a river illegally, please call NRW’s incident hotline on 0300 065 3000.