We own and manage a great deal of land, much of it of value to wildlife. This includes 47 SSSIs, covering nearly 3,000 hectares. Of these, 99 per cent are judged to be in favourable condition by Natural England, the Government's nature conservation advisor and natural environment regulator.
This compares well with England as a whole, where only 38.7 per cent of SSSIs were in favourable condition at March 2018.
In 2015, just 49 per cent of our SSSIs were classed as favourable. The improvement has been driven by work around Rutland Water. Wave action was eroding the banks of the reservoir, muddying the water and preventing the birds, for which the site is designated, from feeding. We have put a number of measures in place, including rock armour and cages, along with softer solutions like reed beds and fringes to soak up the energy of the waves.
Many of the grasslands around the reservoir are also SSSIs, designated for their mix of plants and also as grazing habitat for birds like wigeon. Their condition has been improved through changes to our mowing and grazing regime, along with successful thistle control.
The Environment Agency classifies bathing waters against four standards: Excellent (required for Blue Flag awards), Good, Sufficient and Poor. Results are based on a four-year average to make the data more representative.
Our ODI measures the percentage of bathing waters in our region that attain excellent status.
In 2017, our results were:
This is a slight fall from 2016, when 32 waters were classed as excellent. Clacton Groyne 41 remains the only bathing water in the region to be classed as poor and has a long-running issue with water quality. Recent investigations show the source of bacterial pollution may be a combination of private sewerage systems and roosting birds. We are working with the Environment Agency and the local authority to reduce all potential pollution risks.
We know that in the majority of cases, declining results have not been as a result of our assets, so our focus is working closely with others to tackle third-party pollution. Nevertheless, we continue to invest where we have seen potential impact from our network. This includes £3 million to increase sewer capacity in Southend.
We plan to complete a large number of schemes between 2015 and 2020 to ensure we comply with our obligations under the Urban Wastewater Treatment and Water Framework Directives, the Eels Regulations and the Restoring Sustainable Abstraction programme, all of which require us to reduce the effect of our operations on the environment.
We continue to make progress with work to improve the condition of the River Wensum, Coston Fen and a series of coastal marshes that are fed by water from the North Norfolk Chalk aquifer. We are also moving ahead with restoration schemes on the River Nar, Laceby Beck and Skitter Beck. Other schemes will protect eels by modifying our surface water intakes.
Together with the Environment Agency, we have been looking at what further investment will be needed to restore abstraction to sustainable levels and to prevent deterioration in water body status. A large number of schemes are under way at our water recycling centres to ensure compliance with the Urban Waste Water Treatment and Water Framework regulations.
Four of 16 planned water schemes and 36 out of 83 planned water recycling schemes have been completed so far.