Abstract Both nonstatutory community-based catchment management groups and existing statutory groups seek effective environmental management characterised by public participation, collaborative working and decentralised modes of assessment, planning and decision making. The characteristics and challenges of catchment management for water resources and protection of water quality require such approaches, and an expansion of both community-based and state-led initiatives has been evident in the United Kingdom. Available information about these developments is, however, limited and this paper reports survey findings of such initiatives, providing a mid-to-late 2009 ‘snapshot’ of the situation in England and Wales. Catchment management groups are profiled in terms of size, organisational structure, membership, financing, technology transfer, policy influence and other outcomes. The results are interpreted with reference to a growing international literature, the potential sustainability, effectiveness and impact of groups and environmental governance challenges, including those posed by the European Union Water Framework Directive.