The report found almost 26,000 locations where a hydropower turbine could theoretically generate green electricity. Together, these sites could generate enough electricity to power up to around 850,000 homes and produce 3% of the country’s 2020 renewable electricity needs, according to Environment Agency.

In reality, however, only some of these sites could be exploited due to environmental sensitivities, as well as practical constraints such as access to the electricity network. The new maps help to identify areas where hydropower could make a positive contribution to the local environment, and sites where it is less appropriate.

The report found that a sensitively designed hydropower scheme that includes a fish pass could improve the local environment and generate electricity in over 4,000 sites. These opportunities are particularly concentrated on rivers such as the Severn, Thames, Aire and Neath.

With government soon to offer subsidies of up to 20p for every kilowatt hour of electricity produced, a medium-sized scheme that typically generates enough electricity for about 32 homes, could receive around GBP25,000 a year. Average set up costs range from GBP100,000 to GBP150,000.

Tony Grayling, head of climate change and sustainable development at the Environment Agency, said: “Some hydropower schemes have the potential to deliver low carbon electricity and improve the local environment for wildlife, for example by improving fish migration. But there will inevitably be some sites where the risk to the environment outweighs the benefits of power generation.

He added, “The report recommends that fish-friendly design needs to be incorporated in all schemes, and that grants for fish passes could help to unlock the potential of small scale hydropower in England and Wales.”