STAR is a European Commission Framework V project (EVK1-CT-2001-00089). The project aim is to provide practical advice and solutions with regard to many of the issues associated with the Water Framework Directive. This paper provides a context for the STAR research programme through a review of the requirements of the directive and the Common Implementation Strategy responsible for guiding its implementation. The scientific and strategic objectives of STAR are set out in the form of a series of research questions and the reader is referred to the papers in this volume that address those objectives, which include: (a) Which methods or biological quality elements are best able to indicate certain stressors? (b) Which method can be used on which scale? (c) Which method is suited for early and late warnings? (d) How are different assessment methods affected by errors and uncertainty? (e) How can data from different assessment methods be intercalibrated? (f) How can the cost-effectiveness of field and laboratory protocols be optimised? (g) How can boundaries of the five classes of Ecological Status be best set? (h) What contribution can STAR make to the development of European standards? The methodological approaches adopted to meet these objectives are described. These include the selection of the 22 stream-types and 263 sites sampled in 11 countries, the sampling protocols used to sample and survey phytobenthos, macrophytes, macroinvertebrates, fish and hydromorphology, the quality control and uncertainty analyses that were applied, including training, replicate sampling and audit of performance, the development of bespoke software and the project outputs. This paper provides the detailed background information to be referred to in conjunction with most of the other papers in this volume. These papers are divided into seven sections: (1) typology, (2) organism groups, (3) macrophytes and diatoms, (4) hydromorphology, (5) tools for assessing European streams with macroinvertebrates, (6) intercalibration and comparison and (7) errors and uncertainty. The principal findings of the papers in each section and their relevance to the Water Framework Directive are synthesised in short summary papers at the beginning of each section. Additional outputs, including all sampling and laboratory protocols and project deliverables, together with a range of freely downloadable software are available from the project website at www.eu_star.at.
- ecological quality