Land drainage

Land drains are known as ‘watercourses’ and include all rivers, streams, ditches, drains, cuts, culverts, dikes, sewers (other than public sewers and passages), through which water flows.

Land drainage is the disposal of rainwater, achieved by a network of watercourses of various types. Water does not have to flow through the watercourse at all times to be a watercourse.

A watercourse can be split into two categories - ordinary watercourses and main rivers.

Ordinary watercourses

Watercourse owners, or ‘riparian’ owners, have a responsibility to maintain ordinary watercourses e.g. streams, ditches, culverts etc. that run adjacent to, through, or under their property.

We have the power to regulate ordinary watercourses and if issues are found we can enforce the following requirements to:

  • Carry out repairs
  • Remove or modify unconsented works
  • Undertake routine maintenance to maintain the flow of water.

Failure to comply may result in us undertaking the work and recharging the owner the costs.

Riparian owners are also responsible for accepting and dealing with the natural flows from adjoining land and must not create or allow an obstruction to that natural flow.

If you wish to carry out works that may affect the flow of an ordinary watercourse, you MUST obtain our consent beforehand.

Main rivers

Managing flood risk from the main river network is the  Environment Agency's (external link) (EA) responsibility. However, these powers are permissive only, so there is no obligation on the EA to carry out these works and legal responsibility for main rivers lies with the landowners.

This means individual landowners are still responsible for making sure main rivers are not obstructed on their land and the EA has legal powers to make landowners remove watercourse obstructions.

If you wish to carry out works that may affect the flow of a main river, you MUST obtain consent from the EA.

When does the EA get involved?

In practice the Environment Agency will carry out maintenance work on main rivers.

However, a number of factors may influence their decision to carry out works, including the potential for:

  • Internal flooding of residential or commercial buildings
  • Flooding of important infrastructure
  • Adverse environmental effects.

In general, the EA will work with landowners to maintain and improve watercourses and resolve issues, without the use of enforcement.

To contact the EA Floodline call 0345 988 1188 for the 24 hour service, or 03708 506 506 (Mon-Fri, 8am - 6pm) for general enquiries.

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