How can I maintain my watercourse?
Why should I maintain my
If your property contains
or is adjacent to a watercourse of any description, as a
riparian land owner you should be maintaining it regularly.
Most watercourses require annual
maintenance to some degree. The best time of year to undertake
major clearance works is in late September/October, in preparation
for increased winter flows and once vegetation has already begun to
naturally die back.
A well maintained
watercourse plays a significant role in;
- Keeping the land well drained,
- Preventing flooding by allowing water to escape
- Preventing localised flooding,
- Controlling surface water, and
- Maximising all the functions that the watercourse was designed
What can I do to
ensure I am maintaining my
a) Keep vegetation
growth under control
- When trimming vegetation it is important to
consider any impact on biodiversity. Mowing of banks around ditches
should be minimised during the animal spawning season of March to
- It is recommended to cut only up to just
above the water level on one side of the watercourse, leaving
the fringe of the bank uncut, thereby maintaining some habitat as
well as enabling a clear flow in the ditch.
- Cuttings from any clearance work should be
removed and kept clear of the watercourse or disposed of to avoid
re entry which might cause blockages downstream.
b) Keep watercourses free of debris
(e.g. litter, grass cuttings, and fallen trees)
- Any waste resulting from the maintenance of ditches should be
left on top of the bank for a few days to allow any organisms
within the waste to migrate back into the watercourse, after which
the waste should be removed and silt should be spread onto any
- All non-organic waste should be completely removed
off site and disposed of in an appropriate manner.
- Ensure that any disturbed debris does not end up flowing
downstream and causing problems for other landowners.
- In the case of culverted (piped) watercourses, blockages within
the pipe or at an inlet can cause flooding problems. These
blockages can be minimised by regular inspection and the removal of
- Culvert inlets often have protective grills to prevent debris
entering the pipe and causing blockages. These should be cleared
regularly, especially during periods of heavy rainfall when debris
can accumulate very quickly.
c) Remove excess silt
- The same depth of silt should be removed along the length of
- Where possible, try to maintain the original profile and cross
section of the ditch when de-silting. If the gradient is altered it
can change the flow pattern and increase flood risk either upstream
- Temporarily depositing silt on top of the banks of the
watercourse allows for organisms to migrate back into the ditch. It
is however essential that this material does not then block the
highway grips and that the material is not carried on to the
d) Consider the environment
- Ditches can form very important habitats and may contain
species of flora and fauna that are protected under the Wildlife and
Countryside Act 1981.
- Ensure that you undertake the majority of your clearance works
after the vegetation has begun to die back in late
September/October. At this time of year, there should also be no
wildlife nesting or breeding in or near ditches.
- The impacts of maintenance can be minimised by using hand tools
to regularly remove obstructions to the flow of water, rather than
using heavy machinery that removes all vegetation.
- Plan your maintenance to ensure that stretches of habitat are
left intact, for example by trimming alternate banks or lengths of
ditch each year. This ensures that there is always a healthily
vegetated area where fauna disturbed by maintenance can migrate to
without being forced to leave the ditches.
- If protected species have been recorded in your ditches
you must ensure their habitats are not adversely affected. To find
out if protected species have been recorded on or near your land
contact the Environment Agency’s local Fisheries and Biodiversity
Remember to stay
When undertaking works within or adjacent to a
watercourse, landowners must assess their works to ensure that they
can be undertaken without putting themselves or others at any kind
of risk. Due to the range of risks posed by both open and culverted
watercourses, landowners should assess this on a case-by-case
Make sure the works
you do are legal
Whenever carrying out
maintenance to watercourses and ditches, you must ensure that the
works that you undertake are legal. General maintenance is unlikely
to break the law but if you wish to alter the watercourse or ditch
in any way, or build near it, you are likely to require
permission from the regulating body (either the Environment
Agency, Bedford Borough Council, IDB) and/or the relevant
landowners. See our ordinary water course consent page for details.
Remember, any works undertaken without consent could result in
Many farmers take part in
Countryside Stewardship Schemes, which set clear rules for the
maintenance of watercourses, including ditches. If these rules are
not adhered to landowners risk breaking the rules of such
agreements and may be penalised.
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