It seems hard to credit that farmers were until recently banned from carrying out simple maintenance of ditches without applying to the Environment Agency for consent.
This is an example of the ridiculous red tape that can be imposed without understanding the consequences and I welcome the news that DEFRA secretary Liz Truss has seen the error of this crazy policy.
As a result farmers across England can now undertake low-level work on their own land without needing to seek EA consent. DEFRA recognised the paperwork was an unnecessary burden on farmers and this would allow the EA to focus their efforts on wider strategic flood-risk management.
The exemption only applies to man-made ditches, land drains, agricultural drains and previously straightened watercourses but it does not apply to natural rivers. This will be particularly welcome on the Somerset Levels where the maintenance of ditches is vital to the farming systems.
The new flood risk activity permits allow farmers to dredge and maintain ditches up to 1.5km long without needing to fill out extensive forms.
Liz Truss said the government wanted to ensure farmers had the right conditions to thrive, which would include providing them with the means to protect their land from flooding.
“That is why we are cutting red tape for our hard-working farmers,” she said, “reducing flood risk and allowing them to do low-level maintenance work without unnecessary paperwork.”
DEFRA are keen to emphasise that this empowers local people with the best knowledge of local risks of flooding to clear waterways themselves.
However, strong safeguards will still be put in place to limit the impact of some activities – for example protecting Sites of Special Scientific Interest and spawning fish.
The move to relax the rules follows successful pilot schemes run over the last couple of years which showed that farmers and landowners can carry out this work in an environmentally sensitive way.
So we have a sensible relaxation of unnecessary red tape destined to achieve very little for anyone and no doubt the EA do not have the staff to enforce such rules. James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, WellsT: 01749 683381E: firstname.lastname@example.org