Carter Jonas
Carter Jonas

Ditches in farms

Following a recent change in policy instigated by DEFRA secretary Liz Truss, farmers across England can now undertake low-level work on their own land without needing to seek Environment Agency (EA) consent.   DEFRA recognised that this 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.

Defra secretary 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, reducing flood risk and allowing them to do low-level maintenance work without unnecessary paperwork.”

DEFRA is 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 which have been run over the last couple of years which showed that farmers and landowners can carry out this work in an environmentally sensitive way.

So, all in all this looks like a sensible relaxation of some unnecessary red tape which was destined to achieve very little for anyone and no doubt the EA would not have had the staff to enforce the rules which would perhaps have been widely flouted by farmers.  Therefore with environmentally sensitive water courses still protected this seems a sensible way forward for all.

Tim Jones

Tim JonesFRICS

Partner - Head of Rural Division

Tim is head of the firm's Rural Division and of the Cambridge office, although he spends a considerable amount of time in London.  He has over 20 years experience in advising institutional and pri...

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