Who is responsible for the maintenance of ditches within land boundaries?

March 22nd 2024

Recently our Commercial Property team have experienced a rise in queries relating to the ownership and maintenance of ditches and waterways. We suspect that this is due to the very wet winter we have had. Unbeknown to many, the responsibility to maintain a watercourse often lies with the landowner. 

Are you responsible for maintaining a watercourse:

  • If you own land on both sides of the watercourse, then you are fully responsible for its maintenance.
  • If you are the closest landowner to the top bank of the ditch or watercourse, you are usually responsible for its maintenance up to the central line of the watercourse (even if this does not fall within your property).

Landowners who own a stretch of watercourse have certain responsibilities, whether the property is residential or commercial. These include alerting the Environment Agency of any flooding, pollution, changes in water flow and collapsed or damaged banks. Watercourse owners are also required to facilitate the natural flow of water, this includes the removal of blockages such as fallen trees and litter, to prevent pollution, and to protect the wildlife.

Most watercourses require annual maintenance, with mid-autumn being the most effective time to undertake work. It is good practice to develop a programme or routine defining how, and when you will carry out maintenance of your watercourse

Whilst it is a requirement for any landowner with a ditch or waterway on their land to maintain and take responsibility for it, you must ensure that any work you undertake is legal. Although general maintenance, as set out above, is unlikely to be out of line with the law, some activities require permission or consent.

If for some reason you wish to alter the route, capacity or shape of the watercourse, it is likely that you will require permission from the regulating body and the relevant landowners. For any works on main rivers, plans must be submitted to the Environment Agency. If you are unsure whether planning permission may be required, contact your local planning authority.

If you require further help with the legal aspects relating to ditches, watercourses or for any land and commercial property requirements, please get in touch.