Ditch and drainage responsibilities
Ditches and drains need to be maintained to reduce the risk of flooding and to maintain the condition of highways by keeping them clear of excess water.
Who is responsible for ditch and drainage maintenance?
The owner of land or property that adjoins a watercourse, such as a roadside ditch, is known as the riparian owner and is responsible for its maintenance.
Where a watercourse is sited between two or more properties, each owner is equally responsible.
Although the Highways Authority is responsible for the highway, it does not own the 'sub-soil' of the highway. The owner of the land or property adjoining the highway is normally the sole riparian owner.
The image below shows ownership responsibilities.
Responsibility of riparian owner / adjoining landowner
Problems commonly affect watercourses when owners:
- Allow silt to build up causing a blockage
- Fail to keep vegetation growth under control
- Dispose of, or store garden or domestic waste on the banks
- Fail to clear the entrances to piped ditches
Riparian owners are responsible for maintaining and keeping clear all:
- Roadside ditches taking land drainage as well as road drainage (apart from those created and maintained by the Highways Authority for the purpose of draining water from the highway).
- Fieldside ditches taking land drainage as well as highway drainage
- Piped ditches
- Roadside hedges and trees
If you are a riparian owner you must:
- Accept the natural flow of water across your land from an upstream neighbour and allow this, together with drainage from your property or land, to flow downstream.
- Carry out necessary maintenance of the watercourse through or adjoining your property at your own expense, to the satisfaction of the local land drainage body.
- Maintain the banks and bed of the watercourse, including any piped sections, to avoid any obstruction to the flow of water. This includes trees, shrubs, and litter.
- Seek ‘ordinary watercourse flood defence consent’ from Herefordshire Council before building or altering any culvert, mill, dam, weir or other similar obstruction in a watercourse
- Obtain land drainage consent for any building, planting or alterations within eight metres of the bank
- Dispose of any waste removed from ditches in accordance with the Environmental Protection Act. Cuttings from any clearance work should be removed and kept clear of the watercourse to avoid re-entry which might cause blockages downstream.
Responsibility of Highways Authority
The Highways Authority is responsible for maintaining:
- Roadside verges
- Highway grips - (Drainage channel dug from road to ditch by the Highways Authority)
- Roadside ditches created by the Highways Authority for the sole purpose of draining the highway
Enforcement and liability
If an owner fails to look after a watercourse it can cause the condition of the highway to deteriorate and potentially cause flooding to properties, the highway or surrounding land. This can result in possible enforcement action being taken or liability in the event of an incident.
- Leaflet on ditch and drainage responsibilities
- Guidelines for riparian owners - Good practice for watercourse maintenance
- More information for riparian owners at GOV.UK:Owning a watercourse