A new scheme to remove red tape and help landowners manage the risk of flooding has been announced by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.
In recent years wet weather has caused significant flooding in areas such as the River Brue in Somerset. But while river maintenance can make floods less likely in some areas, current rules mean that farmers who want to manage their own watercourses could be put off by bureaucracy.
The new River Maintenance Pilots are designed to see how existing rules can be simplified without damaging the local environment.
Currently, landowners have to apply for permission from the Environment Agency before carrying out certain maintenance activities on rivers crossing their land. Under the pilots, farmers and landowners in seven areas in England at risk of flooding will be allowed to carry out work to de-silt watercourses without needing to obtain a consent.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said:
“I want to make it as simple as possible for landowners and farmers to carry out work to protect their land.
“Watercourse maintenance can reduce the risk of flooding, enhance the environment and improve water quality. These pilots will make sure that people who want to carry out this kind of work can do so without getting tied up in red tape.”
Environment Agency staff in each pilot area will be on hand to provide advice, and new Good Practice guidance will ensure that all activities take environmental concerns into consideration when maintenance work is carried out.
Environment Agency Chief Executive Paul Leinster said:
“We want to make it as easy as possible for farmers to undertake appropriate maintenance work on rural watercourses, whilst still ensuring that wildlife and the environment are properly protected.
“We look forward to continuing to work together with farmers, environmental groups and others to reduce the risk of flooding.”
The pilots will cover seven areas:
Alt Crossens, Lancashire
River Idle, Nottinghamshire
Bottesford Beck, North Lincolnshire
River Brue, Somerset
Upper Thames, Oxfordshire
Winestead Drain – East Ridings of Yorkshire
River Duckow, Shropshire
The River Maintenance Pilots will be overseen by the Environment Agency and will last for one year. More information about the pilots and details of local contact can be found on the Environment Agency’s website. Landowners and farmers will be able to start river maintenance activities according to the new guidance from 21 October.
The findings of the Maintenance Pilots will be used to develop a new improved system of consents for managing river maintenance by 2015, as part of the reforms being introduced in the Water Bill.