Blog: Field drainage, flooding and cross compliance

CLA Midlands Rural Surveyor John Greenshields looks at landowners and occupiers' responsibilities for managing water on their land.

Poor maintenance on your land can have consequences for your neighbours and the public, about which they are not in a position to redress.

John Greenshields
field runoff midlands ashton

Winter came with several examples of localised flooding here in the Midlands. However, it isn’t just winter where flooding can be experienced. In Shropshire during August we’ had sunny days falling just short of 30C with thunderstorms, which umped 110mm of rain in two nights.

Maintenance of watercourses
It is worth reminding occupiers that the maintenance and management of your land will help to mitigate flooding, benefiting you and the public by reducing the magnitude of flood damage to soils and property.

This responsibility comes under the Land Drainage Act 1991, which requires that watercourses (including ditches and drains) are maintained by their owner/occupier to allow the free flow of water, but the enforcement of the law sometimes lacks teeth. It is vital that this is the case as poor maintenance on your land can have consequences for your neighbours and the public for which they are not in a position to redress.

It is worth clarifying that you have the responsibility to accept flood water on your land - even if the cause of the flooding is inadequate capacity upstream/downstream on a neighbour’s land as there is no common law duty that would force them improve their capacity. But, they do have to clear any obstructions, which is frequently the case.

So please check the land you are responsible for to ensure that watercourses are well maintained as the increasing tendency of having flashy floods can result in damage to your property is our cannot safely remove excess water from your land.

New Farm Infrastructure
It is several decades since grants were widely available for drainage and installations are beginning to fail in areas. New drainage should be viewed as an excellent investment, and not an optional cherry on top. As good drainage is a vital farm management tool to help improve soil health and please map drains for future reference.

New drainage and ditches planned to manage water levels in different parts of your land to reduce flooding in areas/water table levels, soil erosion and nutrient leaching. With consideration for your climate, topography and intended uses. In a few planned cases blocking up drains may be the thing to do in order to rewet peatland to restore the land and lock up carbon. But for those looking to re-wet areas of land please consider the impact of raising the water table on surrounding land, the creation of anaerobic soil conditions and how difficult it may be to reverse the process if you are likely to need the land for another use.

In some cases, you may look to get a digger out to create channels and banks for vegetation. These features help to intercept flood water carrying nutrition and topsoil from fields and farm yards before they enter roads and sensitive sites such as rivers.

For those in exceptional circumstances you may wish to create a reservoir to hold back water that can be used when needed. For more information see this CLA guidance which includes information relating to potential grants that relate to the management of our nation’s water.

Public Money and ELMS (Environmental Land Management Scheme)
It is anticipated that future ELMS (anticipated to begin in 2024-25) will pay owners for managing land in such a way that improves water management, with an emphasis on flooding. It is intended that measures will be relatively flexible provided that there is a public good. But it isn’t just the Government who will be providers. The private sector is expected to play a huge part as new developments will need to pay for offsetting and flood mitigate as the planning system seeks to change its emphasis. From no net environmental loss to a net gain. This will probably lead to a market where developers and large companies with significant energy usage will pay landowners to offset their emissions and provide public goods. The CLA are and will continue to lobby Government to ensure that the future ELMS scheme and potential private market will be fit for purpose, capable of delivering the intended goals and reflect land managers ongoing maintenance obligations. As ELMS is all about the public good and the public money will help farmers to deliver greater environmental benefits than are already being provided.

Notwithstanding the future ELMS scheme, which is still several years away, owners are currently responsible for good land management under the Cross Compliance requirements. Any owner claiming farm subsidies (BPS) needs to meet these conditions, which include the below conditions relevant to the stewardship of our watercourses condition (the details of these rules can change annually). It is worth reminding claimants that there are penalties for non-compliance and the existence of greening areas created today should not prejudice your ability to claim future ELMS money.

Key contact:

John Greenshields
John Greenshields Rural Surveyor