GETTING TO GRIPS: Wetland management for people and wildlife: Legislation


In the UK the responsibility for the regulation of water companies and their functions falls to the Environment Agency (EA). It is one of the risk management authorities as defined by the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. Reductions in funding and staff mean that the EA can do less and it is looking to local groups to take relevant actions.

Landowners are legally responsible for surface water drainage going through a series of watercourses which are any natural or artificial channels above or below ground through which water flows such as a river, brook, rife (channel of water), ditch or culvert. Landowners adjacent to any one of these watercourses are legally defined as ‘Riparian Landowners’ a role that brings certain Rights and Responsibilities with it. You must let water flow through your land without an obstruction pollution or diversion which affects the rights of others. You are responsible for maintaining the bed and banks of the watercourse and the plants growing on the banks. Please help to protect the quality of the water and don’t dispose of garden or other wastes where it could be washed into the water. Under European legislation a riparian owner who harms a watercourse may be required to put it right.

West Sussex County Council is now the Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA) and it has permissive powers to force landowners to carry out their responsibilities. WSCC is also encouraging local communities to take part in Flood risk management. After recent flooding in 2012 and 2013 many Flood Action Groups were formed. See National Flood Forum ( provides helpful information. The Highways Agency has responsibilities for surface water drainage of the public highway.

Penalties: WSCC has the power to serve notice on landowners if works are not carried out-they can undertake the work and then charge them. For all alterations to ordinary watercourses consent must be given by WSCC. If not, enforcement action can be taken by them. These permissive powers are only generally used, when landowners have demonstrated that they are not willing to carry out maintenance works. WSCC can issue a notice on a watercourse following a request from a concerned member of the public, a Parish Council or other operating authority.

Water and sewerage companies: manage the risk of flooding to water supplies and to sewerage facilities and the risks from a failure in their infrastructure.

Living on the Edge, EA leaflet, A guide to your rights and responsibilities of riverside ownership


Organisations have to have regard for wildlife and there is legislation in place for the rarest places and protected species. The Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 places a Duty on Public Authorities to conserve biodiversity, and, it contains lists of both habitats and species of principal importance. Areas sited alongside existing designated sites need to be seen as part of an overall habitat network forming part of the wider countryside. These areas help to sustain the Green Infrastructure on which people and wildlife depend.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act (WCA) 1981, as amended in 2006, now gives full legal
protection to the Water Vole (Arvicola amphibius) and its habitat. This makes it an offence to disturb Water Voles or to damage their place of shelter/protection. Licences can be applied for from Natural England for handling, trapping and other activities. Further advice and support on protected species can also be sought from Natural England. Maintenance work must only be carried out winter months (October – February), outside the breeding season although there are times when exemptions can be obtained. NB: Water Vole populations are highly sensitive to disturbance even during the winter months due to their restricted home range. Where Water Vole is present, it may be useful to seek advice from the MWHG or ecologists working for Chichester Harbour Conservancy, Pagham Harbour Local Nature Reserve or West Sussex County Council.

This Act also covers nesting birds. It is an offence to interfere with the nests of birds or to remove their eggs. Any work that involves trees, hedges or reedbeds can only be carried out when birds are not nesting ie in the winter months.
The timing of any practical work (see table on page 17) is very important as many species will be adversely affected by spring and summer works, while others may be hibernating in autumn and winter or over-wintering. The needs of some very rare species such as all 18 bat species and the Greater Crested Newt, which are protected by European legislation, use wetlands and bankside habitats, and must be taken into consideration.


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Ditches are better than culverts →