Shropshire Council

Maintaining your watercourse

The information below serves as a helpful 'best practice' guide to help you when planning maintenance on your watercourse.

Determine a maintenance programme

It is good practice to develop a program that sets out how often you will carry out maintenance works. Most watercourses require annual maintenance to some degree and the best time to undertake this is in late September, meaning that you are prepared for increased winter flows. Also, at this time, vegetation naturally begins to die back and wildlife is less active and should not be nesting / breeding.

Along open watercourses, your program should state how much vegetation you plan to cut back to ensure a free-flowing watercourse. It should also identify at what intervals you will remove silt from the bed of the watercourse to keep a constant, full capacity channel and ensure that connecting pipes are able to discharge freely.

Along culverted watercourses, your program should include inspection of the culvert for blockages or signs of damage. If such problems are resolved before a total obstruction to the watercourse occurs, the likelihood of a flooding incident occurring can be reduced. At a cost, many companies will undertake culvert cleaning work or camera surveys.  Alternatively, for smaller culverts, landowners can undertake rodding themselves to check for blockages.

Trash / debris / security screens should be regularly checked all year round but especially at times of anticipated high flow. Such debris should be removed as soon as it starts to build up.

The right tools for the job

This depends on the scale of your watercourse and the extent of works required. For owners of smaller areas of land, watercourse maintenance is generally best achieved using hand tools. This is less destructive to habitats, vegetation and the bed of the watercourse. It is far better to undertake minor works more regularly that remove clear obstructions to flow, than completely remove all vegetation and silt from the bed and banks of a watercourse in one go. Regular, minor works will leave healthy vegetation along the bed and banks of the watercourse. This is of importance to the water quality and the wildlife that lives in the watercourse. Of course, if the watercourse has not been maintained for a long time then there may be no option but to undertake major works.

Machinery can clear larger stretches of open watercourse very quickly. If machinery is proposed, the sensitivity of the watercourse must first be considered and maintenance should be planned to ensure stretches of habitat are left intact. This could be done by strimming alternate banks or lengths of a watercourse each year.

For culverts, specialist tools may be needed for jet cleaning or rodding in order to clear blockages. Inspections, using camera survey equipment, may also be necessary to check on the condition of a culvert.

Many landowners appoint drainage companies to carry out maintenance. We recommend that landowners who choose to do this obtain a range of quotes in attempt to achieve best value.

Considering the environment

Watercourses form very important habitats and may contain protected species of flora and fauna protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Various methods for managing the impacts of maintenance work on the environment have been suggested above, such as using hand tools to remove clear obstructions. Additionally, through careful planning, alternate stretches of a watercourse can be worked on each year to ensure there is always a healthy vegetated area where wildlife disturbed by maintenance can migrate to. You should remember, however, that there must be a clear free flow to water at all times.

Most landowners will be aware if their watercourse contains protected species. Opportunities for improving watercourse habitats should also be promoted. If you would like further information regarding habitats and biodiversity, follow the link on this page below.

Preventing problems downstream

Whenever undertaking maintenance works to a watercourse, you must ensure that any vegetation, debris or silt that has been removed cannot end up back in the watercourse. If this happens, it can cause problems for other landowners and habitats downstream. It is recommended that any waste produced from maintenance be left on the top bank of the watercourse for a few days to allow any organisms to migrate back into their habitat. Following this, debris must be disposed of in an appropriate manner.

Health and safety

Watercourses, whether culverted or open, can pose a range of health and safety issues. Whenever planning to undertake work in or near to a watercourse you should assess the risks to ensure the work can be undertaken in a safe manner.

Staying legal

When carrying out maintenance to a watercourse it is down to you, as the landowner, to ensure that the works undertaken are legal. General day to day maintenance of a watercourse is unlikely to break the law but other, more significant, work may require prior consent. Further information on the types of work which require consent is available via the link on this page.