Farmers in England are now free to dredge and maintain ditches up to 1.5km long without needing to fill out extensive forms, under a relaxation of the rules from today (Wednesday April 6).
The exemption applies to man-made ditches, land drains, agricultural drains and previously straightened watercourses but not to natural rivers.
Strong safeguards will also be in place to limit the impact of some activities – for example protecting SSSIs and spawning fish.
Until now, landowners have had to apply for permission from the EA before carrying out certain maintenance activities on their land – ranging from simple measures such as placing a ladder in a waterway to building a small footbridge.
New Flood Risk Activity permits also mean farmers can now undertake other ’low level’ work on their own land without needing to seek EA consent, such as building a small footbridge across a waterway.
Defra said this would remove unnecessary paper permits and allow the EA to focus their efforts on wider strategic flood risk management.
Defra Secretary Liz Truss announced the policy change in January, as Defra’s flood policy coming under scrutiny in response to serious flooding in northern England.
The move followed successful pilots Defra started two years ago, ’showing farmers and landowners can carry out this work in an environmentally sensitive way’.
Mrs Truss said: “Britain’s farmers are among the best in the world and we want to ensure they have the right conditions to thrive, including by providing them with the means to protect their land from flooding.
“That is why we are cutting red tape for our hard working farmers, reducing flood risk and allowing them to do low level maintenance work without unnecessary paperwork.
“These changes will support the Environment Agency to focus on managing flood risk, looking across a river’s whole catchment area to use natural defences, dredging and man-made barriers to better protect homes and businesses across the country.”