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Dykes and Land Drains

South Holland contains many dykes and land drains and determining ownership and responsibility for maintenance can be complicated. Here you will find some information on how to find out who a dyke belongs to and what to do if you wish to make alterations to it.

Photo of Dyke

South Holland is criss crossed with hundreds of dykes and land drains in order to remove the excess water from our flat landscape and reduce the risk of flooding.  Therefore, they are an important part of our landscape and need to be maintained, kept running freely and free from rubbish.

As the misuse of these watercourses can affect flood risk, South Holland has both the internal drainage boards looking after them and South Holland District Council, we are known as Risk Management Authorities.  Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) are established in areas of special drainage known as drainage districts. Their functions include the supervision of land drainage, water level management and flood risk management works and regulation on ordinary watercourses.

Under the Land Drainage Act 1991 and recent changes in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, Local Authorities and Internal Drainage Boards have powers to manage flood risk from ordinary watercourses, surface water runoff, and groundwater. Their powers allow them to:

• carry out works to manage flood risk from these sources and that will contribute to the local flood risk management strategy.

• serve notice on you if you have not maintained a watercourse on your land, and the proper flow of water is not possible or it is increasing flood risk.

Dyke Ownership

Responsibility and ownership of dykes (ordinary watercourse) can be varied and in general they are not conveyed on house deeds, so it may be a surprise to find that you may be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of a watercourse.

If a dyke is relatively large and is well kept, it may belong to the local drainage board, you can contact them to find out or look on their website.  There are five Internal Drainage Boards that cover parts of South Holland, Black Sluice Internal Drainage Board, Welland and Deepings Internal Drainage Board,  North Level District Internal Drainage Board, South Holland IDB and Kings Lynn IDB, both of which come under the Water Management Alliance .  To find out which IDB covers your area please see this map.  pdf icon IDB Boundaries Map [237kb]

If your land boundary is next to a watercourse it is assumed you own the land up to the centre of the watercourse, unless it is owned by someone else, this makes you a 'riparian landowner'.

If you own land with a watercourse running through or underneath it, it is assumed you own the stretch of watercourse that runs through your land.

Rights and Responsibilities of a Riparian Landowner

Your rights as a riparian landowner have been established in common law for many years, but they may be affected by other laws.  You need permission for some activities, such as filling a watercourse or creating access over one, from a third party, such as South Holland District Council, the Internal Drainage Board or the Environment Agency.

Your responsibilities

  • You must let water flow through your land without any obstruction, pollution or diversion which affects the rights of others.
  • You must accept flood flows through your land, even if these are caused by inadequate capacity downstream. A landowner has no duty in common law to improve the drainage capacity of a watercourse he/she owns.
  • You should keep the banks clear of anything that could cause an obstruction and increase flood risk, either on your land or downstream if it is washed away. You are responsible for maintaining the bed and banks of the watercourse and the trees and shrubs growing on the banks. You should also clear any litter and animal carcasses from the channel and banks, even if they did not come from your land. You may need your risk management authority's consent for these works.
  • You should always leave a development-free edge on the banks next to a watercourse.  This allows for easy access to the watercourse in case any maintenance or inspection is required.  You must keep any structures, such as culverts, trash screens, weirs and mill gates, clear of debris.  Discuss the maintenance of flood defences, such as walls and embankments, on your property with your risk management authority. They may be vital for flood protection.
  • You should not cause obstructions, temporary or permanent, that would stop fish passing through.
  • You have a legal obligation to notify the Environment Agency and the relevant risk management authority if you would like to build or alter a structure that acts as an obstruction to a watercourse. Under the Eel Regulations in some cases it may be an offence if you do not notify the Environment Agency.
  • Please help to protect water quality. Do not use the banks of watercourses to dispose of garden or other waste, where it could be washed in.  This includes grass cuttings, which pollute the water.
  • You are responsible for protecting your property from water that seeps through natural or artificial banks. Where this damages a flood defence, your risk management authority may require you to pay for repairs.
  • You must control invasive alien species such as Japanese knotweed. Your local risk management authority can advise you on how to manage and control these species.
  • Make sure any work you do on a watercourse fits with the natural river system.  Work must not damage wildlife and wherever possible you should try and improve the habitat.  Speak to the relevant risk management authority about wildlife and nature conservation.  If you are not sure what you have to do and/or are new to living near a watercourse, ask your risk management authority for advice.  Your property may include a watercourse that runs in a culvert.  You have the same responsibilities for the upkeep of the culvert as if it was an open watercourse.

If you do not carry out your responsibilities, you could face legal action.  If you see any activity that could damage the environment or increase flood risk, please report it to your risk management authority as soon as possible.

Water and land pollution or blockages which increase the risk of flooding should be reported to the Environment Agency incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60 (Freephone*, 24 hour service).

Filling a Dyke (creating a culvert) 

If you want to fill a dyke please read our guidance notes word icon Dyke Filling Guidance [570kb].

Before you do any work you will need to consult with:

  • The relevant Internal Drainage Board
  • Lincolnshire County Council Highways Department if it is near a road 
  • Any neighbours that may be affected
  • South Holland District Council Property Department for permission
  • South Holland District Council Planning Department if you are creating a new access over a dyke

We will ask you to fill in an word icon Application to Culvert or Cover Any Stream or Watercourse [132kb] and return it to us with all the relevant plans and information. 

Please be aware that filling a dyke without permission is illegal under both the Public Health Act 1936 and the Land Drainage Act 1991.

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