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This guidance has been prepared for residents, communities, and organisations across Cambridgeshire who have a watercourse on or adjacent to land they own or tenant, as part of the Cambridgeshire Community Flood Action Programme.

The objectives of the guidance are to provide:

  • Detailed information on rights and responsibilities for watercourse maintenance
  • An introduction to roles and responsibilities for flood risk management authorities
  • Easy to follow guidance on how to maintain a watercourse
  • Easy to follow guidance on how to reinstate a piped or culverted watercourse, and how to re-naturalise a watercourse.
  • Signposting to other relevant and useful resources

This guidance covers everything that can affect watercourse maintenance, from birds and bats to hedges, highways, and ancient monuments!

Non-technical summary

A non-technical summary of the guidance covers all the main points to know about watercourse maintenance.

Survey analysis

Our Watercourse Guidance Survey ran throughout September 2021. The Survey was advertised via our social media channels and shared with the public and organisations including parish councils, the National Farmers Union, and Internal Drainage Boards. We have prepared an analysis of the results which shows how they have informed the structure and content of the guidance.

Rights and responsibilities for watercourse maintenance

There are countless benefits to living near water. So called “blue spaces” are widely demonstrated to improve mental health and wellbeing (Gascon, et al., 2017) - ScienceDirect website. We also like to appreciate our green spaces. A 2020 survey found that 96% of respondents see investments in green open spaces are either one of their top priorities or their top priority. (Natural Cambridgeshire, 2020, Valuing Nature and Open Space, s.l.: s.n.)

Just like how our gardens and green spaces need looking after, watercourses need care too, and this has the added benefit of reducing flood risk.

Roles and responsibilities for Flood Risk Management Authorities

Whilst watercourse maintenance is a Riparian Responsibility, flood risk management is the responsibility of a variety of authorities in the UK. We have created the document below to introduce the roles and responsibilities for flood risk management authorities in Cambridgeshire.

Watercourse maintenance guide

The lack of maintenance to watercourses and unconsented construction works within watercourses, for example to culvert a watercourse, are contributing factors to many flood incidents across Cambridgeshire.

Lack of maintenance to a watercourse leaves vegetation, litter or fly tipping to build up and eventually block the watercourse, which can lead to flooding.

With the right kind of watercourse maintenance, a multitude of benefits can be realised in addition to reducing flood risk, such as improvements to biodiversity, water quality, and amenity benefits to those living next to the water.

The following guidance has been prepared by Cambridgeshire County Council for those with watercourse maintenance responsibilities.

Additionally a template maintenance plan is available below.

Watercourse reinstatement guide

Culverting is an engineering term used to describe a watercourse which has been covered over, by installing a pipe and backfilling with a well compacted material. Culverts are usually installed in urban areas for access to properties or land.

Maintenance responsibilities for culverted watercourses follow the same rules as open watercourses.

Culverts increase the risk of flooding. Culverted watercourses get blocked more easily than open watercourses and they can also collapse if they are poorly designed, constructed or maintained. Additionally, as culverts are enclosed, it’s more difficult to tell when a blockage or collapse has occurred. This means culverts require a far more stringent monitoring and maintenance programme than open watercourses. Flooding can also occur if too small a culvert is installed, as this in itself acts as a flow restriction in flood conditions.

The document below covers reinstating (or ‘daylighting’) a culverted watercourse back to being an open watercourse, and re-naturalising watercourses.


This resources document includes useful further reading, handy links and contacts.

Contact us


Call: 0345 045 5200 between 9am-5pm Monday to Friday, ask for a member of the Flood Risk team

Address: New Shire Hall, Box ALC2619, Emery Crescent, Enterprise Campus, Alconbury Weald, PE28 4YE

To request a printed copy of the Watercourse Guidance 2022 please complete the online form below. Please allow 2-3 weeks for the documents to arrive, although they may arrive sooner.