The Consortium Boards operate and maintain a watercourse network system that is designed to provide drainage, flood protection,

Weedcutting along Cannington Brook

Weedcutting along Cannington Brook

irrigation and environmental enhancement. In total the Boards maintain about 1185 km of watercourse. These maintained watercourses are locally known as Viewed Rhynes. The lengths of watercourse maintained by each Board are shown below.

  • Axe Brue 601 km
  • Parrett 584 km

The work mainly involves the cutting and removal of vegetation from within the channel to ensure a clear passage for water as well as the mowing of the banks to prevent a build up of scrub vegetation. The cut vegetation is normally deposited on the land adjacent to the watercourse over as small an area as possible. In urban areas this may not be possible and sometimes the cut vegetation (as well as rubbish) will be removed from the site and taken to a waste disposal or recycling site.

Most Viewed Rhynes are maintained on an annual basis between August and December. This time of the year is normally outside the bird nesting season so the work minimises disturbance to birds and ducks. Some rhynes are maintained twice in a year. Where possible the maintenance work is carried out on alternate banks each year to aid wildlife and biodiversity. Some watercourses are maintained earlier in the year to allow irrigation water for ditches to feed around the system.

The maintenance work is undertaken by both in house members of staff and their equipment as well as contractors who are employed on a three year contract.

Cleaning along Sedgemoor Drove, Chedzoy

Cleaning along Sedgemoor Drove, Chedzoy

The work that the Board undertakes on the maintenance of watercourses is done under the legal powers contained within Section 14 & 15 of the Land Drainage Act. We are allowed to enter onto private land to do our work under the legal powers contained within Section 64 of the same Act.

Notice to Farmers and Riparian Owners
2016/17 Rhyne Maintenance

The Board and the Board’s sub-contractors require access to the Board’s Viewed Rhynes to carry out routine maintenance and weed cutting (under Sections 14, 15 and 64 of the Land Drainage Act 1991). The proposed timing of works will take place in accordance with the schedule of works, which is available on the Board’s web site or on request from the Board’s office. Flailing of banks may be necessary and this may be undertaken two weeks prior to weed cutting. Riparian owners are reminded that a NINE METRE maintenance strip from the top of the bank must be kept clear for access. Whilst all efforts are made to minimise damage to crops it is not possible to interrupt or delay the programme to avoid harvesting operations as efficient routes for the weed cutting have been established.

To minimise operational cost and disruption to the scheduled works the Board asks riparian owners/ratepayers to inform the Board of locked gates on known access routes.

Farmers and Riparian Owners please note this programme is for guidance only and may vary due to weather conditions, weed growth and machine availability. For further details contact the office at Highbridge on 01278 789906.

If you are interested in undertaking this type of work for the Somerset Drainage Board Consortium please contact Matthew Wall, Axe Brue Area or Philip Ham, Parrett Area on 01278 789906

Download this Notice




In addition to the annual vegetation cutting work the Board also undertake a programme of watercourse dredging and bank reshaping. This dredging work involves the removal of sediment that may build up in a channel over time and  limit the capacity and efficiency of a channel to convey water. Where banks of a watercourse slump or become damaged the Board may also reshape the banks and channel to maintain the overall size and capacity of the watercourse.

Before undertaking any dredging or reshaping works the Board’s Engineers will investigate the reasons for the build up of silt or the failed banks and will seek to prevent or minimise a reoccurrence. Often over maintenance of channels and the removal of vegetation will increase siltation. Bank failure caused by stock damage is a frequent problem which is contrary to the byelaws and can be prevented by stock fencing and adequate waterings.

The Boards always try to work closely with the effected landowners or occupiers to ensure that any negative impact from maintenance work is kept to a minimum.


If you own land adjoining, above or with a watercourse running through it you have certain rights and responsibilities. In legal terms you are a ‘riparian owner’. If you rent the land, you should agree with the owner who will manage these rights and responsibilities.

Included within the list of responsibilities is the requirement to keep the banks and bed clear of anything that could cause an obstruction and increased flood risk. You are therefore responsible for maintaining the bed and the banks of the watercourse including the trees, shrubs and all vegetation growing on them. A more complete summary of your rights and responsibilities as a riparian owner is contained within the Environment Agency leaflet ‘Living on the Edge’.  This document can be downloaded from the Agency’s website by going to the link below or it may be obtained from the Board’s office in Highbridge.

Across Somerset the drainage boards and the Environment Agency only maintain about 2% of the watercourses in the Somerset Levels and Moors and for the system to function properly all riparian owners must play their part by undertaking watercourse maintenance from time to time.

Drainage Boards have a duty in law to exercise a general supervision over all matters relating to the drainage of land in its area as well as the powers to act and ensure that watercourses are not impeded or obstructed.

Where a riparian owner has failed to undertake the necessary maintenance of a watercourse or its vegetation then the Board will, by Notice (under the Land Drainage Act 1991 Section 25 or the Boards Byelaws under Section 66), require the work to be undertaken. The riparian owner is normally given a minimum of 28 days to do the work.

Guidance on specifications or techniques for watercourse maintenance work can be obtained from Board Officers.

Natural England can provide specialist conservation advice on watercourse maintenance within Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and you should consult Natural England before carrying out non-routine maintenance operations within SSSIs and where protected species like badgers, otters or water voles could be affected.

Where the removal of a hedge is required to carry out watercourse maintenance, then you should consult the local authority (the district council in 2 tier systems) to make sure the works are acceptable under the Hedgerows Regulations 1997.

Environment Agency ‘Living on the Edge’

Marker Posts for Watercourse Maintenance

Marking of older existing water pipes or services that are not buried under the watercourse as shown in figure 1.

services xing

All new service crossings must be buried under the watercourse.