It might seem odd to be talking about flooding when we’ve just had the driest summer since 1976.

The water table is still low, those on private water supplies harbour concerns for next summer and many bogs and ponds remain dry.

However, historic records show a remarkably consistent annual rainfall over much of the region, and that dry periods are normally balanced out with wet periods.

So it seems opportune to consider the responsibilities inherent in maintaining watercourses.

There are two types of watercourse: ‘main river’, maintained by the Environment Agency, and ‘ordinary watercourses’, which are the responsibility of land owners.

Ordinary watercourses include streams, ditches, drains, cuts, culverts, dykes, sluices, sewers (other than public sewers) and any passages conducting water flow.

It is worth double-checking whether there are any designations in place, such as SSSI, which might require consent before maintenance work is carried out.

Landowners must let water flow through without any obstruction, pollution or diversion which would affect how others receive the water, and they must allow flood water through their land.

Banks must be kept clear of anything that would create an obstruction and flood risk if it was washed away.

Watercourses should be cleared of litter and other obstructions, regardless of whether they originated on the land itself. It is important to keep any structure, such as culverts, trash screens, weirs and mill gates, clear of debris. This type of blockage can often cause localised flood incidents.

And landowners must not cause obstructions, temporary or permanent, that would stop fish passing through or harm wildlife.

Tom Wills is head of agriculture and estates at law firm Sintons. He can be contacted on (0191) 2263796 or