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This article is written by Gurpreet Singh, a student at the Faculty of Law, Delhi University. The article aims to explore the interrelationship between environmental policies and flood management.


The recent Chamoli landslide disaster in Uttarakhand has shaken the conscience of a nation that reveres the environment as divine, but you might be disappointed that we are not delving into the environmental policies of Uttrakhand (U.k.) but of the U.K. (United Kingdom). This piece will take you through the environmental laws and policies of the U.K. with special attention to flood management through environmental laws and policies. 

List of environmental laws in the U.K. 

Pollution Management Laws 

  • Control of Pollution Act, 1974 – This piece of legislation is wholesome in itself. It covers within its ambit, water, air, pollution, land, and noise pollution.
  • Environmental protection Act, 1990 – This Act deals with the discharge of toxic substances into environmental bodies and exerts control over emissions as well.

 Wildlife management laws 

  • Wildlife and the Countryside Act, 1981 – This Act was introduced by the British to encompass the directions of the European Union dealing with the preservation of the wild birds within its domestic territory. 
  • Weeds Act, 1959 This piece of legislation was inculcated in the statute book to prevent harmful weed species from being bred in the privately owned lands of the country. 
  • Protection of Badgers Act, 1992This Act was passed to strengthen the already existing badgers act that was passed to not intervene in killing a set of badgers without a valid license. Badgers are 4 legged mammals that help in archaeological discoveries.
  • Hunting Act, 2004 This piece of legislation is an enigma in itself. It is also criticized by many scholars. This act makes it illegal to use dogs to hunt mammals such as foxes, but dogs are allowed to use their prowess and flush out these animals and then humans can hunt the other animals.

Environment conservation laws

  • Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act, 1990 – This Act was passed in 1990 to protect buildings and areas listed for conservation in the U.K.
  • National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949 – This Act grants power to the English nature government agency to create national parks and issue guidelines for the public to access areas of beauty in the U.K.
  • Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act, 1979 – This Act was passed to protect any monument listed by the government. It is an offense to damage any monument in the U.K.
  • Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000 – This Act was passed to grant access to the general public to wander in the uncultivated area in the U.K such as mountains, heaths, and downs.

Preventing climate change laws 

  • Climate Change Act, 2008 – This Act was created to reduce carbon emissions in the U.K. The target set by this act is to reduce emissions by 80 % from the emissions recorded in 1990 by the year 2050. 
  • Planning and Energy Act, 2008 – This Act grants power to the authorities to impose restrictions on the use of energy on local planning applications.
  • Energy Act, 2011 – This Act was passed to impose certain limitations on the provider providing energy to the residents, This act also imposes limitations on carbon emissions.

Environmental laws and flood management 

Definition of floods 

Floods, as defined by the European Union Flood Directives, 2007, means “covering of land not normally covered by water”.

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Threats of flooding

According to estimates, more than 5 million properties are under the constant threat of being harmed by flooding. The flooding that struck England in 2016 had devastating effects affecting the life and property of millions of people, along with the incident of widespread hail storms in 2013 that led to flooding in Somerset, Thames valley, kent, Sussex, and Hampshire. This has led to fear among the public that can be inferred from the increased inquiry about rights and duties of an individual during flooding made to advisory offices.

Causes of flooding

There are various causes of floods that are as follows: 

  • Natural causes 
  1. Thunderstorms that prolong over a certain period; 
  2. Excessive rainfall;
  3. High tide combined with other mitigating factors. 
  • Man – Made causes 
  • Climate change – Due to human greed and over industrialization has pushed the earth to the limits. It has been predicted that within the next fifty years flooding will increase in every nook and corner of the planet.
  • Faulty sewer network – Due to the increase in population, an increase in demand for housing has been witnessed, and with greater attention to providing accommodation to all, sewer networks are usually ignored that can lead to blockage of sewers due to excessive raining that can lead to contributing in increasing water flow which will eventually lead to flooding. 
  • Faulty drainage networks – Drainage facilities are lifelines for human beings. If they are not able to deal with extra water flow they would contribute to flooding. 
  • Real estate – Poor development of real estate in highly sensitive areas without adhering to safety requirements will essentially contribute to flooding.

Types of flooding 

  • Coastal flooding – Rain Storms combined with other extreme weather conditions lead to rising sea levels, which when reached the land wreaks havoc. Safety mechanisms need to be built for this eventuality to protect the habitation.
  • River flooding – When a river overflows around its bank that eventually leads to flooding in areas surrounding the river it is known as river flooding. Inhabitants around the rivers, living in England have a legal duty, not to obstruct the river’s natural flow. 
  • Flash floods – These floods occur at an instant, these floods can be attributed to the faulty drainage system and excessive real estate development in ecologically sensitive areas of the environment. Climate change would be one of the reasons for these types of floods shortly.
  • Groundwater floodings – This type of flooding occurs when groundwater rises above the normal limits. Extensive rainfalls usually lead to groundwater floodings. According to the authorities in the United Kingdom, 100 of thousands of inhabitants are affected by groundwater flooding. 
  • Sewer flooding – In simple terms overflowing of sewers due to excessive rains, coupled with poor maintenance of sewers leads to sewer water overflowing around certain areas. 

Law on flooding

Flood and Water Management Act, 2010 The Act innovates and introduces the concept of flood and coastal erosion risk management. The Act has given the power to the authorities to manage more than land drainage and coastal defense. It has granted powers not just to prevent floods but also to build adequate mechanisms to deal with. For example, It prescribes new estates to build sustainable drainage systems to reduce the impact of floods.

Land Drainage Act, 1991This Act created authorities to deal with land drainage, these include the following :

  • Environment agency 
  • Local Authorities 
  • Internal drainage boards 
  • Navigation authorities 

Water Resource Act, 1991This Act lays down the duties of the environment agency (EA) to strengthen the systems that would aid in preventing floods and managing water resources. The following powers have been granted to the environment agency to manage floods: 

  • The Environment Agency has been granted full autonomy to deal with the health of rivers and water bodies in the Country and to strengthen defense from being bred in the country’s privately owned land mechanisms to deal with the eventuality of floods.
  • The Act also confers powers on the environmental agency to deal with the flood warning and prescribe the limits for discharging industrial waste into the rivers. 
  • The Act also confers the power to issue bylaws to the agency to deal with emergent situations arising in the daily running. 

Coast Protection Act, 1949

The main aim of the Act is to strengthen the existing mechanisms to defend the coasts from floods. The act grants power to the authorities to prevent coastal erosion To this end, they maintain and repair existing coastal defenses.

Role of Courts in the development of environmental law 

The Courts have played a detrimental role in the United Kingdom expanding the scope of environmental law. Earlier Floods were considered divine intervention and that no human could be blamed with, but with the advent of technology and progress in knowledge consensus, humans can be a catalyst for causing floods. As society progresses Courts also progress, Earlier Courts used to grant protection to individuals who protected their land, even if this protection came with a cost to the neighbor’s land. For example, to protect my land from flooding, I risk the neighbor’s land to face the flood. Now the Courts have placed a duty on the landowners, that their activities shouldn’t put the neighbor’s land in jeopardy. Certain cases decided by the U.K courts are discussed below:

  1. Gerrard v Crowe – The Court, in this case, placed a duty on the riparian landowners to strengthen the defense mechanisms against floods. 
  2. Leakey v National Trust – The Court paced duty on the landowners, owning land in ecologically sensitive zones to strengthen security mechanisms around their vicinity. 
  3. Home Brewery v Davis – The Court outlined the rights of landowners to drain surface water naturally into the lower ground to prevent flooding. 

The following public agencies deal with flooding and coastal erosion in the United Kingdom, Scotland, and Wales: 

  • Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs

It is the central government department that has the responsibility of policy formulation on floods and coastal risk management 

  •  Welsh Government 

The government looks around the areas around Wales and has powers to grant aid for flood risk management and coastal erosion projects in Wales. The government can draft laws and implement policies regarding flood management in Welsh.

  • Scottish Government 

The Scottish government maintains the area of Scotland. They also have powers to make laws and policies concerning flood management and grant aid flood risk managements undertaken in Scotland.

  • Scottish Environmental Agency 

The agency’s main task is developing, maintaining, and implementing the national flood risk management program for Scotland. The agency also researches all 14 districts of Scotland to figure out ecological sensitive zones prone to flooding and prepare plans to tackle the situation to the best of their ability.

  • Local Councils 

Local authorities in England must develop local flood risk management plans on their area of operation similarly in Scotland local authorities have a responsibility to prepare local flood risk management plans within their area of operation.

Operative bodies dealing with flood management 

Environmental Agency (England and Wales)

  • The agency oversees activities undertaken regarding flood risk management. 
  • The agency also has the sole discretion to permit or not permit the development of flood defense mechanisms in the main arterial rivers of England.
  • The agency can undertake work to prevent tidal flooding as well. 

Natural Resources (Wales)

  • Authority To issue flood warnings lies with this agency.
  • Sole discretion to implement flood defense mechanisms around the main rivers of wales. 
  • Maintain outfalls, floodgates and barriers. 

Drainage Board

  • The main responsibility of the board is to maintain drainage and sewerage systems so they do not contribute to flooding due to overflowing. 
  • They operate under the authority of the Land Drainage Act, 1991.
  • The responsibility on the boards is to maintain ordinary watercourses in internal drainage districts. 

Local Authorities 

  • The main function of the local authorities is to monitor the areas covered under their jurisdiction and prepare flood risk management plans. 
  • Maintain resources such as sandbags to promptly meet the requirements in case of unexpected floods. 
  • Collect tax for building up flood defense mechanisms. 
  • Grant environmental clearances to estate projects, after undertaking a risk assessment. 


Witnessing COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the finest of species “Homo Sapiens “ has given us a different perspective about development. Unmanned industrialization promises rapid development. The United Kingdom bore the brunt virus and has also been affected by floods in the recent past. It is time for the United Kingdom to build robust mechanisms to be prepared against floods and move for inclusive sustainable growth.


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