Flood risk activities: environmental permits

Check if you need to apply for an environmental permit, formerly known as a flood defence consent, and get the forms you need.

You must follow the environmental permitting rules if you want to do work:

  • on or near a main river
  • on or near a flood defence structure
  • in a flood plain
  • on or near a sea defence

These are regulated under environmental permits (formerly flood defence consents). You are breaking the law if you operate without getting the permit you need.

If you already have a flood defence consent (FDC) for work you’ve not yet completed, check how you could be affected by changes in the law made on 6 April 2016.

There are other laws that may also restrict what you can do on or near a main river or sea defence:

Check if the activity is on a main river

Work on or near main rivers is regulated by environmental permitting. Check the location of main rivers.

Not on a main river

You don’t need flood risk permits to work on ‘ordinary watercourses’– usually small rivers, streams, ditches. But you should contact your local council or internal drainage board to check if you need land drainage consent.

Check if your activity is regulated

You must apply for permission to do any of the following regulated flood risk activities:

  • erecting any temporary or permanent structure in, over or under a main river, such as a culvert, outfall, weir, dam, pipe crossing, erosion protection, scaffolding or bridge
  • altering, repairing or maintaining any temporary or permanent structure in, over or under a main river, where the work could affect the flow of water in the river or affect any drainage work
  • building or altering any permanent or temporary structure designed to contain or divert flood waters from a main river
  • dredging, raising or removing any material from a main river, including when you are intending to improve flow in the river or use the materials removed
  • diverting or impounding the flow of water or changing the level of water in a main river
  • quarrying or excavation within 16m of any main river, flood defence (including a remote defence) or culvert
  • any activity within 8m of the bank of a main river, or 16m if it is a tidal main river
  • any activity within 8m of any flood defence structure or culvert on a main river, or 16m on a tidal river
  • any activity within 16m of a sea defence structure
  • activities carried out on the floodplain of a main river, more than 8m from the river bank, culvert or flood defence structure (or 16m if it’s a tidal main river), if you don’t have planning permission. (You don’t need permission to build agricultural hay stacks, straw stacks or manure clamps in these places.)

If you’re not sure if your work is regulated, contact the Environment Agency.

Activities that don’t need permission before you start work

You don’t need to get permission if you plan to do one of the excluded activities. But you must operate within the description and conditions of the exclusion.

Activities that need permission before you start work

There are 3 ways to get permission to do your work:

If you’re not sure if you need a permit, send details of your project to the Environment Agency at You’ll get a response within 10 working days.


You don’t need to apply for a permit if:

It’s free to register an exemption.

To complete your registration you’ll need the:

  • description of the exemption you want to register
  • name and address of the individual, business or organisation that’ll be responsible for the activity
  • registration number and registered address details if you’re registering the activity for a limited company or limited liability partnership
  • name and address of the contact person who will be sent the registration confirmation
  • address or a 12-digit National Grid reference or postcode for the location of your work

You can contact the Environment Agency before you fill in your registration to check if you can register an exemption. This will depend on how close it is to environmentally sensitive sites or existing flood defence structures.

Standard rules permits

You can apply for a standard rules permit to operate if your proposed work fits fully within one of the standard rules.

If you want to change your activity and will no longer meet the criteria of the standard rules covered by your permit, you’ll have to apply to make it a bespoke permit.

You may also need to change your permit if:

  • a change in your local environment means you can no longer meet the standard rules
  • the Environment Agency tells you that you need to change your permit

Before you apply for a standard rules permit

You’ll need to:

  • read the rules and make sure you can follow them – if in doubt, contact the Environment Agency to get advice
  • read the instructions in the application form and guidance
  • read the generic risk assessment for your activity – you can find this with the standard rules
  • contact the Environment Agency to check if you can’t apply for a standard permit because the works are too close to a flood defence structure or an environmentally sensitive location
  • prepare a management system that describes your method of work and what you’ll do to manage risk

You don’t need to send your management system when you apply for a standard rules permit but the Environment Agency may ask to inspect it at any time.

Apply for a standard rules permit

Download and fill in the following forms:

You must also include your fee – find out how much you need to pay.

Send your completed forms and fee to your local Environment Agency office. Call 03708 506 506 to find your local office (charges apply).

Bespoke permits

You must apply for a bespoke permit to operate if your activities don’t fit within any of the standard rules, exemptions or exclusions.

Before you apply for a bespoke permit

You’ll need to:

Apply for a bespoke permit

Download and fill in the following forms:

When you send your application you’ll need to include:

  • the forms
  • your method of work
  • your risk assessment
  • any other supporting documents mentioned in the accompanying form guidance
  • your fee – find out how much you need to pay

Email or post your completed forms to the Environment Agency. To find your local office call 03708 506 506 (charges apply).

How your data can be used

The Environment Agency will normally put the information in your application on a public register.

The Environment Agency won’t include certain information on the public register if it could harm national security or commercial interests. If you want commercially sensitive information kept private (such as financial information), you must give your reasons in a letter with your application.

The Environment Agency will do one of the following:

  • agree to your request within 20 days
  • tell you it needs more time to decide
  • reject your request and tell you how to appeal or withdraw your application

Information about your application and the Environment Agency’s decision will be available on the public register. The Environment Agency holds public register information at its local offices. Anyone can ask to see the public register. Contact the Environment Agency to find your nearest office.

After you apply

The Environment Agency will tell you if your application is ‘duly made’, meaning it has the information it needs to start the assessment process. It may still request more information from you.

The Environment Agency may reject your application if:

  • you haven’t used the right forms
  • you’ve forgotten to include the fee or sent the wrong fee
  • you haven’t provided all the necessary information

Consultations on your application

The Environment Agency may consult other public bodies when assessing your application.

If the Environment Agency thinks your proposed activities could have potentially significant environmental impacts, it may publish a notice of your application for public comment. The Environment Agency will let you know if it plans to do this.

In cases of high public interest, it may take longer to give you a decision as a result of any extra public and specialist consultation.

Read the Environment Agency’s public participation statement to find out more and what you can do if you have concerns.

Decisions about your application

The Environment Agency will tell you if it approves your application.

You’ll normally get a decision within 2 months if your application relates only to flood risk activities. The Environment Agency will ask you if it needs more information. Its decision will take longer.

Normally it will take 4 months to assess an application for combined activities (such as a flood risk and water discharge activity) or if there’s a public consultation.

You should plan enough time for the Environment Agency to decide on your application before you start work.

Appeal a decision

You can appeal against the decision if the Environment Agency refuses your application or you think the conditions are unreasonable. The decision letter will explain how to appeal.

Complying with your permit

After you’ve got your permit you’ll need to follow its conditions. Find out how the Environment Agency will regulate you.

When the Environment Agency may change your permit

The Environment Agency won’t normally change your flood risk activity permit within 3 years of you receiving it.

It may change your permit if:

  • you apply to change your permit, for example if you want to add temporary or enabling works related to the works you have a permit for
  • you don’t meet the conditions of your permit or environmental standards
  • there are changes to legislation
  • there are changes to the flood, drainage and environmental risks near the site of your activities
Published 6 April 2016
Last updated 8 November 2016 + show all updates
  1. Updated to reflect customer charter response times of 10 working days.
  2. This guidance has been re-written to meet GOV.UK standards and to make it clearer and easier for customers to use.
  3. A risk assessment must be completed for bespoke permit applications.
  4. Excluded activity 'post and rail or post and wire fencing' updated.
  5. First published.