Landowners based on the River Deben are "ready and willing" to carry out work to alleviate flooding problems - but are being deterred by the risk of prosecution, an MP has warned.

Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter met with landowners on the River Deben on March 22 to talk about their concerns.

The MP - who met with John Fleming, James Foskett, Guy Hayward, Alistair Kerr and Sir Michael Bunbury - also tabled Written Parliamentary Questions about the barriers they face.

The landowners and farmers cover a large area of the river from Easton where Alistair Kerr farms to Bromeswell near Ufford where vegetable grower James Foskett is based.

Farmer Guy Hayward of Wickham Market became concerned about the state of the river after Storm Babet in October 2023, which resulted in floods over large areas of his farmland - as well as some of his rented properties and other homes in the village.

Afterwards he was keen to clear debris but initially felt frustrated by the speed of response from the Environment Agency when he asked for guidance - and was worried about repercussions if it didn't approve the work.

East Anglian Daily Times: It follows more heavy rain which has hit SuffolkHe spent February clearing up the mess left by the flooding - and carrying out what work he could having spoken to agency officials about his responsibilities and what he could do.

Storm Babet opened his eyes more fully to the importance and beauty of the River Deben, he said.

He and other landowners - known as riparian owners - have clubbed together and are keen to get the river in good shape - and willing to do what they can.

However, they feel the regime is complicated and overbearing - acting as a deterrent to carry out work.

East Anglian Daily Times:

Meantime, the Environment Agency has seen its budgets slashed and is unable to carry out works it would have once dealt with routinely.

Riparian owners bear responsibility for maintenance of their area of river, it points out, but at the same time landowners feel frustrated at the general state of the river and what they perceive as a lack of action by the Environment Agency.

"We have been worried about doing anything to the rivers," explained Guy. The rivers were in a bad state, he added, with fish and wildlife no longer present in the way they used to be.

"They are in such a mess. They are unhealthy. There's a simple food chain that thrives on the river and it's not working - there are no fish-eating birds because there are no fish.

East Anglian Daily Times:

"The people I have spoken to said they used to regularly catch large pike and you don't see kingfishers like you used to. The rivers are unhealthy and are fully silted up.

"The Environment Agency really needs the funding to be put towards these rivers being cleaned out."

The meeting with Dan Poulter was positive, he said. "He completely understood our plight. I felt it was a pretty promising and productive meeting."

East Anglian Daily Times:

"The threat of prosecution from the Environment Agency (EA) was also discussed, with one member adding first-hand experience of how he was threatened with legal action by the Environment Agency while carrying out vital works to the river," said Guy.

"We are questioning where the funds are being spent by the EA, and what they are going to do about the state of the rivers, now that properties are becoming flooded."

Dan Poulter said that following on from meetings and ongoing dialogue with local landowners along the River Deben, he raised concerns in Westminster by submitting a range of Written Parliamentary Questions.

East Anglian Daily Times:

He asked what was being to reduce flood risk on the Deben, urged an increase in spending to clean the tidal stretch of the river to help with that, and asked whether the independent drainage board (IDB) could oversee river maintenance.

“It seems absurd that those with responsibility for maintaining the river and its banks are ready and willing to carry out work but feel unable to do so for fear of legal penalties," said the MP.

“In such recent memory Storm Babet was devastating for so many of our communities, and continues to be so with many properties still uninhabitable due to the extent of damage caused.

"We cannot simply accept the current stalemate, do nothing and then act surprised when the next extreme weather event brings more flooding and further misery for those affected.”

The government got back with responses to Dr Poulter's questions about the River Deben - but made it clear the responsibility for the maintenance of the river lay with the landowners.

"Riparian owners...are required under common law to maintain the watercourse, including the removal of debris and blockages," it said.

The government pointed out it has invested £68k for 2023-24 to maintain both the tidal and fluvial elements of the river and would invest a similar level of funding in 2024-25. It also spent £121k in 2022-23 on capital works repairing the walls of the River Deben. More funding would be decided at the next spending review, officials said.

It said the Environment Agency could enter into public sector cooperation agreements with internal drainage boards for watercourse maintenance and had done so with the Suffolk IDB "to deliver effective and efficient maintenance in the river Deben Catchment".