MORE than 4,500 metres of ditches in West Oxfordshire are being cleared to help protect the area from flooding over the winter.

Work began in Carterton at the end of last month and is expected to continue for up to 10 weeks.

West Oxfordshire District Council staff are tackling potential flooding risks by removing vegetation, fallen leaves and branches and trimming overgrown bushes to ensure that rainwater can run away into brooks and rivers.

Other communities to be covered by the programme include Bampton, Brize Norton, North Leigh, Minster Lovell and Witney.

Grilles which stop rubbish and other debris getting into 24 culverts will also be inspected and cleared.

David Harvey, the council’s cabinet member for the environment, said: “Our annual ditch clearance programme is an important part of ongoing steps to reduce the risk of flooding. It also has a positive impact for wildlife.

“As well as the work we do, it’s important for private landowners to keep their ditches, brooks and streams clear.

“We monitor this and, if necessary, will send landowners a reminder letter.”

The council has worked on flood prevention since 2007, when West Oxfordshire was hit by devastating flooding after a day of torrential rain across the Cotswolds on July 20.

The floods left rivers including the Windrush and Evenlode swollen for several days, inundating 1,631 homes and 72 businesses, with Witney and the Wychwoods villages badly affected.

The Cotswold Line railway was washed out in two places between Kingham and Moreton-in-Marsh, with repairs to tracks and embankments taking a fortnight.

More than £1m has been secured by the council since 2007 for a programme of flood defence improvements across the district in conjunction with Oxfordshire County Council, the Environment Agency, Thames Water and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Work was recently completed in Burford to reduce the risk of flooding at the Guildenford car park next to the River Windrush.