Responsibilities of the riparian owner
In common law a riparian owner owns land adjoining a river or other watercourse and therefore has certain rights and responsibilities.
It is important that watercourses do not become overgrown and are kept free from debris. Watercourses have the capacity to carry significant volumes of water during flooding. If this capacity is reduced, the risk of flooding can increase.
Unless it is owned by somebody else, the law presumes you own the land up to the centre point of the watercourse. This means that you and your neighbouring land owner are responsible for the maintenance and water flow within the watercourse where it borders your land.
More information and examples of the responsibilities of riparian owners is given in our document about land drainage.
It is not our responsibility to carry out maintenance or improvement works in these situations.
DocumentRiparian responsibilities examples
Liabilities of the riparian owner
If you do not maintain the watercourse or any asset within it we can ask you to do so.
If you fail to carry out your legal responsibilities we may maintain your watercourses and assets for you and take legal action to seek to recover our costs.
Altering your watercourse
You may need consent for any measure or feature that alters the normal behaviour or flow of a watercourse.
Please note that we try to avoid culverting, and our consent for such works will not normally be granted except as a means of access.
View our diagrams showing cross sections of activities to find out if you need to apply for consent.
If your watercourse is part of a main river then you will need to apply for consent to the Environment Agency.
If your watercourse is not part of a main river, then you will need to apply to us for consent using the ordinary watercourse consent form.
There is a charge of £50 for each structure associated with the application. Please contact us before you send in the application to check how much consent will cost.
We will let you know within 2 months whether we are giving consent.
We may refuse an application if we think that the watercourse’s flow will be obstructed or if we have insufficient information to make a decision. We tell you to make sure that you provide sufficient detail. If you are unclear, please contact us before you send in the application.
If you haven’t sought consent prior to undertaking works then we reserve the right to request that remedial action be taken to reinstate the watercourse to its previous condition.
If you need to find out if there is an asset on your property, contact Customer Services on 01344 352000 to arrange to view the asset register. Examples of assets are ditches, pipes and culverts.