Although you may not have
previously realised, if you own land which is adjacent to a
watercourse or land which has a watercourse running through or
underneath it, you are by law considered to be a
As well as certain rights to the
watercourse, riparian owners have their own duties and
responsibilities which they are legally obliged to fulfil.
These apply equally to local authorities when they are the
landowner. The aim of these responsibilitires is to help manage
flood risk and protect the environment.
You are a riparian owner
If you have an ordinary watercourse
or a main river running through your land, underneath it or along
the boundary of your property you are likely to be the riparian
owner for that stretch of watercourse (unless the watercourse is
known to be owned by someone else).
If the land on the other side
of the watercourse is not in your ownership, you are presumed to be
the joint riparian owner together with the landowner on the other
side. In the case of joint riparian ownership, each party is
presumed to own up to the centre line of the watercourse and
therefore is responsible up to this point.
- To receive a
flow of water in its natural state, without undue interference in
quantity or quality.
receive flow of water in its natural state, without undue
interference in quantity or quality.
protect your property against flooding and protect your land from
- To maintain the
watercourse and to clear any obstructions (natural or otherwise) so
the normal flow of water is not impeded.
- To accept the natural flow
from your upstream neighbour and transfer it downstream without
obstruction, pollution or diversion.
- To maintain the banks and bed of
the watercourse (including trees and shrubs growing on the banks)
and any flood defences that exist on it.
- To maintain any structures
on your stretch of watercourse including culverts, weirs and mill
- To Keep the bed and banks
clear from any matter that could cause an obstruction and clearing
any debris, natural or otherwise, even if it did not originate from
What happens if a riparian
owner does not undertake their responsibilities?
The maintenance and clearance of
ordinary watercourses is vital to local flood risk management and
we cannot emphasise enough the importance of regular maintenance.
For tips and advice see our maintenance page.
If you fail to maintain
the free flow of a watercourse, and flooding occurs as a result, we
can request you to maintain the watercourse and you could face
legal action. See enforcement for more details.
Making changes to the
owner may not carry out any work, other than general cleaning and
routine maintenance (such as the removal of weeds or debris) in or
adjacent to a watercourse without the consent of the
regulating body. For more information on this see our
Riparian responsibility for roadside ditches
Riparian owners should note that
ordinary watercourses include road side ditches, you may therefore
be responsible for the maintenance of these where they border
your land. If flooding on the road occurs due to
an obstruction in the ditch, or drainage of the road into the
ditch is prevented, the Council as the Highway Authority may
exercise legal powers requiring the riparian owner to clear it.
Only if the Highway Authority has
created a new ditch alongside the highway for the sole purpose of
draining the highway or constructed a culvert underneath the
highway would the maintenance of these facilities be their
Living on the Edge: A guide for
responsible for looking after and maintaining their own gullies and
drains and to make sure that they are clear from obstruction. The
Environment Agency's guide 'Living
on the Edge' outlines the responsibilities of riverside
ownership in more detail, how to fulfil these and what consents may
It also includes
information on understanding flood risk, tidal watercourses,
culverts, mills and dams and has incorporated an explanation of new
requirements under the Water Framework Directive 2000 as well
as the designation of structures as flood risk management
We have also produced our own downloadable leaflet
Ditch or Drain near your property?' to help inform you of the
expectations that Bedford Borough Council has of the riparian
owners in the borough.
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