River Responsibilities

If you live by certain rivers, streams or other watercourses there may be rights and responsibilities that automatically apply and which you must adhere to. Rights and responsibilities relating to such watercourses are referred to as “riparian”, and it is important to identify whether you are the ‘riparian landowner’, and to understand your rights and obligations. In cases where you lease or rent river or watercourse bordering land, it is crucial to  agree with your landlord who will  undertake those responsibilities and who will enjoy the riperian rights.


What part of the watercourse do you own?

If the watercourse adjoins any of the boundaries to your property then you are assumed to own the land up to the centre of the watercourse. There are however exceptions to this, including where the watercourse is tidal.

If the watercourse runs through or under the land, it is assumed you own the whole stretch of watercourse that runs through your land.

These assumptions may be challenged by alternative evidence, and it is essential to review if those rights may have been the subject to variation or removal. 



What Are Your Rights?

  • To protect your property from flooding and your land from erosion – but you must check your plans with the relevant risk management authority.
  • The right to fish – these rights can be sold or leased and you must have a valid licence.


What Are Your Responsibilities?

  • Let the water flow without obstruction, pollution and diversion.
  • Accept flood flows through your land, even if this is due to the inadequate capacity down stream. There is no common law duty for a landowner to improve drainage of a watercourse.
  • Keep the bank clear of anything that could cause an obstruction and increase flood risk. Responsibility of maintaining the riverbed, banks and hedges etc.  You should remove litter and animal carcasses from the watercourse even if it did not come from your land – your Local Authority can advise on the removal of animal carcasses.
  • Leave banks development free to allow access to the watercourse for repair.
  • Not cause obstructions to fish either permanently or temporarily.
  • Keep any structure clear of debris.
  • You have a legal obligation to notify the Environment Agency and the relevant risk management authority if you would like to build or alter a structure that acts as an obstruction.
  • Do not use riverbanks to dispose of garden or other waste.
  • You are responsible for protecting your property from water that seeps through banks. You may be required to pay for repairs if this damages a flood defence.
  • Must control invasive alien species such a Japanese Knotweed.
  • Any work you do must fit with the natural river system and not damage wildlife.


Who are risk management authorities?

The Environment Agency, Lead Local Flood Authorities and Internal Drainage Boards are all examples of a ‘risk management authority’. 

You should notify the Environment Agency and the relevant risk management authority if you would like to obstruct a watercourse in any way. You may need the risk management authorities consent for works and you should discuss with your risk management authority the maintenance of flood defences.

If you own or are intending to purchase a property that does abut a watercourse you should first check who owns or is deemed to own the watercourse.  What do your deeds say?  Have the fishing or other sporting rights been  sold  or leased?  What do the searches with the risk management authority show?. In short, the conveyancing process should focus on identifying whether riparian issues are relevant, and being alive to the liabilities that are deemed to apply.