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Riparian ownership - rights and responsibilities

If you own land alongside a watercourse you are legally termed a riparian owner. As a riparian owner you have certain rights and responsibilities which you should be aware of.

These rights and responsibilities protect you from the actions of fellow riparian owners, but also outline your duty to other owners, to the community and to the environment.

Rights of a riparian owner

Water should flow onto your land in its natural quantity and quality.

You have the right to protect your property from flooding and your land from erosion. If this involves making changes to the watercourse which could impact the quantity or quality of water for other riparian owners, we must give consent for the changes before they are carried out.

You may have the right to abstract a certain amount of water from the watercourse. If you wish to do so contact the Environment Agency by email: or tel: 03 708 506 506 (Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm).

Responsibilities of a riparian owner

You have a duty to pass on flow without obstruction, pollution or diversion affecting the rights of others.

You must accept flood flows through your land, even if these are caused by inadequate capacity downstream. There is no duty in common law for any landowner to increase the drainage capacity of a watercourse on their land.

You must maintain the bed and banks of the watercourse as well as the trees and vegetation growing on the banks. This includes keeping the bed and banks free of debris, both natural and artificial, even if it did not originate from your land.

You must keep the surrounds of the watercourse free of loose debris which would be washed into the stream during heavy storms or high flows, causing blockages downstream. This also includes debris which could impact on water quality should they be washed into the watercourse (for example, grass cuttings, litter and chemical containers).

You must keep any structures that you own (for example culverts, trash screens, weirs, mill gates, bridges) free of debris and ensure they are in good working condition.

You are responsible for controlling any invasive species such as Japanese Knotweed. Please get in touch with the Environment Agency for more information on invasive species.

Further details on your rights and responsibilities as a riparian owner can be found in the Environment Agency advice note entitled Living on the edge – a guide to the rights and responsibilities of riverside occupation.

Our responsibility to riparian owners

If the watercourse for which you are a riparian owner is an ordinary watercourse (so not one of the main rivers) then we are the consenting authority.

This means that for any works that you may wish to carry out on the watercourse which may affect the quantity or quality of flow for others (for example for flood defence or any other purposes), you will need to gain consent before the works begin.

As the consenting council, we also have rights of enforcement and so we can investigate and may be able to take action if you feel that your rights as a riparian owner are being impinged upon by others.

To contact us email: