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Living next to a watercourse

Rights and responsibilities of watercourse owners in Norfolk

You have rights and responsibilities if you are responsible for maintaining a watercourse.

Rights of watercourse owners

Responsibilities of watercourse owners

  • Allow water flow without obstruction, pollution or diversion affecting the rights of others
  • Maintain the bed and banks of the watercourse. This includes trees and shrubs growing on the banks
  • Keep the watercourse clear of any debris even if it did not originate from your land. This includes litter, vegetation/grass cuttings and animal carcasses
  • Do not obstruct the free passage of fish
  • Remove invasive species of plants. For example, Japanese knotweed
  • Keep clear any structures that you own. This includes culverts (pipes), trash screens, weirs and mill gates
  • Carry out regular inspections to check if you need to do maintenance
  • Apply for consent or a permit for construction or alterations that affect the water flow. This includes temporary works
  • Follow any byelaws (a law made by the local council)
  • Carry out repairs or remedial works as directed by an enforcement authority

GOV.UK guidance

The Environment Agency information about owning and maintaining a watercourse.

Checking watercourses

Watercourse owners should do regular inspections. Particularly if:

If your watercourse has a culvert (pipe) and you cannot see from one end to the other, a contractor should inspect it. They will use specialist equipment to survey the culvert. This is very important for:

  • Long culverts
  • Culverts with bends or changes in direction
  • Culverts that get very silted or blocked up

Supporting biodiversity

When maintaining a watercourse, it is important to support the natural environment.

  • Cutting vegetation

Mowing each bank alternately can support the growth of wildflowers and biodiversity. Leaving cuttings on the top of the bank, if they do obstruct it, can also allow wildlife to return to their habitat. If the wind causes cuttings to block the water flow, move them to a sheltered area for nesting or composting.

You must not scrape banks and should leave at least 150mm of vegetation in place.

Avoid cutting vegetation during bird nesting season between March and August.

  • De-silting

You may need to remove silt from a watercourse from time to time. Be careful and only remove the soft silt that has gathered on the bed of the watercourse. You should never deepen a channel beyond its natural bed level. You should only clear the centre of the channel, avoiding the edges and banks.

De-silting should only take place between November and March. This is because the silt can reduce oxygen levels in the watercourse and kill fish. Consider using an experienced operator who does this work.

  • Bat roosts

Bats can roost in very small gaps, in certain trees and old or poorly maintained culverts (pipes). Consider this before doing maintenance. If in doubt get advice from a qualified bat ecologist. Visit The Bat Conservation Trust website for further information.

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