Living next to a watercourse

Responsibilities of a riparian owner

If you are a riparian owner you have sole responsibility for the following legal duties.

If you and your neighbour have an ordinary watercourse running between your land or properties, you share responsibility for the following legal duties. 

You are responsible for the side of the watercourse nearest to your property, up to the centre of the bottom of the watercourse. Your neighbour is responsible for their side of the watercourse.

Your legal duties  

  • Pass on water flow without obstruction, pollution or diversion affecting the rights of others
  • Accept flood flows through your land, even if caused by inadequate capacity downstream. There is no common law duty to improve a watercourse
  • Maintain the bed and banks of the watercourse. This includes trees and shrubs growing on the banks. Clear any debris, natural or otherwise, including litter and animal carcasses, even if it did not originate from your land. Your local district council can give you advice on the removal of animal carcasses
  • Do not cause any obstructions to the free passage of fish
  • Keep the bed and banks clear of any matter that could cause an obstruction, either on your land or by being washed away by high flow to obstruct a structure downstream. Rivers and their banks should not be used for the disposal of any form of garden or other waste
  • Keep clear any structures that you own such as culverts, trash screens, weirs and mill gates
  • Protect your property from seepage through natural or man-made banks. Where such seepage threatens the structural integrity of a flood defence, it may become the concern of the Environment Agency. You may have flood defences such as walls and embankments on your property, which are vital for the protection of both yourself and others. You should discuss the maintenance of such defences with the Environment Agency if you have any concerns relating to these

These are some but not all of your responsibilities. Failure to carry these out could result in possible civil action from others upstream of the watercourse.

Your responsibilities as a riparian owner are based on the following legislation:

  • Flood and Water Management Act 2010
  • The Land Drainage Acts of 1991 and 1994
  • Water Resources Act 1991
  • National Rivers Authority (now Environment Agency) Land Drainage byelaws 1981
  • The Public Health Act 1936

Working on a watercourse

Before starting any work on or adjacent to a watercourse, you must submit plans to the lead local flood authority (Norfolk County Council) to determine whether you require our consent or that of other authorities.

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