If you own land or property next to or over a river, stream, ditch or culvert/pipe that forms part of a watercourse, you are legally termed a 'riparian landowner' for that section of watercourse through your land.
If your land boundary immediately adjoins a watercourse, it is assumed under Common Law that you own up to the centre of the watercourse and have joint riparian ownership responsibilities with the opposite landowner, unless there is evidence (for example property deeds) that the watercourse is owned by someone else.
What rights do I have as a riparian landowner?
All riparian landowners, regardless of the length of the watercourse they occupy or their personal circumstances, have the same rights and responsibilities in managing a watercourse.
Your rights as a riparian owner are:
- Water should flow onto or under your land in its natural quantity and quality. Water should not be taken out of a watercourse if it could lead to a lack of water for those who need it downstream. It also means that a person cannot carry out activities that could lead to pollution of the water.
- You have the right to protect your property from flooding, and your land from erosion. However, you should check with the us or the Environment Agency before you start any work, particularly if you propose undertaking works on or adjacent to a watercourse or river. You may require land drainage consent for some activities.
- You usually have the right to fish in your watercourse using a legal method. You are however advised to contact the Environment Agency to check the need for a rod licence.
- You usually have a right to withdraw a certain volume of water from the watercourse, however this will usually require an abstraction licence. Anyone wishing to abstract water from a watercourse should first contact the Environment Agency.
Your responsibilities as a riparian owner:
- You must let water flow through your land without any obstruction, pollution or diversion which affects the rights of others.
- You must accept flood flows through your land, even if these are caused by inadequate capacity downstream. A landowner has no duty in Common Law to improve the drainage capacity of a watercourse he/she owns.
- You are responsible for maintaining the bed and banks of the watercourse. You should keep the banks clear of anything that could cause an obstruction and increase flood risk, either on your land or downstream if it is washed away.
- You must keep any structures, such as culverts, trash screens, weirs and mill gates clear of debris. They may be vital for flood protection.
- Please help to protect water quality. Do not use riverbanks to dispose of garden or other waste, where it could be washed into the river. This includes grass cuttings, which pollute the water.
- You must control invasive alien species such as Japanese knotweed.
I want to fill in, divert or culvert a section of watercourse. What action should I take?
Regardless of whether you own the watercourse or not, you will legally require land drainage consent to fill in, obstruct, divert or pipe a section of watercourse. You may also need consent for erecting any other structures such as dams, weirs or other obstacles in the watercourse.
To undertake any of the works above, you are strongly advised to read the land drainage consent webpage and then contact our Projects Water and Flood Risk Management Team:
An officer will then advise on the correct course of action to take in order to apply for the correct consent.
I know of a watercourse that is not maintained properly. Why has Derby City Council not taken action?
We do not own any watercourses except those that flow through land owned by us. For these sections of watercourse, we have riparian owner rights and responsibilities like any other riparian landowner. For all other watercourses in the city, the responsibility to maintain the watercourses rests with the private riparian landowner and we have no duty to maintain them.
We have permissive powers under Section 25 of the Land Drainage Act to enter land to undertake emergency works to mitigate flooding/flood risk. Permissive powers would only be exercised under extreme circumstances. We would only consider exercising our permissive powers once all other forms of communication have been exhausted.
We can help with opening discussions with any offending riparian landowners and the issue will often be solved by informing and educating them on their riparian duties. If you require any advice, support or if you have any issues surrounding the maintenance of a watercourse then you are advised to contact the Projects, Water and Flood Risk Management Team:
What level of maintenance is expected of me as a riparian landowner?
The correct level of maintenance of watercourses varies from site to site depending on local conditions and characteristics; however an important aim should be to ensure the proper flow of water by preventing obstructions, whilst maintaining a habitable and amenable space for wildlife. Suggested maintenance activities include:
- Keep growth of vegetation (trees, reeds and grasses) under control, whilst leaving enough for wildlife to thrive.
- Remove grass cuttings and vegetation trimmings from the area to avoid them polluting or blocking the watercourse downstream.
- Keep the watercourse free of litter and debris, including fallen trees and any fly-tipped materials, regardless of whether they were put there by you.
- Remove excess silt, particularly from culverts and other structures, to reinstate the natural depth and bank slopes. Depositing silt on the top of the banks (if non-hazardous) can allow organisms to move back into the watercourse.
A culvert is a watercourse that has been enclosed in a structure such as a pipe, but does not include sewers. Whilst you as a riparian landowner have the responsibility to maintain your culvert, you risk injury, drowning or becoming trapped by going into a culvert. Culverts are confined spaces that can contain various noxious gases, so only trained and properly equipped people should go inside them. You are strongly advised to call in a professional organisation to undertake culvert maintenance.
You should not, under any circumstances, put yourself at risk whilst maintaining watercourses. Where necessary, a professional and fully trained contractor should be sought to carry out the work on your behalf.