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Riparian Rights and Responsibilities

In the hierarchy of water courses, the Environment Agency (EA) is responsible for Main Rivers.

Information can be found on the Environment Agency website.

Within their Districts, the Internal Drainage Boards are responsible for major drainage channels to manage water levels for land management, flood risk management, irrigation and environmental benefits. Information on IDBs can be found on the Association of Drainage Authorities website.

Below this are riparian watercourses. A watercourse is any natural or artificial channel, above or below ground, through which water flows, such as a ditch, stream, culvert or pipe. If you own land adjoining or above a watercourse, or with a watercourse running through it, you are a ‘riparian owner’. This brings with it certain rights and responsibilities, which are summarised below.

  1. You have the responsibility to pass on flow without obstruction, pollution or diversion affecting the rights of others. Others also have the right to receive water in its natural quantity and quality.
  2. You must accept flood flows through your land, even if caused by inadequate capacity downstream. There is no duty in common law for a landowner to improve the drainage capacity of a watercourse.
  3. You must maintain the bed and banks of the watercourse, and also the trees and shrubs growing on the banks. You must also clear any debris, even if it did not originate from your land. This debris may be natural or man-made, and includes litter and animal carcasses.
  4. You must not cause any obstructions - either temporary or permanent - that would prevent the free passage of fish.
  5. You must keep the bed and banks clear of any matter that could cause an obstruction, either on your land or downstream if it is washed away. Please help us to protect water quality - do not use riverbanks for the disposal of any form of garden or other waste where there is any danger that it will be washed into the river. This includes grass clippings, which are highly polluting.
  6. You must keep any structures that you own clear of debris. These structures include culverts, trash screens, weirs and mill gates.

This information is taken from the EA publication “Living on the Edge - A guide to your rights and responsibilities of riverside ownership”.

Under the Land drainage Act 1991 you need consent to carry out works to ordinary watercourses, including changes to dams, weirs and other structures, or to pipe or culvert a watercourse. Within IDB Districts it is the relevant IDB which would normally process such applications, and the County Council as Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA) outside those Districts. However, in Lincolnshire the LLFA has delegated it powers under the Land Drainage Act to the IDBs, who now operate within extended areas for the purposes of consent and enforcement. Further information can be obtained from the appropriate IDB - please refer to the downloadable map below.

Maps/Drawings reproduced from the 1996 OS Mapping with the permission of the Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (C) Crown Copyright. Unauthorised reproduction infringes Crown Copyright and may lead to civil proceedings. OS LICENCE 100025370


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Last updated: 10 June 2015

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