You may have heard the above term mentioned before or in moist cases you will never have heard of this Ancient Right and Responsibilities which although very old in Common Law and Statute, is still very relevant today and can cause issues if you are affected by them and do not know your rights and responsibilities.


What are they and how do they effect me and my household?

Riparian Rights applies to properties which are adjacent to or are on a watercourse, the first issue is the definition of a watercourse.

The Land Drainage Act 1991 defines a watercourse as all rivers and streams and all ditches, drains, cuts, culverts, dikes, sluices (other than public sewers within the meaning of the Water Authority Act 1991) and passages through which water flows.

However it must be natural i.e. not man made or a still body of water, although it can be dry at certain times of the year.

These rights may not appear on the Land Registry title of land but will automatically pass on a conveyance of the land in question


Riparian Rights and Responsibilities

If you own a property on or adjacent to a watercourse you are know as an “riparian landowner” and you have certain rights and responsibilities (and unless the landowner owns land on both sides of the watercourse the land ownership is presumed to extend from the edge of the land to the middle of the riverbed) these are: -

  • The right to receive flows of water in its natural state.
  • The right to fish on their watercourse (subject to any required licence).
  • The right to protect your property from flooding and erosion.
  • To take water (called abstraction) for domestic purposes up to a limit of 20m3 per day, after applying for and obtaining a licence from the Environment Agency. Milner v Gilmour [1858] 12 Moo. P.C.131
  • Responsibility not to pollute the water course or interfere with its quality.
  • You must not harm protected species and their habitat and must preserve wildlife
  • To keep the watercourse and its banks in good condition and free from obstruction so that water and fish may pass freely.

Of these, the one which often causes most problems, is the last one, about keeping the watercourse and its banks clear of obstructions.

Failing to do this can lead to two events neither of which are going to be cheap: -

  • The flooding of neighbouring properties whose owners will seek from you compensation.
  • If you fail to keep the watercourses clear under the Local Drainage Act 1991 the local authority and Internal Drainage Boards have the power to serve notices to clear the obstruction and if you do not do it they will undertake the work and then charge you for the effort involved.

Therefore, it is recommended that landowners regularly check the watercourse for which they are responsible to ensure they are kept in good condition

You may require permission to undertake work in your watercourse from the Environment Agency if it is classified as a Main River. In the Thorpe Ward we have two main rivers, The Meadlake Ditch and River Bourne.

Work which would trigger the need for a permit from the Environment Agency include: -

  • Work in the watercourse which might restrict the flow or storage capacity
  • Changes to any existing obstruction like dams and weirs
  • Temporary works that may effect the flow or divert the watercourse i.e repairs to river banks and walls.

As well as the watercourses you should be aware that you are also responsible for any underground culverts/pipes flowing across your property. These exclude Public sewers which are the responsibility of the utility company.

So basically if there is a watercourse next by to your proposed purchase check it out carefully consult you solicitor and if you have responsibility for the watercourse make sure you have suitable insurance.