Riparian Responsibilities

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By Matt Chalfont-Griffin


I have recently been acting for some clients buying a property which came with ownership of a stretch of the River Mole. What an amazing opportunity for them, but it made me wonder what they and I needed to be aware of when it came to ownership of a river and the banks of the river.

I had to dig out books I have not had to look at for a while, covered in dust, to refresh my memory on riparian responsibilities. I am of course lying because nobody picks up books and looks at those any longer. Google is the first port of call.

Ultimately if someone owns land adjoining a water course then they will have certain rights and more importantly have certain responsibilities. This is what is termed as riparian owner.

The landowners will be responsible for a number of things. They are responsible for clearing litter, clearing obstructions from the rivers and the riverbanks even if they do not come from the owners land. It’s imperative that the owner ensures water flows through the land without any obstruction, pollution, or diversion because that may have an impact on the rights of others.

With the responsibilities comes a degree of risk because of course you must do what is required of the Environment Agency, an overriding obligation to ensure that any risk of flooding is not increased.

The benefits are that the water can be taken from the river, though there are limits for domestic and agricultural use and there is the benefit of fishing rights although there is often still the need for a license and hefty fines if one is not obtained.

The risk is that lots of people would not even know that they had these responsibilities. Anyone who owns a property which adjoins a water course has the benefit and also the burden of these riparian rights and maintenance of responsibilities for the riverbank extends to any water course, and can include a ditch or culvert.

If you are concerned about your responsibilities, then it is important to take expert legal advice.