If a property is adjacent to or backs onto a river, stream or other watercourse then it is likely that the land owner will be the Riparian Owner and as such be held to own the land up to the centre of the watercourse.
Riparian Owners have a right to protect their property from flooding and erosion, but will need to discuss the method of doing this with the Lead Local Flood Authority (Bath and North East Somerset Council) if the watercourse is an Ordinary Watercourse, or the Environment Agency if the watercourse is classified as a Main River.
Riparian Owners also have responsibility for maintaining the bed and banks of the watercourse and ensuring there is no obstruction, or diversion to the flow of the watercourse. Riparian owners can face legal action if the lack of maintenance of their watercourse causes flooding.
A Riparian Owner is responsible for:
• maintaining the banks and bed of the watercourse
• removing any man made or natural debris that may cause a blockage
• keeping any structures clear of debris (culverts, trash screen, weirs or mill gates)
• allowing water to flow through their land without obstruction, pollution or diversion
• accepting flood water through their land
For more details about Riparian Ownership and rights and responsibilities, the Environment Agency has published a really useful document called ‘Living on the Edge’.
Land ownership is sometimes unknown, disputed or difficult to work out. Local knowledge can be really useful in ascertaining riparian ownership and it may be necessary to obtain copies of title registers and title plans using the online Land Registry services.