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Waterside living

Do you have a river, stream, ditch or culvert running through, or alongside your property?

If so, you are probably responsible for its maintenance and this guide is for you.

You can also download a copy of the water living leaflet to refer to. Please be aware that this guide is due for an update. For the most recent advice on clearance of obstructions, please read the Waterside Living guide information.


1. To maintain the watercourse and to clear any obstructions (natural or otherwise) so the optimum flow of water is not impeded.

You must clear any debris from your stretch of the watercourse, even if it is not your fault that the debris is there.

Whether it is a man-made or natural blockage, you are responsible for keeping the watercourse clear of litter, grass cuttings, animal carcasses and fallen trees, etc.

Please note that in certain circumstances, blockages can actually help to alleviate downstream flood risk, and you may need to seek guidance. See the Waterside Living tab for the latest advice.

2. To maintain the banks and bed of the watercourse (including any trees and shrubs growing on the banks) and any flood defences that exists on it.

Where a watercourse marks the boundary between adjoining properties, it is normally presumed the riparian owner owns the land up to the centreline of the watercourse.

You must not alter or divert the water flow without permission as this may have an effect on the properties upstream and downstream. If you do have flood defences on your property, you may be responsible for their maintenance.

You can contact your local council or the Environment Agency for help and further advice.

3. To accept the natural flow from your upstream neighbour and transfer it downstream without obstruction, pollution or diversion.

You must accept flood water through your land, even if any excess water is caused by inadequate capacity downstream.

Landowners downstream of your property are under no obligation to improve the drainage capacity of their stretch of watercourse although they have the same  responsibilities as you to maintain it.

If you are unsure whether you are the riparian owner of the watercourse running through your land, check the title deeds of your property.

4. To maintain any approved structures on your stretch of the watercourse.

These may include culverts, weirs and mill gates.

These structures must be properly maintained and kept clear of any debris which could obstruct the free flow of water on your land or be washed away to block a structure downstream.

You must not build a new structure (for example, a boardwalk) that encroaches upon the watercourse or alters the flow of water without first obtaining permission from your
local council or the Environment Agency.

Back to main flood guide

Page updated: 29/11/2022 Page updated by: Flooding Team

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