Watercourses and riparian responsibilities

The responsibility for managing different types of watercourses is distributed amongst a variety of parties; including the Environment Agency; the Borough Council; and private land owners - often falling between a combination of these.

Whilst main river channels are managed by the Environment Agency, watercourses such as streams and ditches are managed by the Borough Council. The management of these watercourses is vital in the prevention of flooding, as they act as a means of channelling floodwater away from property and infrastructure - with any blockages significantly reducing their effectiveness in achieving this.

Riparian responsibilities

Property owners whose land is next to a watercourse have a responsibility to ensure its maintenance and the removal of any blockages, a responsibility which is shared with any other property owners whose land borders the watercourse. Please note that this includes property which is separated from the watercourse by fencing. The Environment Agency possess powers to enforce the fulfilment of this responsibility.

This distribution of responsibility also applies to the Borough Council, who are riparian owners of watercourses running adjacent to public land and, along with our land neighbours, we undertake regular maintenance work on these. If your property is separated from public land by a watercourse, you are the riparian owner of the half of the watercourse that you border, and are responsible for its maintenance.

If you intend to build on or near a ditch, prior permission must be obtained from the Environment Agency. Even if the ditch appears to be dry, it may be important for drainage and any construction may increase the risk of flooding in the area. Failure to obtain permission may result in legal action being taken against you by the Environment Agency, requiring the removal of the structure.