Owning and maintaining a watercourse
A watercourse is a channel which water flows through, this includes:
- shallow trenches which carry water infrequently
Ownership of a watercourse
A private landowner is considered by law to be a ‘riparian owner’ if you own land which:
- is located next to an ordinary watercourse, or
- has an ordinary watercourse running through or underneath it.
If the land on the other side of the watercourse does not belong to you, you’re presumed to be a joint riparian owner, together with the landowner on the opposite side of the watercourse. If you are unsure as to who owns the land visit the Land Registry website to get copies of the title register and plans.
The dividing line for each joint riparian owner is presumed by the centre line of the watercourse and each is responsible for their side of the watercourse and the clear flow of water through it.
The riparian owners are responsible for the maintenance of the channel, banks, including culverted sections, pipe or other structures. To find out more about the responsibilities of ownerships read:
- our guide for ownership responsibility for rivers and ditches (PDF, 48.6 KB)
- the Environment Agency's guide to the rights and responsibilities of riverside ownership
Local borough and district councils can carry out flood risk management works on minor watercourses.
Internal Drainage Boards
- land drainage
- flood risk management
- environmental protection and enhancement
- water level management purposes.
While they undertake routine maintenance, the overall responsibility still lies with the riparian owner. The IDB also have a general supervisory duty over all drainage matters within their districts and have consenting and enforcing powers for work carried out.
Land drainage consent
To complete work on or near a watercourse which is not a main river and is not looked after by IDB, you may need land drainage consent from us. To find out if you need consent from us, find out who's responsible for the watercourse by using the land drainage consents map (PDF, 857.0 KB).
Apply for consent
We may tell you that you don't need consent or give you advice that will help avoid delays. Before you apply read the guidance notes for land drainage consent (PDF, 275.2 KB).
Call 03000 41 41 41 or email email@example.com if you are unable to use the online service or are unsure what type of watercourse your planned work is on.
£50 per structure.
Please read the pollution prevention guidelines (GPP5) on the GOV.UK website to ensure that your works in or near an ordinary watercourse protect the environment and meet the legal requirements.