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Landowners have responsibilities to maintain watercourses on their land to avoid an increase in flood risk. There are various methods of flood management that landowners can apply, with lots of advice and support available to them. From gravel management to natural flood management, multiple benefits can be gained from managing your land and its flood risk.

Landowner Responsibilities

Riparian Ownership

A ‘riparian owner‘ is somebody who has a watercourse running through, beneath or adjacent to their land. If the watercourse forms the boundary with your land, you will usually own up to the centre of the channel. If in doubt, you will need to check your title deeds to confirm exact ownership. This can be done via the land registry.

The responsibility of a riparian owner includes the safe maintenance of the bed and banks of a watercourse that falls within their property boundary.



To find out if you are a riparian owner, follow the flow chart below:


If you require advice about owning a watercourse you should contact the relevant risk management authority (RMA), which is:

  • The Environment Agency for main rivers. To identify whether your nearest watercourse is a main river, click here.
  • The Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA) or Internal Drainage Board (IDB) for any other watercourse.

For more information on main rivers and ordinary watercourses, visit our ‘Types of watercourses’ resource here.

For more information, visit the Environment Agency’s ‘Owning a watercourse’ guidance here.

Click here to download the ‘Riparian Ownership: A basic guide to owning and managing a watercourse’ resource.





If you own a watercourse, it is your responsibility to ensure that water flows through it naturally, and for maintaining it by removing blockages that may impede the flow of water or cause flooding. However, you are not responsible for taking proactive measures to reduce the risk of flooding from the watercourse.

Responsibilities can include :

  • Maintaining your section of watercourse
  • Letting water flow naturally and not obstructing the flow of a watercourse to the detriment of your neighbours.
  • Not affecting the quantity or quality of the flow in a watercourse.
  • Keeping structures clear from obstructions and debris.
  • Not allowing the watercourse to become polluted.
  • Reporting incidents such as flooding, blockages which could cause flooding, pollution, unusual changes in flow, collapsed or badly damaged banks or any activity on or near a watercourse that does not have permission.

For more information click here to download our ‘What is a Riparian Owner?’ resource.

To learn more about who is responsible for the management of flood risk from different sources, see our flood risk responsibilities section here, or visit GOV.UK for details.



If there is a lack of maintenance, or changes are made to the watercourse that cause or contribute to flooding, you may be held financially responsible for the damages and could face legal action.

You have a responsibility to report any instances of flooding from your watercourse. If the flooding is from an ordinary watercourse, contact your Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA). If the flooding is from a main river, contact the Environment Agency Incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60. This is a 24-hour service and should be used to report flooding, blockages, pollution, changes in flow and damaged banks.

If you wish to undertake any work in or around a watercourse, it is your responsibility to contact the relevant authority to determine if any consents or permissions are required (see our ‘Consents and Permissions’ section to the left of this page for more information).


Stream in Ribchester, Lancashire. This is an ordinary watercourse.


River Ribble in Ribchester, Lancashire. This is a main river.


There are a set of soil management rules that farmers should adhere to whilst managing their land. The rules include taking reasonable precautions to prevent soil erosion, water pollution and manage surface runoff. Find out more about these rules by clicking here.




Coastal Landowners

If you own coastal land with a watercourse running through it, you have the same responsibilities as other watercourse owners. These responsibilities include maintaining the watercourse by keeping it clear of blockages that may cause flooding and allowing water to flow naturally.

The Environment Agency directly manages and carries out work to manage flood risk from the sea, and issues permits for works affecting flood and sea defences. If you have something on your land that helps prevent flooding or coastal erosion, like a wall, building, embankment or raised area, the Environment Agency  can also designate structures on your land as flood or coastal erosion defence assets. As these assets affect flood or coastal erosion risk, consent will usually be required if you wish to alter, remove or replace them on your own land. Find out more about designated assets here.