Many landowners have responsibilities to maintain watercourses on their land so that it doesn’t flood or increase the risk of flooding elsewhere. 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.
You will own a watercourse if it runs on, through, beneath, or forms the boundary of your land. This is also often termed ‘riparian ownership’. If the watercourse forms the boundary of your land you will usually own it up to its centre. However, you will need to check your title deeds on the land registry to confirm exact ownership.
If you require advice about owning a watercourse you should contact the relevant risk management authority (RMA), which is:
For more information, visit the Environment Agency’s ‘Owning a watercourse’ guidance here.
If you own a watercourse you are responsible for ensuring 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 proactively reducing the risk of flooding from the watercourse. For more information about who is responsible for the management of flood risk from different sources, see our flood risk responsibilities section, 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 have to pay for the damages and could face legal action.
You have a responsibility to report flooding from your watercourse. If the flooding is from an ordinary watercourse, contact your local council. 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 check if the activity requires any consents or permissions (see our ‘Consents and Permissions’ section here for more information).
Ordinary Watercourse – stream Main River – River Ribble
There are a set of soil management rules that farmers should follow whilst managing their land. The rules include taking reasonable precautions to prevent soil erosion, and protecting against soil erosion by livestock. Find out more about these rules here.
If you own coastal land with a watercourse running through it, you have the same responsibilities as other watercourse owners, which are to maintain the watercourse by keeping it free from blockages and allowing water to flow through it 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. They 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 needed if you wish to alter, remove or replace them on your own land. Find out more about designated assets here.