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Landowners have responsibilities to maintain watercourses on their land so that they don’t 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. 

Landowner Responsibilities

Watercourse Ownership

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. If in doubt, you will need to check your title deeds to confirm exact ownership. This can be done via the land registry.

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

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





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 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 check if the activity requires any consents or permissions (see our ‘Consents and Permissions’ section to the left of this page for more information).


Ordinary Watercourse / Stream in Ribchester, Lancashire


Main River / River Ribble in Ribchester, Lancashire


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, water polluition and manage surface runoff. Find out more about these rules here.


Coastal Landowners

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 that may cause flooding, 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 required if you wish to alter, remove or replace them on your own land. Find out more about designated assets here.