Flooding guidance for private landowners

If you own land or property alongside a river or stream or other watercourse including a culvert, in legal terms you are likely to be a "riparian owner". As a riparian owner you have certain rights and responsibilities, particularly regarding maintenance, which could affect flood risk to you and your neighbours. Some of these rights and responsibilities which are particularly relevant to flood risk are summarised below:

  • You are presumed to own the land up to the centre of the watercourse, unless it is known to be owned by someone else.
  • You are responsible for maintaining the bed and banks of the watercourse, and also the trees and shrubs growing on the banks. You must also clear any debris, even if it did not originate from your land.
  • Riparian owners must keep the bed and banks clear of any matter that could cause an obstruction, either on their land or downstream if it is washed away.
  • Riparian owners also have the responsibility to pass on flow without obstruction, pollution or diversion.
  • Riverbanks should not be used for the disposal of any form of garden or other waste where there is any danger that it will be washed into the river.
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Please note this is not an exhaustive list of rights and responsibilities of private land owners. For more information please see the Environment Agency’s guide “Living on the Edge: A guide to your rights and responsibilities of riverside ownership”.

The Environment Agency carries out maintenance on “main rivers” to manage flood risk, using its discretionary powers.

Cornwall Council has discretionary powers to carry out maintenance on non-main rivers or “ordinary watercourses” and also to take enforcement action where deemed necessary to ensure the proper flow is maintained to reduce flood risk. Also, since April 2012, Cornwall Council controls any works within an ordinary watercourse which may require consent. Further information can be obtained by contacting Cornwall Council’s Senior Land Drainage Engineer (0300 1234 202).

For more information on the rights and responsibilities of riverside occupation download the booklet Living on the Edge: A guide to your rights and responsibilities of riverside ownership above.

Important: If you are planning to carry out work on or near a watercourse, you should submit your plans both to the Environment Agency and to Cornwall Council. We will need to decide if you need consent from us. The Environment Agency can be contacted on (03708 506 506).