We did some research on the responsibilities and rights we gained when we took on the plot of land at the edge of the Ecclesbourne River. Officially at the place of our orchard it is a watercourse and not a river. The following is a summary and not necessarily correct legal advice on our part.
You are known as a riparian owner if you own land or property adjacent to a watercourse. By virtue of being a riparian owner you have rights and responsibilities.
Your rights as a riparian owner are:
- You are presumed to own the land up to the centre of the watercourse, unless it is known to be owned by others.
- You have the right to receive flow of water in its natural state, without undue interference in quantity or quality.
- You have the right to protect your property from flooding, and your land from erosion. You will in most cases need the prior consent of the Environment Agency and Local Authority for any works, however. In the case of The Ecclesbourne at Turnditch it is Derbyshire County Council.
- You have the right to fish in your watercourse, although this must be by legal methods and with an Environment Agency rod licence.
- Without needing a licence, you can abstract a maximum of 20 cubic metres of water per day for the domestic purposes of your own household or for agricultural use, excluding spray irrigation, from a watercourse at a point that directly adjoins your land. Most other types of abstraction will require a licence from the Agency.
- You have the responsibility to pass on flow without obstruction, pollution or diversion affecting the rights of others.
- You have the responsibility to accept flood flows through your land, even if caused by inadequate capacity downstream, as there is no common law duty to improve a watercourse.
- You are responsible for maintaining the bed and banks of the watercourse (including trees and shrubs growing on the banks), and for clearing any debris, natural or otherwise, including litter and animal carcasses, even if it did not originate from your land.
- You must not cause any obstructions to the free passage of fish.
- You are responsible for keeping the bed and banks clear of any matter that could cause an obstruction, either on your land or by being washed away by high flow to obstruct a structure downstream. Watercourses and their banks must not be used for the disposal of any form of garden or other waste.
- You are responsible for keeping clear any structures that you own such as culverts, trash screens, weirs and mill gates.
- You may have flood defences such as walls and embankments on your property, which are vital for the protection of both yourself and others. You should discuss the maintenance of such defences with the Environment Agency office.
- You are responsible for protecting your property from seepage through natural or man-made banks. Where such seepage threatens the structural integrity of a flood defence, it may become the concern of the Environment Agency.