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Living next to a watercourse – your rights and responsibilities

Do you have a watercourse, such as a ditch, stream or river running through, or alongside, your property? If so, you are probably responsible for its maintenance and in legal terms you are a ‘riparian owner’.

Riparian Ownership Diagram

Are you a riparian owner?

If you have an ordinary watercourse or a main river running through your land or along the boundary of your property, you are likely to be the riparian owner or joint riparian owner; unless the watercourse is known to be owned by someone else.

If the land on the other side of the watercourse is not in your ownership you are presumed to be the joint riparian owner together with the landowner on the other side. In the case of joint riparian ownership each party is presumed to own up to the centre line of the watercourse and therefore is responsible up to this point.

If you are unsure whether you are the riparian owner of the watercourse running through your land, check the title deeds of your property.

Surrey County Council has prepared some further information regarding frequently asked questions and some guidance for maintaining watercourses.