Riparian responsibilities

Doing the right thing

There can a lot of confusion about the responsibilities that come with being a riparian landowner. Whether you have several miles of river or a garden that has a few metres of river frontage at the bottom of it, we have pulled together some useful links with information for you.

Over the years practices of river management have changed. What at one time would have been considered the right way to do things isn’t now.

The Environment Agency, Rivers Trusts and other trusted and respected organisations take a more holistic approach to river management.

For example, in the majority of cases plants do not need to be cleared from within a river channel.
Large woody debris often does not automatically need to be removed.
Large trees are now often deliberately felled into rivers or if they've come down naturally and are not posing a flood risk can be secured to create a diverse and more natural habitat.
Mowing right upto the riverbank is not considered good practice and nor is having a compost heap or a pile of grass clippings by the river.

A healthy river, is not a neat and tidy river. In recent years there has been a shift in what a healthy river looks like.
Did you know the upturned tree plates of trees blown over in storms are where kingfishers nest?
Below left: base of blown over tree now exposed and used by kingfisher.
Above right: a healthy river corridor.

It is now recognised that marginal plants play multiple roles in contributing to a healthy river corridor. From holding together the riverbank and preventing soil erosion to cover for fish, as well as food and a safe corridor for wildlife including water voles. The flowers of marginal and aquatic plants are also vital for pollinating insects and these insects are a food source for birds, fish and bats.

Marginal vegetation slows the flow and filters runoff pollution, that would otherwise pour straight into the river full of unwanted nutrients and chemicals.

Riparian responsibilities:

Information regarding blockages can be mis-interpreted and people think of plants such as watercress and sedge as blockages. This is not what is meant. A blockage would be something not allowing the river to flow and thus a flood risk. These plants are not that. 

Click here for: Owning a watercourse and riparian responsibilities

Within a SSSI? Whether the main river or a stream, the management must observe the conditions of the SSSI, which you can find here.

A list of activities that require Natural England to provide advice is here.

Dredging a river without an Environment Agency consent or exemption is illegal. There is good strong evidence that dredging does not work. This is particularly true on chalk streams, where flooding is most usually due to high groundwater. For more information click here.

If you are still unsure about the does and don’ts, and what best practice is do get in touch.