Riparian ownership—rights and responsibilities
Produced in partnership with Argyll Environmental and Burges Salmon
Riparian ownership—rights and responsibilities

The following Environment practice note produced in partnership with Argyll Environmental and Burges Salmon provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Riparian ownership—rights and responsibilities
  • What does riparian ownership mean and who does it affect?
  • Who regulates riparian owners?
  • Riparian owners’ rights
  • Riparian owners’ responsibilities:
  • How do these responsibilities affect land owners?
  • Culverts
  • Additional considerations
  • Planning
  • Abstraction licences
  • More...

What does riparian ownership mean and who does it affect?

‘If you own land or property next to a river, stream or ditch you are a riparian landowner.’

Riparian owners have certain rights and responsibilities.

In the case of ditches, streams and rivers, it is the landowners on each side of the watercourse who are responsible for the maintenance of the watercourse itself and the flow within it.

It should also be noted that it is not just those who have a watercourse flowing across their land that are affected, but also those with land where the watercourse forms a boundary with another landowner. Their rights and responsibilities even apply where a watercourse passes immediately adjacent to a boundary, even if it is outside the landowners’ ownership, as the flow of the watercourse has the potential to affect this land.

Fig 1. Typical Riparian Ownership situation (

If an ‘ordinary watercourse’ or a ‘main river’ runs through land or along the boundary of a property, the landowner is likely to be the riparian owner or joint riparian owner, unless the watercourse is known to be owned by someone else. If the land is leased the landlord and tenant should agree who will manage these rights and responsibilities.

If the land on the other side of the watercourse is not owned by the same landowner, they are presumed to be the joint

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