Maintaining a river or stream you own
If you own land or a property next to a river, stream, or ditch, you’re known as a 'riparian owner’ and have certain responsibilities.
There are rules and procedures in place for any work proposed in:
- Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)
- Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)
- Special Protection Areas (SPAs)
For areas that are not designated, best practice still applies.
Your rights and responsibilities as a riparian owner
You have the right to protect your property from flooding, and your land from erosion, if:
- your land boundary is adjacent to a watercourse - it’s assumed that you own the land up to the centre of the watercourse, unless stated otherwise in your property deeds
- a watercourse runs through or underneath (through a culvert or pipe) land that you own
However, you must get any plans approved by the relevant authority prior to starting work - see information about applying for land drainage consent.
As a riparian owner, you:
- must let water flow through your land without any obstruction, pollution, or diversion which affects the rights of others
- must accept flood flows through your land, even if these are caused by insufficient capacity downstream
- must maintain the bed and banks of the watercourse and the trees and shrubs growing on the banks
- must keep the watercourse banks clear of anything that could cause an obstruction and increase flood risk, either on your land or downstream - this includes any litter or loose vegetation, even if they did not come from your land
- must keep structures, such as culverts, trash screens, weirs, and mill gates, clear of debris
- must control invasive alien species such as Japanese knotweed - we can advise you on how to manage and control these species
Guide to maintaining your watercourse or ditch
Carrying out work on a watercourse
If you’re carrying out work on an ordinary watercourse, you'll need to apply for land drainage consent from Buckinghamshire Council.
If the watercourse is classified as a main river then you should apply for consent to the Environment Agency
If the watercourse is classified as an ordinary watercourse in the Buckingham and River Ouzel Internal Drainage Board (IDB) then you should apply for consent to the IDB.
View our map to check if you are working on a main river or ordinary watercourse.
When to do the work
You should carry out the work late September or October as this should minimise the impact on nesting or breeding birds and will help prepare for increased winter flows.
What tools or machinery to use
Regular maintenance using hand tools is a lot less damaging to the environment than infrequent maintenance using machinery.
How much to remove
Make sure not to take out too much when removing silt: changing the profile of the channel can increase flood risk upstream or downstream.
Create buffer strips
Keep a vegetated berm on the banks of watercourses; this is important for biodiversity but also helps to reduce the amount of sediment going in.
What to do with the spoil
Place it on the bank for a few days to allow organisms to migrate back, but do not place it there permanently as it can easily wash back in.
Check for protected species
Find out if any have been recorded on or near your land. For more information, see the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Partnership Environmental Records Centre.
Be aware that you may require consent to do this work, so remember to apply for consent if required.