Riparian rights are those that a landowner has if his/her land adjoins a watercourse or has a watercourse flowing through or within it. Given the ever more common floods and unusual weather across England and Wales, it is sensible to be aware of the rights and responsibilities a riparian owner has.
The rights are automatically inherited, are passed on to any future owners, and do not need to be expressly granted. The rights are also unlikely to appear on your Land Registry title, which is a danger in that owners are often unaware of the rights and responsibilities they have in relation to the land. In addition, certain considerations arise when dealing with the land during a transaction which the relevant parties may not have thought about. This is especially the case when a landowner is selling part of their land that abuts a watercourse or has a watercourse within, and the seller is retaining other parts of the land. The legal advisers should expressly address the various issues that may arise in the legal documentation to avoid potential future disputes.
What is a watercourse?
A watercourse can be one of any number of things. It can be, but is not limited to, a:
A watercourse must be natural, i.e. not manmade. A watercourse is still a watercourse if it’s dry at certain times of the year.
What rights do I have?
The landowner’s riparian rights will include and are not limited to:
If the rights are disrupted causing actual damage, the landowner is entitled to make a claim at court.
What do I need to be aware of?
There are responsibilities of the landowner that come with the rights granted, which can be enforced by a third party and ultimately the courts. Some of the responsibilities a landowner must be aware of are:
Where does my boundary line lie?
Unless a landowner owns land on both sides of the watercourse, there is an old legal presumption that the landowner will own the land from the edge of the waterbed to the middle of the riverbed. This presumption can be rebutted if evidence can be provided to the contrary. If a landowner owns both sides of the watercourse, then it is presumed the landowner will own the whole width of the watercourse. If the course of the river changes naturally over time, the landowner’s boundary is presumed to change with it. However, these presumptions do not apply to artificial watercourses, such as canals and tidal waters, where the beds are owned by the Crown.
Overall, a riparian landowner’s legal adviser needs to be alert to several issues when dealing with the land.
Ryan Dhinsa is a solicitor in Raworths’ Property team. For assistance with all of your commercial property legal issues please get in touch with Raworths: telephone 01423 566666, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at Eton House, 89 Station Parade, Harrogate HG1 1HF.