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Land drainage

The owner of the land that a watercourse runs through is responsible for maintaining it. If they are unable or unwilling to carry out necessary maintenance works, either Natural Resources Wales or the council will take action. It will be Natural Resources Wales if the watercourse is a main river or us for ordinary watercourses, ditches, culverts or surface or groundwater.

Riparian owner rights

A riparian owner owns the land bordering a watercourse, or land that a watercourse passes through or under. The riparian owner has certain rights and responsibilities.

If you are a riparian owner, you have the right to:

  • be presumed to own the land up to the centre of the watercourse, unless it is known to be owned by others
  • receive flow of water in its natural state, without undue interference in quantity or quality
  • protect your property from flooding, and your land from erosion so long as you have permission from Natural Resources Wales or the council
  • fish in your watercourse by legal methods and with a rod licence
  • remove up to 20 cubic metres of water daily for your own household’s domestic purposes or for agricultural use except spray irrigation without a licence
  • to extract water outside of these conditions if you have a licence from Natural Resources Wales

Riparian owner responsibilities

If you are a riparian owner, you have the responsibility to:

  • pass on flow without obstruction, pollution or diversion affecting the other’s rights
  • accept flood flows through your land even if caused by inadequate capacity downstream, as there is no legal duty to improve a watercourse
  • allow the free passage of fish
  • discuss the maintenance of flood defences with Natural Resources Wales or the council
  • maintain the watercourse’s bed and banks of the watercourse, including trees and shrubs growing on the banks
  • clear any debris, natural or otherwise, including litter and animal carcasses even if it did not originate from your land
  • keep the bed and banks clear of anything that could cause an obstruction, either on your land or by being washed downstream
  • keep structures such as culverts, trash screens, weirs and mill gates clear
  • protect your property from leaks through natural or man-made banks

If you do not carry out your responsibilities, civil action may be taken.

You can find out more from Natural Resources Wales’s Guide to your rights and responsibilities of riverside ownership in Wales.

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