Riverside property owners – know your rights and responsibilities

Defining watercourses

A watercourse is any natural or artificial channel that water flows through such as  a river, including where it flows through a culvert, brook, or mill stream. If you own property alongside a watercourse, you are a 'riparian owner'.

Your responsibilities

Some of your responsibilities include:

  • maintaining river beds and banks
  • allowing the flow of water to pass without obstruction
  • controlling invasive alien species such as Japanese knotweed

Find out more about your rights and responsibilities of riverside ownership in Wales.

Who manages risks to riverside properties?

Natural Resources Wales carries out maintenance, improvement or construction work on main rivers in Wales to manage flood risk.

Every other open watercourse in Wales is known as an 'ordinary watercourse'. Your local authority (as the lead local flood authority) or Natural Resources Wales (as the internal drainage board) carries out maintenance, improvement or construction work on ordinary watercourses in Wales to manage land drainage. 

If you own land or property next to any river, you will have responsibilities as a riverside property owner.


The tidal reaches of many rivers, where the sea flows in and out of the mouth of the river, include public rights of navigation. Harbour authorities may have some control in these reaches. Natural Resources Wales has control over navigation for some waterways only, and will not become involved in disputes, or give legal advice, about navigating any other waterways.

Lead Local Flood Authority role

The unitary local authorities in Wales have powers to manage local flood risk as Lead Local Flood Authorities, according to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.

Who to contact for help

If you have a query about legislation, the role of risk management authorities, or your rights and responsibilities as a riverside property owner, please call us on 0300 065 3000 or email us at enquiries@naturalresourceswales.gov.uk.

Last updated