SRA Annual Report 2018-19: Riparian Responsibilities (W1)

What are riparian responsibilities?

After the 2013-14 floods, it was widely felt in Somerset that problems were made worse because too few riparian owners knew and carried out their responsibilities, particularly for maintenance.

One difficulty is the confusing word ‘riparian’. It’s a Victorian coinage from the Latin riparius, from ‘ripa’ meaning river bank.

A riparian owner is somebody who has any sort of watercourse (including a main river) on or under their property, or next to any boundary of their property – unless that watercourse is known to be owned by someone else. Ownership of watercourses along boundaries extends to the centre of those watercourses.

Anyone who owns a river and a river bank has responsibilities – chiefly, for maintenance. It is a common misconception to think that a body such as the Environment Agency has a legal responsibility to carry out activities such as dredging on rivers that it does not own. It does not. It has the power to do works on certain rivers for the public good; it does not have a duty to do so.

Owners are responsible.

SRA Riparian Responsibilities Officer

Somerset Rivers Authority has been employing a part-time Riparian Responsibilities Officer (RRO) to help promote wider understanding of this situation. The RRO has met various organisations and groups, such as West Somerset Flood Board and West Somerset Flood Group. To further promote the cause, the RRO has also primed colleagues in Taunton Deane Borough Council, the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group SW, Somerset Drainage Boards Consortium, West Somerset Council, Yeovil Rivers Community Trust and Westcountry Rivers Trust.

The RRO is an additional resource for SRA partners to call upon to help fix problems and improve projects – to make things more joined up. So, for example, the RRO worked with Somerset County Council’s West Somerset Area Highways Office and a landowner in Stogursey to identify and resolve a significant highway flooding issue. The officer has also been part of the team involved in the major examination of problems in and around Beckington (see W4) and has worked with colleagues in the county council on watercourse maintenance issues.

Fly-tipping in watercourses on the Somerset Levels annoys many people. The RRO has been working with Internal Drainage Board colleagues on ways of identifying the most problematic areas and gathering evidence to help stop ugly and irresponsible dumping.

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