I'm interested in buying a beautiful house with a garden that runs down to the River Cam. What rights or responsibilities do I have in relation to the riverbank?
If you own property or even land, that is situated next to and abuts a river you are deemed to be a 'Riparian Landowner'. The rights that accrue to such landowners are long established in English Common Law. The rights and obligations which accrue to this position have developed in more recent years to incorporate and your rights in line with third party rights, for example, the Local Authority.
In owning land which could be a riverbank, you are subject to certain rights but also responsibilities. Firstly it is prudent to check that the riverbank actually forms part of your land and this can be done by checking the Deeds. If it is indeed part of your property, or likely to have an effect on your property, you are entitled to protect your property from flooding risk, but you may well need to have these measures cleared by the Risk Management Authority.
Often you also have the right to fish in your watercourse from the riverbank, as long as you do this legally and use a legal method of fishing. Again, it is prudent to check you have this right rather than assume it.
Your responsibilities include an obligation to allow the water to flow unobstructed and free of pollution. Riverbanks should be kept clear of anything that may create an obstruction and present a flood risk and you are responsible for the maintenance of the bank. This includes clearing litter and, if necessary, animal carcasses.
There is a comprehensive guide available on the gov.uk website for further guidance. These rights and responsibilities must be considered and evaluated before you commit yourself to the purchase and before exchange of contracts.