10 October 2016

The majority of land alongside water – whether along the coast, by a river or by a lake – is agricultural land.

The extent of ownership of land abutting water depends whether the water is tidal or not. If the water is tidal then the land ownership extends to the top of the foreshore (between the average high and low tide mark). Care must be taken to check whether a river is tidal or not. For example, the Thames becomes non tidal upstream of Teddington Lock.

Today, the extent of the foreshore is not usually significant, unless there is something worthwhile to extract from the foreshore, and tends to be relevant to fisheries for raking up shellfish.

Land abutting non-tidal water is presumed to extend along the riverbed to the middle of body of water (unless the same person owns both sides). That presumption can be rebutted and a riverbed can be sold separately from the land adjoining it. The presumption only refers to the riverbed and not that water.

The benefits of riverbank ownership along a non-tidal river include the right to fish, moor boats and install pilings for jetties. However, these rights do not include the water itself and activities on the water are subject to separate regulation, which can include:

  • Fishing rights can be reserved as a "profit a prendre" and sold separately; the right to fish will also be subject to local byelaws where applicable.
  • Water extraction is governed by the Environment Agency and a licence is required for extraction which exceeds 20m3 per day.
  • Navigation rights over public waterways are managed by the Environment Agency; they are responsible for ensuring that public waterways remain open and navigable. Non-tidal rivers may also be subject to bye-laws.
  • Any installation on the riverbank or riverbed (such as pilings) may be subject to local planning consent as well as consent from the Environment Agency.
  • Mooring a boat may require planning consent for a material change of use as well as Environment Agency consent or licence.

This article was written by associate Charlotte May.

Key contact

Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy Partner

  • Estates and Land
  • Private Wealth
  • Agricultural Disputes

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