Tackling unauthorised moorings in Elmbridge

The river has a complex range of landowners:

  • Private landowners
  • The Environment Agency (EA)
  • Network Rail
  • Elmbridge Borough Council (only in a minority of cases)

What are the legal implications?

The law allows:

  • Within the Public Right of Navigation, boat owners can stop on private land for a reasonable period of time, if they have the landowners’ necessary consent. The Environmental agency’s policy defines 24H as a reasonable time. Elmbridge Borough Council follows this policy.
  • Boat owners can stay on privately-owned land for a longer period than 24 hours if they have the landowner’s consent to do so.
  • Only the landowners that the boats are moored on can take action against an authorised mooring.
  • Existing byelaws on Elmbridge-owned land are only effective on council-owned land. They do not extend to illegal mooring on private land.

What can Elmbridge Borough Council do in cases of unauthorised moorings?

Environment Agency update on River Thames enforcement activity in Elmbridge BC

  • We remain committed to ensure there is a level playing field for all river users. This includes maintaining rites of passage along the navigation and compliance with our terms and conditions for moorings on our land.
  • Our priorities will always be flexible, depending on resource availability, as we have the whole length of the River Thames to oversee.
  • We were recently successful in Staines Magistrates court in enforcing our Harbour Master powers to move when directed by our notices.
  • Our resources for Navigation enforcement has reduced since February 2021 but we are actively recruiting to bolster the team. This has meant our original aims from our published enforcement plan will be reduced but we will still carry out tough enforcement activity.
  • We will be re-tendering our moorings enforcement contract in due course. This follows the identification of a procedural problems in our first procurement process.
  • We have a project to remove wrecks in the area and will be actively removing those vessels which are sunk or have been abandoned.

What does the Environment Agency do to prevent and deal with illegal moorings?

  • Undertakes regular patrols and boat registration checks in partnership with Surrey Police and Elmbridge Borough Council, including boat safety certification and insurance.
  • Will seek to enforce and prosecute boat owners who failed to provide the above documentation.
  • Will seek to take action against any incidents of pollution in the river that are reported to them. Any dumping of waste into the river can be reported to the EA on their hotline 0800 807060 to investigate. 
  • Will seek to take action against owners of any vessel that has sunk and not been removed.


All mooring compliance and enforcement activities on Environment Agency (EA) owned land and moorings, will be undertaken by Environment Agency employees.

All EA remote sites will be monitored by the local teams via routine foot and boat patrols. These moorings will permit 24 hours mooring only, with no return within 72 hours. There will be no charge for the 24-hour stay. The EA will consider taking enforcement action against anyone overstaying the time limit at these moorings.

  •  Mooring fees for lock-based mooring will be paid to lock keepers and recorded in the toll books.
  •  The same mooring conditions will apply at all sites. 24hrs free, plus an additional charged period of 48hrs.
  •  A full list of mooring locations with the terms and conditions is on the 
  •  Simple signage will be installed guiding boaters to the lock office for information on moorings and payment. 

What steps can be taken in case of illegal mooring?

  • Anyone who suspects a boat is moored to land without consent, should first contact the owner of that land to ensure that they are aware and can take appropriate action to resolve the matter.
  • The landowners can consider applying to the courts for a possession order, or other powers under their jurisdiction, to compel boat owners to move their vessel.
  • Report ASB (anti-social behaviour) associated with moorings.
  • The Pollution Team investigate complaints of noise (NB: the noise from generators, regular parties and loud music etc must be significantly intrusive and harmful to health. They have no powers to move boats on.) 

The sanctions for repeated trespass offences are increasingly stringent. A possession order is the most effective method for dealing with this issue and is the Environment Agency’s recommended approach.

How to report any non-urgent matter relating to the river

To report any other non-urgent matter relating to the river please contact enquiries@environment-agency.gov.uk or telephone 03708 506 506 during office hours.

Partnership working to find a long term solution

A stakeholder consultation on the current issues was carried out over the summer 2019. Elmbridge councillors considered the feedback on 18 September. The full report can be accessed through the link below: 

Spelthorne Council has similarly considered the same issue at the meeting of its Cabinet on 6 November 2019. The full report can be accessed through the links below.

Steps taken following the stakeholder consultation

  • Members from both councils agreed that officers will work with members and neighbouring boroughs, Surrey County Council, Surrey Police and the Environment Agency to consider a consistent way forward, with a report back to the respective Cabinets with any recommendations in due course.
  • The Environment Agency (EA) has considered their options to help manage boats mooring on land it owns along the non-tidal River Thames. Land it owns includes the following sites within the Elmbridge boundaries: Molesey (Hurst Park Wharf), Sunbury (towpath) and Walton (Gridley Miskins and towpath, and Desborough Island).    
  • After a successful tender process, District Enforcement (DE) had initially awarded the EA moorings contract. 
  • The Environment Agency’s contract for mooring management contractor, District Enforcement, will be brought to an end  from 30 September 2021. This decision has been taken following a review that subsequently identified issues with the EA’s internal procurement processes, rather than as a result of any fault by District Enforcement.
  • District Enforcement will cease operations under the contract on 31 August
  • The EA expect to look into options to retender for this work in the future but in the meantime moorings will be managed by the Environment Agency’s Waterways staff. 
  • This does not affect Elmbridge’s agreement with District Enforcement who will continue to enforce unauthorised mooring on Elmbridge owned land at Cigarette Island, Albany Reach and Ditton Reach.

Why doesn’t Elmbridge assume ownership and responsibility for the Riverbank?

Whilst on the face of it, the transfer of any of the ownership and management of the riverbank may seem a simple and effective solution this has a number of challenges. Taking on additional areas of the river bank could potentially be very costly and complex in terms of liability, maintenance and insurance. In addition to this there would need to be expertise resource allocated to managing of the public riverside land and the council do not have the knowledge or expertise to support this route. 

The Council is currently facing a decrease in government grant and will have to make some difficult decisions in the coming years to balance the budget and taking on a new area of responsibility with unlimited liabilities (both financially and legally) is something we cannot support. 

More about unauthorised moorings in the borough of Elmbridge.

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