The legal boundary between land, foreshore and the sea or tidal waters will often be a variable one which will move from time to time with the natural ebb and flow of tides.
If a physical boundary moves seaward (a process known as accretion or alluvion) as a result of natural causes which result in a gradual and imperceptible change the owners of the adjoining land will find that their property increases in size. By contrast, if through a process of erosion, the boundary moves inland, the adjoining land above low or high water, as appropriate, will be reduced.
The principle of accretion and whether any land which was ‘acquired’ through the application of the doctrine benefitted from the rights pertinent to adjoining land was considered in the case of Loose -v- Lynn Shellfish Limited. Unusually, the case concerned a situation where, as a result of silting up of channels, a sandbank had become accessible from the foreshore at low tide. The Court took the view that the sandbank was added to the adjoining foreshore. The Court then went on to hold that the fishery rights of the adjoining foreshore which had been acquired through long use extended to the sandbank.
The decision clearly favoured the owner of the adjoining foreshore to the exclusion of any party seeking to exercise rights over the sandbank (which had previously been an area falling below the mean low water mark).
The decision and its application of the doctrine of accretion has potentially wide application in any situation where land abuts the sea. Landowners who find themselves in this situation may find their landholdings increase significantly (and that valuable prescriptive rights are extended as in the Loose case) by simply sitting back and waiting for channels to silt up.
If you require any further information or wish to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog, please contact Mark Withers at firstname.lastname@example.org.