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Types of watercourses

Details on the different types of watercourse; main rivers, ordinary watercourses and canals.

Main rivers 

Main rivers, such as the River Soar, are those under the Authority of the Environment Agency, which is a non-departmental public body sponsored by DEFRA (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).  

If you are planning to make any alteration to a Main River, a flood defence structure or propose to conduct work within flood plain, you may need to obtain a valid an Environmental Permit, specifically a flood risk activity permit from Environment Agency. 

Further detailed information on environmental permits can be found at GOV.UK.

Ordinary watercourses

Ordinary watercourses are under the Authority of  Local Council or Internal Drainage Board, which are referred to as the Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA), as designated by the Flood and Water Management Act (2010). In the case of any ordinary watercourses in the city of Leicester, these are under the authority of Leicester City Council.

Ordinary watercourses in Leicester can be viewed on the flood risk map

In the event that a watercourse is not mapped, it will be considered an ordinary watercourse. It may not have been formally mapped due to its small or isolated nature. We recommend that any queries relating to unmapped watercourses in Leicester are directed to the LLFA at


Canals in Leicester (although technically waterbodies) are under the management of the Canals and Rivers Trust. This also includes tow paths and any canal infrastructure such as locks and sluices. The Grand Union Canal passes through Leicester connecting Birmingham to London.

Riparian owners and the maintenance of watercourses

A riparian owner is the name given to any person/business/organisation who owns a stretch of a watercourse  (which is known as riparian ownership).

You usually own a stretch of watercourse:

  • that runs on or under your land
  • if it is located on the boundary of your land (you own up to its centre)

The deeds for the property or land define whether or not any sections of a watercourse are owned.

If you own a watercourse, you have maintenance responsibilities for the section of watercourse that you own. Further information on rights and responsibilities of riparian owners can be found at Owning a watercourse - GOV.UK.