Benefits of releasing the River Network Centreline

Description & Request Overview

Vector based centrelines of rivers and other watercourses in England and Wales attributed with local names of the watercourses has not been released under open government licence. 

Surface water available under OS open data Vector District maps is a related dataset but does not include any attribution such as river network name nor are rivers mapped continuously.

Data Release Rationale

A set of river network centrelines would enable the public to see the length and course of each river and stream in open mapping products, and identify those rivers and streams by name.

Release of this data would enhance leisure applications, tourism and outdoor pursuits. Enabling developers to include the river network as a standard layer on free web-based maps would also help familiarise the public with names and locations of their local watercourses. This would support greater awareness of flood risk and environmental concerns associated with rivers and streams.

Target User Description – Community Fit

The availability for the data could have wide reaching use for Business, Personal, Community and Research. The request has identified a gap in the provision of OS open data. 


A generalised river network centreline dataset has the potential for widespread use for outdoor leisure activities such as fishing and watersports, the protection, conservation and restoration of local rivers by community groups, flood alerts and warning, insurance claims and assessment as a result of flooding and property evaluation. 

The release of a river centreline river network as open data could bring therefore a multitude of opportunities and benefits: 


The value of natural rivers has an impact on property prices and other services such as outdoor activities. The economic value of ecosystems has been assessed at several million pounts (see UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA)) 

Knowing where rivers are and linking them to other information has a potential value to fishing and watersport users. Monthly participation counts from the 2011-2012 Sport England Active People Survey, for sports usually associated with the river network indicate the potential number of beneficiaries of the data:

  • angling 980,100

  • canoeing and kayaking 147,800

  • rowing 60,100

The use of an authoritative river map would support the work of hundreds of community groups that help to protect, conserve and restore local rivers. Data about river section are crucial information to coordinate these activities

Publishing the location of rivers and their names could enhance flood warning alerts, and the prevention of flooding as the potential risk of any flooding event can be demonstrated to the individual householder. Using mobile phone apps could show the distance from a river section that may be flooding. In addition, the location of rivers after a flood event can help the householder in insurance claims leading to more accurate and detailed assessments.

To include the data in free open data applications such as Open Street Map enables the onward use in apps. Good examples for the onward use are demonstrated by the release of datasets under OGL by the Canal & River Trust. The data includes canal centrelines and network junction points, towpaths, aqueducts and bridges. River network data are missing to complete a water network dataset for the UK alongside the existing Open Street Map data. The availability of data could have the potential for onwards innovative applications in any of the above named use cases. 

More detailed information about the above benefits examples are available on request. 

Please identify where further case studies or quantifiable evidence to support the release of this dataset

Can you identify further areas where this dataset release will create opportunities for innovation and new business?

Can you help identify sectors, businesses and organisations that will benefit from the release of these data?

Barriers and Requirements for Release

The Environment Agency created the data partially from Ordnance Survey Mastermap and from local surveys, EA officer local knowledge and local authority information. The data includes Ordnance Survey derived data rights and Environment Agency intellectual property rights. Both prevent the release of the data under Open Government Licence at the moment, Data can be requested for non-commercial use without charge from EA, however, the user requires a valid Ordnance Survey licence or pay OS royalty charges of up to £ 10,000 to cover their third party property right in the data. The dataset can be purchased for commercial use at a price of £ 15,000 for unlimited terminal use and £ 1,875 (12.5% of the list price) for single terminal use plus OS royalty charges. 

OS and EA have considered to create a generalised river network dataset from the detailed dataset which may meet the needs of this data request. The feasibility for proposing a generalised river network dataset as open data needs to be further explored with OS and EA. Potentially initial investment to create a generalised dataset may be required, however, onward provision and costs should only be proportional to the distribution cost of the data. 

There are no known privacy risks of releasing the data.


Following the example of the Canal and River Trust ODUG recommends to OS and the Environment Agency to provide a proposal for the free release of a river network centreline dataset as part of medium to small scale open location infrastructure to DSB.  There should be no significant costs or barriers for publishing a generalised river network datasets as an open dataset suitable for leisure and other uses.



"Non-commercial" use

Data can be requested for non-commercial use under an enduser license for £1? That actually sounds quite reasonable ...

So if I want to support river restoration groups on a voluntary basis, does that mean I can build a website or a free mobile app with a map of the river network to help coordinate and document local activities? After all, that's all non-commercial activity.

Unfortunately it doesn't. The Environment Agency's approach to "non-commercial" is much more restrictive than the ideal set out in the National Archive's Non-Commercial Government Licence. EA non-commercial terms do not provide any practical model for sharing or sub-licensing of data. "Non-commercial use under an enduser license for £1" effectively means little more than personal use.

If EA terms really supported free "non-commercial use" in the sense that term is commonly understood, the river network data would already have been picked up by the non-commercial OpenStreetMap project.

I should also point out that OS and EA intellectual property rights do not "prevent" release of this data as such. Open data licensing does not affect the ownership of intellectual property at all. The real barrier is just the current administrative policy against adopting the open data model for re-use of this data (a policy that also limits re-use of most other Environment Agency data assets).

Many thanks to the ODUG for taking this data request forward with the DSB.

-- Owen Boswarva, 21/12/2012

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Just a quick comment picking

Just a quick comment picking up on OpenStreetMap (OSM). As I understand "non-commercial" is not sufficient for the data to be included in OSM as it would then create additional constraints on OSM's end users. For data to be added to OSM it must be interoperable with the Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL). For example, the Open Government License would be okay as the 2 were specifically designed to match well with each other.

OpenStreetMap can however use the OS StreetView map tiles to trace rivers. It would be a time intensive endeavour but would end up with similar results.

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Rob, thanks for clarifying that. If I understand you correctly the minimum requirements for licensing of data used in OSM do not then depend on the fact that OSM itself is run on a non-commercial basis. I can see the sense in that approach, as I guess it would better support end-use (or sub-licensed use) of OSM data by third-parties with commercial activities.

I wouldn't personally say the OGL and the ODbL work well with each other, as the OGL is less restrictive (no share-alike requirement). However I take your point that OGL would meet your needs if you already consider ODbL to be acceptable (and that the NCGL would not).

In that case OSM is the wrong example. But my wider point remains: the narrow terms of EA's licensing for non-commercial use (without the transferability and sub-licensing provided for in the NCGL model) make it impractical even for non-profit groups to re-use EA river network data on the web.

(If OSM contributors did want to trace OS OpenData mapping, is OS Street View a better source than OS VectorMap District? I did look at VMD for a similar purpose but the lack of attributes, and the fact that the water theme polygons were broken up by other features, made it impractical.)

-- Owen Boswarva, 22/12/2012

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Thats correct - OpenStreetMap

Thats correct - OpenStreetMap releases it's data under ODbL licence and does not want to have to include extra conditions due to the inclusion of data that is for "non-commercial use" only. That is, non-commercial use is not compatible with OpenStreetMap.

On OGL and ODbL I should have specified that they were written to be 'similar' and OGL comaptible with ODbL. Obviously ODbL adds the extra condition that the derivative data must be share-alike.

I will look again at VectorMap District - thanks


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OS OpenRivers

This might do you - fairly attribute free in its open form, but topographically connected as a network...

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