Accord ends rift over rafts on Tay: John Arlidge reports on the settlement of a decade-long dispute about right of access on a salmon-rich Scottish river

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THE river Tay is calm this summer for the first time in a decade after rafters and anglers settled a bitter dispute over rights to the salmon-rich waters.

The Upper Tay Accord, signed this year by landowners and the Scottish Rafting Association, imposes a timetable on stretches of the river west of Loch Tay. On the popular rapids between Aberfeldy and Grandtully, Tayside, rafting is limited to once a week when salmon are spawning or migrating, and four to seven days at other times.

The agreement marks the end of a dispute which began when landowners accused rafters of disturbing the river, threatening angling. In a bitter outburst Michael Smith, a member of landowners' lobby group, the Upper Tay Riparian Owners' Association (UTROA), complained that frequent water-borne invasions by people 'from the central belt in their shellsuits' risked reducing salmon stocks, destroying the local fishing and tourist trade.

'The whole idea of rafting involves noise and excitement and nothing annoys anglers more. They are driving the traditional fishing industry away,' he said. 'Fishermen have come up here for years. They live in the hotels, buy their whisky and contribute huge amounts to the economy of the area. The rafters just come for the day and . . . soak carpets with their half-pints of beer.'

Angered by the remarks and reports that landowners were seeking an injunction to ban inflatables, rafters defended their right to the water.

Angus Myles, director of Perth-based Splash Rafting, said: 'Rafting, like many outdoor pursuits, is becoming more and more popular. People - all people, rafters, anglers, you name it - should be free to enjoy our rivers.'

He dismissed suggestions that waterborne daytrippers were lager-louts. 'The image of rafters as yobbish teenagers is untrue and unjustified. Many respectable people go rafting.'

Although the agreement is due to expire after 12 months, both sides say that, with '99 per cent' of rafters and fishermen observing the timetable, it is almost certain to be extended.

William Jackson, secretary of UTROA, said: 'Owners and rafters have had their differences but those are in the past now.'

Mr Myles added: 'We have a shared responsibility to sustain this valuable but finite resource for everyone's enjoyment. The will to do so is there.'

(Photograph omitted)