There's a fight over the River Wye: the landed gentry want to preserve the fishing, others want to sail pleasure boats

For centuries the River Wye has attracted thousands of visitors, drawn by its great scenic and natural beauty. In 1798 William Wordsworth penned Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey during a visit to the river. "How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee, 0 Sylvan Wye! though wanderer through the woods," he wrote.

Unfortunately, in recent years more and more people have turned to the Wye - a river of major importance for conservation because it has a largely natural regime and has remained free from pollution.

Their interest has often extended beyond sitting on its banks, notepad in hand, composing poetry. While the river still attracts walkers it also numbers canoeists, rafters, and pleasure-boat owners among its regulars. And its status as a salmon river brings game fishermen willing to spend a pretty pound in pursuit of their sport.

Until now, the disparate devotees of the river have co-existed in an uneasy truce. But the seemingly dry topic of navigation rights has shattered that peace.

There are two bids for the navigation rights, which convey a stake in the management of the river - power is shared with the National Rivers Authority (NRA), the national guardian of the aqueous environment, which has limited powers to make by-laws for the river.

One bid is from the NRA itself, which sees such a move as a natural extension of its present powers. The other contender is a group of businessmen seeking to revive an old company, incorporated by Parliament in 1809, The Company of Proprietors of the Rivers Wye and Lugg Navigation and Horse Towing Path.

Now lawyers are being hired and history books scoured as both sides pursue their case. The NRA is accused by its critics of being in cahoots with the landed gentry who have the fishing rights and want to preserve the status quo. Those wishing to revive the ancient company and develop the river commercially are seen as get-rich-quick interlopers.

Sporting organisations are assessing which lobby will best favour their vested interests. For instance, the river hosts the annual 100-mile River Wye Charity Raft Race, the longest event of its kind in the world, and those who organise it want to be allowed to continue.

Below Hay-on-Wye, down to the Severn Estuary at Chepstow, there are a 100 miles of free navigation on the river. But moves are afoot to impose regulations.

The NRA points to conflicts of interest that have arisen between various user groups such as canoeists, rafters and anglers. It argues that without controls "there is a risk that recreational use of the river will conflict with nature conservation and damage the environment or disturb wildlife."

Dr John Stoner, NRA regional general manager, said: "The River Wye and its catchment is a river system of great importance. We must safeguard its unique character. We believe this is the right time to try to secure the balanced use of the river for the benefit of this and future generations."

It is a view echoed by conservation groups, including English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW), who both back the NRA's attempt to take on the navigation rights.

Ray Woods, an area officer for the CCW, said the navigation rights were a complex issue, but there would certainly be concern if the towing path company's proposals to introduce weirs and locks were to be implemented.

The river has Site of Special Scientific Interest status, and there are proposals to re-notify the Wye in the new Wildlife and Countryside Act and pave the way for it to be the first river in Britain to be made a Special Area of Conservation.

"The River Wye is special for a whole host of reasons. It supports rare species, including two types of shad, the Allis and the Twait, and because no impenetrable barriers have been introduced, and there has been no pollution, it is one of the most natural rivers in Britain," he said.

Conservationists are happy that the River Wye is not inundated with visitors. As regards boating and tourism it has not been extensively marketed, but that could change. Critics of those with a more commercial approach to the river fear "another Richmond on Thames".

And those involved with the towing path company believe that the river could be better exploited commercially. Installing locks and weirs, and dredging, would open the river up to pleasure boats as far as Hay-on-Wye and bring valuable tourism revenue.

The NRA has taken legal action to have the towing path company bid overturned, while at the same time embarking on a public consultation exercise before proceeding with its own legal claim to the rights. The first round in the fight went to the NRA after High Court proceedings were taken against Mr Victor Stockinger, a New Zealand lawyer who is handling the towing path company claim. The Court did not support Mr Stockinger's claim to act as of "governor" of the old company.

However, the search is on by those backing the towing path company to find the old shares, and they are confident the first legal setback will be overturned. Both parties were due back in court last month (Feb 15) to hear an appeal by Mr Stockinger against the ruling.

Des Davies, landlord of a Hereford pub and a prime mover behind the company, said: "We decided to revive the company because the river is dying. Salmon numbers are falling because the river is silting up. As a child I can remember catching elvers when the river was black with them. They have disappeared now."

He said the river was navigable to vessels up to 1856. A cider mill at Bredwardene was built with stone brought up river by barge. Research has shown, he claims, that locks existed on the river. "We don't want to damage the environment, but we do want to breath new life back into the river."

If the company can be revived it hopes to build 22 locks and weirs. Its backers believe that the tourism the company will attract will create 1,000 jobs along the river.

Those supporting the bid include Hereford City Council, which believes that the city and its riverside environs would benefit, and investors are standing by to finance it.

Charles Willis, the council's chief executive, said: "We are opposed to the idea of the NRA becoming the navigable authority because it wants to suppress navigation. The Wye is a dreadfully wasted resource. Once Hereford built ocean-going ships. Now it is impossible to reach the ocean because there is so little water."

The council sees economic development as a spin-off for the area. "We would like to see people navigate the river in pleasure boats, stop overnight and spend money here. We think this could be done without environmental damage," Mr Willis said.

The legal fight is certain continue. In the meantime, those who use the river for pleasure and profit will have to try and get along until a statutory control is established.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape