Why campaigners are unimpressed by new access rights to waterways

An almighty row is brewing on Britain's rivers. This month, the Environment Agency released a report that it claims guarantees improved rights of access to those who swim in, paddle on or simply walk alongside inland waterways in the UK.

The report, A Better Place to Play, took two years to compile. Its critics are less than impressed with the fact that new access rights will allow the public on to an additional 45 of the 40,000 or so miles of Britain's river systems.

"It's a joke," says Tamsin Phipps of the British Canoe Union, the watersports body whose Rivers Access Campaign is at the forefront of calls for change. The BCU also claim that on the four rivers where new rights have been granted (the Waveney, Mersey, Wear and Teme) access agreements have, in some cases, been in place for some time.

In Scotland, access to rivers and waterways falls under the Land Reform Act, legislation passed as recently as 2003, which made law the public's right to roam on waterways. In England and Wales, the legal entitlement of recreational river users is much less clear. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act (Crow) of 2000, for example, grants a limited right to roam but does not apply to rivers.

"The laws of navigation in England and Wales can be traced back to William the Conqueror," says Ms Phipps. "Invariably, those rights were granted to whoever owned the land, and the laws desperately need updating. A number of political parties in the Welsh Assembly are including waterway access in their manifestos for next year [when a general election is due to be held], and there is a danger that England could be left out in the cold."

She says that in England and Wales a "public right of navigation" exists on just 4 per cent of "navigable waterways", those with channels of 10 feet or wider.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone shares the BCU's sense of injustice. "If you have a legal right of access, that then entitles you to override the rights of other sports and interests," says Caroline Bedell, national access adviser for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which works in the interests of landowners in England and Wales.

"In Scotland, where a blanket right to roam policy now exists, there has, in some areas, been significant damage to the fishing industry through the arrival of whitewater rafting," she says. Ms Bedell, a Crow specialist, also points to the fact that despite about £70m being spent on developing right-to-roam legislation in England uptake by the public has been limited.

The Government seems to agree. In a written answer to Parliament last week, Barry Gardiner, under-secretary for the environment said: "The Government have ... no plans to provide a statutory right of access to water, since research has shown that overall supply is roughly in balance with demand."

Ms Phipps would be likely to disagree. "The BCU currently has a membership of around 60,000," she says, "but the total number of recreational canoeists is closer to 1.5m. More of those would become BCU members if we could get more access."

Ms Bedell believes there is a feeling among some landowners that the BCU has not "engaged in the process" of developing legislation, preferring instead to slight those advances that are made. It is a charge that Ms Phipps denies. "In 2004, we met with the [then] Environment Minister, Alun Michael, and agreed to work together on the access problem. Since then we've barely been consulted."

So what next? A "mass paddle" to Westminster in protest over the report is planned for early next year, as is a Private Member's Bill. "This Government talks a lot about trying to encourage people into the countryside," says Ms Phipps, "but where our waterways are concerned, almost the opposite is true."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
Life and Style
food + drink
News
video
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    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
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home