Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the British Canoe Union (IW 08)


  The British Canoe Union (BCU) welcomes the opportunity to submit this memorandum to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee. The BCU is the UK governing body, recognised by the Sports Councils, for the sport and recreation of canoeing, and represents 24,000 individual members and 600 affiliated clubs. The BCU also wishes to give oral evidence.

  The consultation document "Waterways for Tomorrow" has resulted from the white paper "A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone", July 1998 and the IWAAC study "Britain's Inland Waterways—An Undervalued Asset", March 1996. Both of these documents are concerned exclusively with navigations. Consequently "Waterways for Tomorrow" misses the opportunity to promote the development of waters, which are not already public navigations.

  The BCU notes that, in paragraph 2 on page 6, the Government wants to maximise the opportunities the waterways offer for leisure and recreation. The BCU wishes to stress how important it is that the work of the committee should embrace all those inland waterways, which are physically capable of being navigated by small unpowered craft such as canoes and kayaks. This work should not be restricted to just the larger waterways suitable for powered craft.

  This memorandum has been prepared in two parts:

    1.  Comments on your press notice dated 20 July 1999.

    2.  Developing the sport and recreation of canoeing.


The Role of Inland Waters

  The BCU believes that waterways, when restored and improved, provide a tranquil, off road asset where the public can enjoy a safer, open air environment, afloat or on the banks. The development of the canal system in central Birmingham is a good example of how the waterways can be brought to life for the enjoyment of the public and the attraction of tourists. In addition to social benefits, such developments can bring business and employment opportunities.

  Inland waterways are of particular importance in urban areas, where they can provide local leisure opportunities, avoiding the time and expense of always having to travel further afield.

  Canoeists enjoy the natural environment and wildlife where they canoe. Waterways of all types can provide opportunities for enhancing the environment and wildlife, especially in urban areas. The BCU encourages its members to conserve and enjoy the natural surroundings where they canoe.

Prioritising of Objectives

  Under the current law of England and Wales public rights of navigation, when reasonably exercised, take precedence over other rights. The BCU does not seek a change in the law on this issue.

  Where public rights of navigation do not exist and where such waterways are physically navigable, especially by small unpowered craft, the BCU seeks equal rights so as to be able to share and enjoy the waterways environment with other interests. Opening up such smaller rivers for unpowered craft will increase the length of waterways and surrounding areas, which can enjoy new social and economic benefits.

  The BCU considers that the objectives under the Role for Inland Waterways and under Commercial Freight should be complementary. In general, there should not be a principal use. The only proviso is that the waterways role in respect of water transfer, drainage and telecommunications should be subject to appropriate environmental assessment.

Policies and Mechanisms

  The BCU has good contacts with British Waterways, the Environment Agency, the Broads Authority and various other authorities, but not to the extent that the BCU can express an authoritative opinion on the adequacy of funding arrangements. The BCU welcomes the increased funding provided for British Waterways and considers that there is a more realistic chance of policy goals being achieved. However, these policies do not cover all of the interests of canoeists in inland waters, especially their interest in rivers, which are not navigations.

Ownership Structure

  The BCU, as a governing body of sport, does not have an in depth knowledge of the structures of the various navigation authorities. The BCU welcomed the formation of the Association of Navigation Authorities (AINA); the BCU sees this as an effective mechanism for fostering co-operation between navigation authorities and achieving appropriate integrated policies. The problem from the BCU point of view is that AINA is not concerned with rivers, which are not navigations.


The scope of "Waterways for Tomorrow" must be extended

  Canoeists enjoy the smaller waterways, which are not navigable by powered craft. Canoeists prefer the tranquillity, the cleaner air and the undisturbed wildlife to be found on these smaller waterways. The canoe is a traditional craft used throughout the world for exploring wilderness areas and observing wildlife without disturbing it; the canoe causes no erosion, noise or pollution and leaves no trace of its passing.

  Many canoeists seek the challenge of rough upland rivers and moving water at weirs or on the smaller lowland rivers; this is both for enjoyment and for developing advanced canoeing skills. These waters are important to aspiring competitors in the disciplines of slalom, wild water racing and freestyle and for the holding of events in these disciplines. British paddler, Paul Ratcliffe, has just won the Silver Medal in the Sydney 2000 Olympics in the mens single kayak slalom event.

  All these smaller waters, together with backwaters on navigations, need to be included in the scope of "Waterways for Tomorrow". Provision also needs to be made for access from the public highway to these waters and for portage routes around natural and man made obstructions.

  The obligatory close season for canals has been removed. There is a recommendation in the report of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review that the close season should also be removed from coarse fishing rivers. Many competitive events have been arranged on canals and other navigations in the close season to avoid conflict with anglers. Many access agreements on smaller rivers only provide access in the close season. The effect of these actual or possible decisions on the development of canoeing needs to be addressed in "Waterways for Tomorrow".

  It is an added benefit when canoeable waters are local to where canoeists live. This enables more frequent canoeing sessions, since the time and expense of travelling further afield is avoided. Often the local waters are not navigations.

Policies for canoeing on rivers which are not navigations

  The present legal framework renders it impractical to prove rights of navigation, where they are disputed. The approach favoured by Governments has been for canoeists to negotiate voluntary agreements with those who have the legal navigation rights, usually as part of the rights of riparian ownership.

  The BCU has been following this policy since the sixties, but with little success. Out of nearly 11,000 miles of canoeable rivers in England and Wales, which are not navigations, agreements cover less than 400 miles; many of these agreements only apply in the close season for angling.

  The present Government has refused to include access to the countryside on water in their Countryside and Rights of Way Bill 2000, and has restated the belief that voluntary agreements are the way ahead. The DETR is at present looking into ways in which such agreements can be achieved. For its part the BCU is committed to trying its hardest once again to achieve success by this route. It is not helpful that no support for this policy is given in "Waterways for Tomorrow", due largely to the smaller rivers not featuring in the document at all.

Canoeing on navigations

  Sprint and Marathon Racing and training for these disciplines take place on rivers, which are usually navigations, or on lakes; these waters are important to aspiring competitors. River navigations and canals are popular with those touring and recreational conoeists, who prefer placid water.

  The BCU has negotiated block licensing agreements with navigation authorities on nearly all the main river navigations and canals in England and Wales. The BCU makes appropriate annual payments for these licences, which are personal rather than boat licences; these enable BCU members to paddle, without individually buying licences, on each participating waterway. This provides a service to members, financed within their subscriptions, and has significant administrative benefits to navigation authorities. The BCU is very concerned that, due to the Acts governing the management of the Thames, the Environment Agency cannot enter into a suitable agreement with the BCU without amending those Acts. The Environment Agency would otherwise enter into an agreement as they have already done for the Medway in Kent and for their Anglian rivers. The BCU seeks action as a matter of priority, considering that the initial discussions took place 15 years ago with the Thames Water Authority.

  The BCU believes that a distinction should be drawn in management terms between rivers and canals. At different times of year levels and volumes of rivers vary dramatically; however, the canal regimes are relatively constant except perhaps when there is widespread flooding.

Profile of canoeing on inland waterways

  Over one million people take part in canoeing each year.

  There are over 100,000 privately owned canoes.

  Over 3,000 children are involved in the BCU Paddlepower scheme.

  There are over 9,000 BCU qualified coaches.

  Over 7,000 different competitors take part in nearly 400 BCU ranking competitions each year spread over eight competitive canoeing disciplines.

  Over 20,000 BCU members take part in recreational canoeing, including inland and sea touring and low level informal competitions. It is estimated that this represents less than a quarter of total recreational participation in the UK.

  In 1999 British canoeists won 55 international medals.

  Canoeists have won Olympic Silver Medals at Barcelona in 1992 and Sydney in 2000. (When this memorandum was prepared the sprint racing events at Sydney had not taken place.)

Carel Quaife
Access and Development Manager

25 September 2000

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