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

Memorandum the Welsh Canoeing Association (IW 25)

  The Welsh Canoeing Association is the governing body for canoe sport in Wales. The WCA is recognised as such by the Sports Council for Wales, and represents 2,500 individual members and 50 Clubs representing an additional 2,500 members. Over one million people took to the water to canoe last year, and over 20,000 people participate in canoeing in Wales on a regular basis. Membership of the WCA is increasing, as is the number of regular participants.

  Canoeing is a sport that can be practised by all regardless of age, sex, race or ability. Canoeing regularly produces World Champions and Olympic Medallists for Great Britain. The sport offers recreational enjoyment, a wide range of competitive opportunities, environmental appreciation, educational achievement, employment with economic development, and social inclusion.

  The WCA has a policy of improving and increasing the opportunities for canoeing in Wales, and welcomes the ability to submit its concerns about the "Waterways of Tomorrow" Paper to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee.

  The WCA is concerned about the present poor, and bleak future canoeists have in relation to their ability to access waterways for their sport. It is the WCA's belief that the Government needs to pay serious attention to the lack of access recreational craft have to water, and needs to implement legislative strategies to improve access to and along all categories of inland water.


  Waterways for Tomorrow is a consultation document that concentrates on a chain of waterways that are already Navigations. These Navigations are predominantly larger rivers and canals.

  Where such rights of navigation exist, The WCA seeks to utilise the water in harmony with, and have an equal use of water along side all other water-based activity. All uses of inland water can, if properly managed, be complementary. Additionally, any management policies should not reduce or restrict the present level of canoeing activities on these waterways. Management strategies must embrace all uses and should not give primacy to any one use.

  For reasons of differences in flows and volume, management regimes for rivers and canals should be derived on a differing basis.


  The status of the Navigations in the chain seems to revolve around the ability of large or powered craft to physically navigate the rivers.

  Canoeists enjoy and are interested in all waterways, which includes those not navigable by larger or powered craft. Any Navigation Authority that is to acquire waters needs to consider the effect upon users of non-powered craft that will be produced by limiting the length of water that is to be deemed navigable.

  If one was to consider a map of inland waterways in England and Wales, then it is clear that Wales is poorly served by this chain of waters.

  Consequentially, if concentration is focused solely on this existing chain, then the ability to maximise the opportunities waterways have to offer for leisure and recreation and the reciprocal benefits they can offer is extremely limited.

  The existing chain of available waters does not serve to meet the demands of leisure craft in the present. Unless a wider approach is taken to embrace all waterways, it will certainly not meet the demands of future generations.


  The paper misses the fact that there are numerous opportunities for economic growth, social development and education through recreation and tourism, by promoting the development of and access to and along the numerous rivers which do not exist already a public navigations. It is imperative that concentration should not be restricted to just larger waterways. In fact there are over 250 rivers in Wales that are able to host canoeing.

  Canoeists are interested in all waterways. The canoe is an environmentally friendly traditional craft that leaves no trace of its passing, and is able to physically navigate all types of inland water. Many canoeists are interested in the smaller stretches of placid inland water that are not navigable by large powered craft. These include not only rivers but also lakes and ponds. Many canoeists require the challenge of white water provided by the topography and flows of the mid and upper reaches of rivers. These waters are not considered in the scope of the report, but are an important and often limited (restricted) resource for the recreational paddler and those involved in competition.


  Many of the waterways suitable for canoeing are not public navigations. This dictates that canoeing activity cannot take place without the permission of the riparian owner. Refusal of permission from one riparian owner can prevent access to a whole stretch of water.

  Navigation status is often disputed on rivers and the presence of recreational activities is often challenged. For reasons of cost and availability of evidence, it is often impracticable to try and prove a navigation through the Courts on the majority of rivers that can be, and historically were used by small man-powered craft as navigations since Time Immemorial.

  There is evidence to show that canoeing has no significant bearings on fish populations, but despite this fact the majority of angling interests are unwilling to share waterways with canoeists and continue to preclude canoeing on the majority of rivers.


  The DETR is investigating ways in which voluntary access agreements can be achieved to increase access to waterways. This initiative, and access along and utilisation of waters other than navigations, is ignored by the Waterways for Tomorrow paper.

  It is significant to note that apart from a few exceptions; the voluntary approach to secure access has not been successful. Despite half a century of effort and negotiations, canoeists only have access to less than 1 per cent of the potential paddleable water in England and Wales.

  The focus of the Waterways of Tomorrow paper is limited to a handful of inland waters in Wales. As mentioned, earlier, there are over 250 rivers in Wales that are able to host canoeing in Wales, and benefit not only the participants but also the local economies surrounding each catchment. The WCA has Formal Access Agreements to only 13 of these rivers. The focus of Waterways of Tomorrow has to embrace and deal with this issue.

  It is also significant to note that to remove conflict with anglers, the majority of access agreements that are in place relate only to the closed fishing season. The obligatory closed fishing season has been removed from canals, and the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review recommends that the closed fishing season be removed from coarse fishing rivers. The report needs to adopt a wider approach and address these matters, and ensure that the limited resources canoeists have are not diminished.

  The WCA will support any initiatives to increase access via voluntary means, but holds that a significant increase in the number of access agreements needs to occur before they are judged to be a way forward. It is imperative that any initiative to increase access via voluntary means is implemented to achieve demand-based targets in reasonable time scales.

  Public monies should be freely available to assist in the exercise, and consideration must be given to the public purchase of navigation rights in order to vest them in organisations that could manage and promote recreational access to and use of water.


  A more practicable solution to the access problem would be to adopt the approach that all rivers are subject to rights of navigation, as they would have been in 1189, and that access along the whole of their linear progression is unrestricted unless closed by statute. This would ensure that a modern, integrated and sustainable approach was present to allow development of all aspects associated with inland waterways.

  The ability to access all waterways would be governed by a code of conduct, and localised regulations, that ensured that all users exercised their rights responsibly or forfeited them. This would ensure that legitimate interests were governed by a mutually integrated and recognised form of regulation, which would protect all users' expectations of reasonably disturbance free enjoyment of their activity and the countryside.

  This approach allows for regulation, a win/win scenario for all activities, opportunities to create additional and associated jobs and an opportunity for landowners to generate income.


  The ability to access water for recreational purposes in England and Wales is in poor state compared to other European Countries. Sport produces greater social inclusion and economic benefits in these countries than in the UK for this very reason.

  Canoe tourism brings much needed money into these European countries. Wales hosts some of the best waters for canoeing in Europe, however the inability to access and use waters means that this much needed income is lost due to lack of vision. The law has to be brought in line with other European countries.

  The law relating to the public's ability to access inland water is dated. The law no longer reflects the wishes and needs of our modern society, as it was implemented at a time when recreational activity was not as prominent or economically profitable as it is today.

  The numerous opportunities for economic growth and social development offered by water-based recreation will not be released unless innovative measures are installed to produce a wider base of access to and along all inland waterways.

September 2000

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