An attempt to extend the right to roam to paddlers faces stormy waters.
The Government blocked the second reading of a bill brought by Brighton MP Des Turner which would have given canoeists similar rights to those enjoyed by walkers and climbers in England and Wales. It says voluntary agreements are the way ahead.
The Access to Inland Waterways Bill has its third reading this month, but it looks doubtful of passing to the committee stage. Anglers’ groups say canoeists are stirring up trouble. Labour MP Martin Salter accused a militant wing of canoeists of being short-sighted and selfish. Paddlers counter by saying they have had fishing hooks thrown at them while using inland waterways.
Canoeists north of the Border already have navigation rights granted under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act.
British Canoe Union chief executive Paul Owen said: “The current situation seriously needs to be reviewed. Voluntary access agreements are simply not sustainable, viable or acceptable.
“The case for new legislation is strong and supported not only by the 1.5 million who paddle regularly, but also by all river users and members of the public who think the law is archaic and should be brought up to date.”
Campbell Walsh, an Olympic silver medallist, said: “The ability to access water sports like canoeing has a significant impact on our nation both through excellence in sport and in the general health and well being of the population.
“From my perspective, I believe that legislation would enable England and Wales to produce far better watersport athletes that would improve our medal chances in 2012 and beyond.”
The River and Lake Swimming Association is supporting the Rivers Access Campaign.
Paddlers in the South-West are resorting to a 17th century law to try to get access to the River Avon. The Reverend Douglas Caffyn said an Act passed by Charles II gives the right to navigate the Avon ‘from Christchurch to New Sarum [ie Salisbury]’. Landowners say the Act no longer applies, but a spokesman for the Law Society said the Act had never been repealed.