England and Wales’ 1½ million paddlers are getting a raw deal, according to the British Canoe Union (BCU).

The governing body for canoeing and kayaking in Britain has cast doubts on the results of an access survey conducted by the University of Brighton which said that voluntary agreements for securing access for river users was successful.

The report, commissioned by the Government quango the Environment Agency, looked at four voluntary agreements on river access and came out in favour of taking the voluntary route. The BCU had argued unsuccessfully that river access should have been included in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, giving paddlers in England and Wales the same rights enjoyed by those in Scotland under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.

The BCU points out that of the four instances in the study, half of the rivers already had access agreed or uncontested. On the River Teme around Ludlow, only one mile of the river was subject to the agreement and that excluded June, July and August and relied on a cumbersome booking system.

In Durham, it was pointed out that only one riverbank owner had consented, so the owner of the opposite bank could stymie the process. In the four rivers studied, the Mersey, the Teme, Wear and Waveney, only 45 miles (72km) of access had been negotiated, much of it in place before the project. Two years’ work produced only an extra 20 miles of access, some of it subject to severe restrictions.

41,000 miles of three-metre-wide river in England and Wales have no public access. The Brighton University study claimed there was little demand for access to inland waters, yet the BCU, representing 50,000 paddlers, says participation and membership levels are increasing month by month.

Only 4% of inland waterways in England and Wales have public access. This also means that wild swimmers are also technically trespassing if they take a dip in most rivers. Riparian owners and angling concerns say voluntary agreements are the way forward. The BCU disagrees and wants to see the same rights south of the border as exist in Scotland.

Check out the BCU’s website for further details.