Paddlers in Wales are leading the fight for open access.

Canoeists and kayakers want the same rights enjoyed by water users in Scotland – and their campaign could have a knock-on effect for walkers and cyclists.

The Welsh Canoeing Association (WCA) is pressing the Welsh Assembly Government to introduce a bill on the same lines as the Land Reform (Scotland) Act. The act gives far greater rights to enjoy outdoor recreation than those enjoyed in England and Wales.

The right-to-roam law for Wales and England excludes rivers and other waterways and only applies to upland areas and moorland. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act defined access land by mapped areas and has no provision for paddlers, cyclists or wild campers.

The WCA has set up the Kayaking is Not a Crime website to explain the situation and organise a petition to the Welsh Assembly. The WCA says: “There’s real confusion about the law in England and Wales. Canoeists, kayakers and swimmers have no recognised legal right to enjoy rivers or lakes. So people are confused about where they can go and what they can do.

We want to change that. We’re asking the Welsh Assembly to pass a bill to give the public access to land and water – so there’s no more confusion. And we need your help to make it a success. grough readers can add their names online in support of the campaign.

You have until 8 December to petition the Assembly, but the Welsh paddlers say they will campaign util they get a change in the law. A similar petition in Scotland was instrumental in setting up the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, based on Scandinavian practice of allowing unfettered access to the outdoors balanced with responsible use.

A report by the Inland Waterways Advisory Council (IWAC) urges legislators to follow statutory routes to establishing water rights. It points out that current voluntary agreements have been as a result of protracted negotiation and are unlikely to work in more contentious locations. Conflict between paddlers and anglers needs to be reduced, it says, and the best way to resolve the situation is by giving kayakers and canoeists the same rights they enjoy north of the border.

The WCA says: “Some riparian owners have declared that there is no public right to water. This has no basis other than loose case law relating to trespass which is not relevant if there is a right.
Not even the Welsh Assembly Government can clarify the existence of statutory rights on even small pieces of water, the response being that a court case is required.

“It sounds unlikely, but it's true. Current government advice is to rely on access agreements, but we can see they're not working and potentially not necessary.”

The IWAC agrees: “Defra [the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] should make no further attempts to negotiate voluntary access agreements for canoeists but should re-examine the possibility of giving the same right of access to canoeists in England and Wales as already exists to those in Scotland.”

The Government of Wales Act 2006 set up the Welsh Assembly Government as an executive body similar to the Scottish Government. The act also gave the Welsh Assembly increased powers to make laws, though these will still need to be approved by the Westminster Government.