Rivers Access Campaign

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The Rivers Access Campaign is being undertaken by the British Canoe Union (BCU) to open up the inland water-ways in England and Wales on behalf of members of the public. Under current UK law, public access to rivers is restricted, and only 2% of all rivers in England and Wales have public access rights. The BCU is using the campaign not just to raise awareness of the access issues, but to try to bring about changes in the law.

The campaign uses slogans such as "We have been given the Right To Roam, But not Permission To Paddle!"[1] and "Access for All". Also, a series of informative posters and pamphlets have been produced using cartoon artwork by Andrew Quick.[2]

Access situation

  • There are 4,540 kilometres (2,820 mi) of inland river and canal in England and Wales with navigation rights.
  • There are over 65,000 kilometres (40,400 mi) of inland rivers with no access.[3]

England and Wales are almost unique[4] in the level of restriction upon their waterways and are considered two of the most difficult places in the world to gain access to rivers. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 grants a "Right to Roam" specifically to areas of open land comprising:

  • Mountain (land over 600 metres)
  • Moorland
  • Heath
  • Downland
  • Registered common land

In England and Wales there is no blanket right of access to non-agricultural land as is sometimes mistakenly thought. But angling interests successfully lobbied for the exclusion of inland waterways from the act.[citation needed] Amongst other countries with virtually limitless public access rights to waterways is Scotland, where the Scottish Parliament passed the Land Reform (Scotland) Act in 2003, which grants access for both land and inland waterways to the public.

The UK government has encouraged canoeists to seek negotiations and create access agreements for privately owned water with land owners throughout England and Wales. For over 50 years both the BCU and WCA have been working to seek these agreements for access, which has resulted in 812 kilometres (505 mi), a total 4% of all privately owned linear waterways in England and Wales being opened up with some form of public access agreement.

The Welsh Canoeing Association estimate that there are around 300 rivers in Wales suitable for kayaking, 13 of which have any form of legal access agreement.[5]

Most of these agreements permit access only on certain days of the year or for short sections of the river. The government has decided to pursue further agreements in 4 study areas, over a 2-year trial period. However, there is no guarantee that this trial will grant further access, with recent government studies showing that access agreements are unlikely to be able to provide the necessary resources needed for water sports.

The law

Legally the water itself is not owned, but whoever owns the land along the river's edge (the riparian owner) also owns the property rights to the river bed. Under current UK laws, anyone on that water without permission from the riparian owner is trespassing[citation needed]. This is a civil offence, and may incur a fine or possibly a court injunction to prevent further trespassing. This applies to any member of the public, be they canoeists, rowers, swimmers or simply walkers stopping off on the river side to dip their feet.

It has been argued that there is a right of navigation on any navigable water in the UK.[6]

The only arrestable offence is aggravated trespass, under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, where a criminal offence is committed whilst trespassing. There must also be intent to disrupt or intimidate those engaged in lawful activities.

The Rivers Access Campaign's main goal is to bring in a new Act to grant a public right of navigation along all waterways in England and Wales, similar to the Scottish Land Reform Act.

See also


  1. Rivers Access Campaign. "Campaign Slogan". Retrieved 2006-11-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Rivers Access Campaign. "Campaign Artwork by Andrew Quick". Retrieved 2006-11-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. University of Brighton - School of the Environment. "Water-Based Sports and Recreation: The Facts" (PDF). Retrieved 2006-11-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Rivers Access Campaign. "Access in Europe & Rest of the World". Retrieved 2006-11-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Ashley Charlwood, Access Development Officer, WCA. "WCA Position Statement on Access". Retrieved 2006-11-09. line feed character in |author= at position 18 (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  6. The Common Law and the Right of Navigation. Rev’d Douglas Caffyn. Presented to the Sustainability Committee, National Assembly for Wales. "Summary.
    1. There was a public right of navigation on all rivers prior to 1750.
    2. This right still exists..."

External links