Why don’t you pay?

Of the many threads to the debate between canoeists and anglers, one of the most common is the suggestion that anglers pay, while canoeists do not. “Why should canoeing be allowed on rivers when you won’t pay your way?” After all, anglers pay for a rod licence from the Environment Agency, and many (but by no means all) stretches of river have their angling rights bought or rented by fishing clubs – with the most choice locations fetching £1000s a year. So at first it seems like a reasonable question to ask.

But let’s have a look at the charge in more detail.

We pay a licence – why don’t you?

Let’s start with the Rod Licence – as it’s the only directly comparable aspect of what ‘canoeists pay’ vs what ‘anglers pay’. It is a legal requirement for all anglers to hold a rod licence to be able to fish – and an adult annual licence starts at £27 (a salmon licence however is a lot more at £72). So, if an angler was to stick to spots across the country where fishing is free (such as on Trent Embankment in Nottingham), £27 would be all they need to pay. Not many anglers realise that canoeists also pay a licence on the managed waterway network (canals and canalised rivers). The fees vary from one navigation authority to another, but as examples an annual licence for all the Canal & River Trust’s waterways costs £45, while it’s £35 for a Thames-only licence from the Environment Agency. Canoeists can get access to almost all managed waterways as British Canoeing members, which costs £45 a year. So, in terms of the actual licence, it is actually cheaper, and potentially covering a lot more of the country, to hold an angling licence than it is a canoeing licence.

Of course on many rivers there is no Navigation Authority and so no licence requirement for canoeists (although usually highly diputed Rights of Navigation). However, on these rivers the canoeist also gets nothing back (the River Wye being the notable exception to this rule, but for specific reasons). No put-in points or portages are provided. The river is not maintained for use (with blockages such as trees removed for example). Compare this with the money the Environment Agency reinvests into angling through the provision of it’s fishery services and it’s clear anglers are getting very specific benefits for their licence fees.

So, at its basic level:

  • Cost of canoeing per year, where a licence is required, nationally – £45
  • Cost of fishing per year, where a licence is required, nationally – £27

Ah – but many anglers pay large sums of money in club fees to access some waterways – canoeists don’t give the landowner anything!

Well, maybe, in many cases. However, club fees are dictated by the level of prestige for certain angling locations or clubs. And the actually can be very cheap – for example the Waterways Explorer scheme from Canal & River Trust only costs £20 a year, but gives access to a large network of angling locations across England. Added to the licence fee this still only comes to £47 a year – only £2 more than canoeists pay.

But what services are canoeists actually requiring from landowners for this? Nothing, essentially. They simply float on past. Anglers and their clubs pay anything from relatively small sums for some stretches of river up to eye-watering sums for others. However, in return for this the anglers are getting a variety of services that canoeists simply don’t get, need or want. This includes:

  • The right to drive onto, park, and occupy on private land to fish;
  • The ability to install angling pegs – platforms, steps and other infrastructure on private land;
  • Potentially installing new paths and drives to access remote pegs;
  • The exclusive right to fish on specific stretches of river/lakes.

Where canoeists do need to use land, for example at the points where they park and launch, they do also usually pay. This can be in the form of car parking fees, or launching fees for put-in points on private land. But comparing an activity which progresses down the river with one that operates at fixed points along it is not a fair comparison. Its akin to shooting participants challenging walkers for not paying to access Public Footpaths (yes, I know!).

This isn’t to accept that angling clubs and their members do a great amount to help look after their landlord’s land – and also contribute a great deal to maintaining the river environment too. However, it does show that drawing comparisons between the two sports is at best flawed, and in some cases sees canoeists actually paying more than anglers.

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Right to Roll?

mamtorcyclist Paul Stephenson

British Cycling have recently launched their new campaign, asking for changes to footpath legislation to allow cycles, especially mountain bikes, to access more footpaths. You can read more about the campaign, including letters to the British and Welsh governments, on the campaign page on the British Cycling website.

Many cyclists will be pleased to see British Cycling taking a more active role in campaigning for mountain cycling, as it’s often criticised for neglecting this branch of the sport. Many areas of countryside, especially in the hills, could be great for mountain biking – but restrictive rules on who can access Public Footpaths mean they are effectively excluded from many areas.

RoW jealously protected

Our Rights of Way network, and the legislation and rules underpinning it, is jealously guarded by many organisations. And rightly so. Many groups (not least groups like Peak & Northern Footpaths Society, Open Spaces Society and what has become Ramblers) spent many years campaigning for these laws to be recognised and respected, with battles from the 1800s to restore and protect ancient footpaths. This battle continues to the present day, with landowners illegally closing footpaths. The legislation in place protects these routes – and so any suggestion of changes to these rules is treated with immense suspicion.

chesterfield canal - david morrisThere is also the issue of clashes between user groups on those routes that currently are shared between user groups. In the Peak District itself there have been issues between cyclists and other users on routes such as the Monsal Trail. The issue of cyclists on tow paths creates a huge amount of, often very acrimonious, debate on canal forums, with many calls for bikes to be banned. However, the fact cyclists are restricted in where they can go off road adds to these issues – increasing the routes available would help disperse people. It will therefore be interesting to see how many people react to British Cycling’s campaign.

There are other groups, both traditional users, those new and developing activities, and even ones that may at first not obviously rely on land-based Rights of Way. who would also benefit from either greater Shared Use of routes or opening of new works. Horse riders are subject to similar restrictions as cyclists, and would greatly benefit from a more liberal approach to developing routes for Shared Use. Sports like paragliding rely on footpaths to access areas to launch themselves – with ambiguity on the legality of this. Canoeists could use waterside footpaths to not only walk to the water, but also to launch onto rivers and lakes.

Part of the difficulty for many of these groups is ambiguity in terms such as ‘reasonable use’ (see CTC’s page on reasonable use), and ‘natural accompanyments’. This creates differences of opinion regarding, for example, whether carrying a kayak consitutes a natual accompanyment for a water-side footpath – or whether launching from the path is a reasonable use. With relatively little case law this is left to user groups, landowners, conservationsists and others to understand as best as they can – with as many different interpretations as there are users!

Though it was regarded as a giant leap forward at the time, and was the result of over a century of campaigning, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (known as CROW 2000) effectively left many of these questions unanswered (and that’s before touching upon the decision to actively exclude canoeing from the Act!). As time progresses and new outdoor sports grow these issues become more and more exposed. In Scotland, such issues were given much greater clarity, and access secured for more groups to a much wider range of the countryside with a stronger Access Code. Paradoxically this has actually resulted in a reduction of issues between user groups (especially regarding the often toxic debate between canoeists and anglers) as everyone understands not only their rights, but also their responsibilities.

It would be great to see England and Wales moving towards a more Scottish system of countryside access – and it’s good to see a positive initial response to British Cycling’s campaign from Ramblers. For an move to greater Shared Use (and the creation of new and updated rights and responsibilities), I believe the government should support the outdoor sector to develop an approach which combines as many of the following objectives as possible:

  • Ensures the continued protection of Rights of Way;
  • Works to increase Shared Use on routes which appropriate;
  • Engages landowners to give reassurance on liability and to promote Permissive Bridleways;
  • Develop a strong access code
  • Use groups such as Local Access Forums to continue developing partnership between users.
  • Allow flexibility in approach to fit to local circumstances (e.g. lack of routes for any user group, suitability of routes for Shared Use etc).

 

 

(Picture credit – Mam Tor Cyclist, Paul Stephenson on Flickr; Chesterfield Canal, David Morris on Flickr)

Mind the Gap?

It’s been a couple of weeks now since the EU referendum. It still hasn’t really sunk in. But I’m still surprised everyday by some of the comments people make about the EU, highlighting just how deep the gap between perception and reality is. People rejoice at the end of Barmy Brussels Bureaucrat’s Bendy Banana Bans (that never existed). Two people I know have suggested we can finally go back to the halcyon days of pre-decimal money and Imperial weights and measures, as the EU took these away (decimalisation happened before we even joined the EEC – and the EU specifically protects many Imperial measures – pints as an example). One comment on a heritage thread on Facebook looking at the potential impacts read: ‘since when did the EU care about our heritage’. The sheer ignorance of this statement left me (and, by the other replies, many others too) a bit lost for words.

IMG_20160625_133917861_HDRThe weekend after the referendum, and my wife and I were in glorious Edale, Camping at Coopers Campsite, our first night under canvas together since our first child came along, almost five years ago exactly (and at the same site too!)  After a good old moan in the car we promised to not let the referendum darken our weekend. And this it didn’t, with a great walk up Grindsbrook, and a hunt for the true summit in the mist, working our way round the pools in the peat created through the fantastic restoration efforts of the Moors For The Future project. We found it, after two trick cairns distracted us, but if that’s the true summit these days I’ll eat my hat!

On Sunday we went to Bugsworth Basin, on the the way out the peak towards the conurbation of Greater Manchester to test-paddle our new inflatable canoe before we stick the kids in it! If you don’t know it, pay it a visit, it’s a lovely place. Built to connect the Peak’s limestone quarries to markets in Northern England, the basin was a thriving inland port, providing an interchange between the tramways running up into the hills and the canal network to Manchester and beyond.

bgsworthbasinIt is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, but was for many years derelict, taking a huge restoration effort, especially from a group that has now become the Bugsworth Basin Heritage Trust and the Waterways Protection Group. As with so many sites on our canal system, it was saved and reopened to boats by the (ongoing) hard work and dedication of volunteers. It’s now a great place to canoe from – not least as it’s about the only place you can easily get to anywhere near the Peak District without someone telling you you are trespassing by daring to paddle (more on this in future posts!). Bare in mind a Canal & Rivers Trust licence or British Canoeing membership is needed!

When we parked up I got out the car and the first thing I saw wIMG_20160626_122534706as a sign stating the project had been supported with funds from the European Union. The referendum debate, and the comments on heritage protection were staring back at me. Along with the additional irony that someone has tried to cross out the EU logo – matching experiences in many areas of the country benefiting from the EU voting to leave (see Cornwall and Wales). Of course, it is true to say the UK government can continue to fun projects like these directly. If the economy doesn’t take a hit (such a massive if right now…) it may even have more money it could allocate. I also don’t know how much the EU put in – or how it compares to funds from other sources. But this does show that it is entirely fair – and necessary – to ensure that we put pressure on the government to ensure the UK’s exit from the EU does not result in a reduction of funds for such projects. For those of us who love the great outdoors this covers a huge range of issues – from heritage, rural development and conservation funding through to legal protections for our natural environment.

There have already been great posts on the potential impacts, along with suggestions for ways forward, from the BMC (see the BMC’s article) and the Wildlife Trusts (with a great infographic). It’s vital we support these organisations in representing outdoor recreation and environmental protection.

You can also, to help Bugsworth Basin, join the charity which currently runs and enhances the site, or even volunteer to support them. You’ll find more details on the Bugsworth Basin Heritage Trust website.