Periodically items appear in the news regarding the ongoing debate between canoeing and angling regarding access to our rivers. I always take interest in reading them, so was excited to see a feature in The Times at the weekend (Anglers Fear Invasion – you need to sign up for a basic free account to read it if you don’t subscribe).
Now, full disclosure, part of my reason for taking such an interest in the Angling Trust’s periodic attacks on canoeing has been the fact that for three years I was an Access Officer at British Canoeing. After relocating to the edge of gorgeous Nidderdale last year I had to give up the position (with much regret as I loved the subject, the job and the people I worked with). So I was even more interested to see this latest article, as it is in response to a job advert for my replacement.
Now. There’s often a lot to digest and cut through with these stories. To a reader unaware of the history of the debate regarding access to our rivers the Angling Trust’s points may well read very valid. But dig beneath the surface and you always find some odd, misleading and spurious statements (I’ve covered the licence issue before as just one example). Not least of these charges is the Angling Trust’s odd claim ‘that the canoeists are refusing to agree to compromise measures such as closed seasons when fish are spawning […] we have tried to come to agreement but they will only accept an agreement that will allow you to go 365 days a year’.
This is odd because in most cases the ONLY times of year many angling clubs, backed by the Angling Trust, will even consider for any kind of agreement are the very close seasons when the fish are spawning (see this EA guidance for the South West for example).
It’s also odd because the research on the impact of canoeing on fish stocks demonstrates that canoeing poses a very low risk to fish spawning grounds. Canoes simply float above gravels, especially during the higher winter waters. Despite this low risk British Canoeing goes to considerable effort to engage with the EA and others to ensure canoeists are both informed of local spawning grounds. One of the few successful Access Arrangements (AAs) in England is on the River Greta in Cumbria, where paddlers are informed about suitable water heights during spawning seasons, and directed to alternative access points if spawning beds are identified. This AA is actively supported by local canoeists. Why? Because they feel engaged, treated fairly and are informed effectively.
The biggest myth is that British Canoeing – and important to add that canoeists in general – are not open to working with landowners, anglers and any other stakeholders on our rivers. What paddlers do object to is draconian and overly restrictive AAs, imposed on them, without fair, open and positive consultation. They wish to be treated fairly on our rivers, so that we can all enjoy – and protect – this natural resource.
I believe British Canoeing has a very fair and access policy (I mean, I would really, as I helped develop it). This defines an approach to developing partnerships on our rivers based on mutual respect, trust and cooperation by and for all (there’s no mention of 365 days a year, funnily enough). You can judge for yourself if it’s fair by downloading the full policy from their website.
The Angling Trust currently have a great campaign running looking at cleaning up litter from our water environment. Their Take Five campaign is exactly the sort of project a lot of canoeists would love to join forces on. There are many other ways the two sports could link up to strengthen and protect out rivers, building on what both are currently doing separately. Issues like Check/Clean/Dry, ensuring healthy water quality, water abstraction and riparian development affect both sports. The Save Our Rivers campaign (previous Save the Conway, expanded after it’s great success) is an example of what joined up campaigning can achieve. Started by kayakers, but engaging anglers and promoting issues that affect all.
It’s a shame that progress that progress can’t be made at a national level on similar campaigns. When all feel welcomed to enjoy our waters fairly and equitably real progress can be made on more positive relationships between people who, at the end of the day, all have a passion for our rivers.
(If you want a bit of a visual intro to the river access debate have a look at this One Show clip. If it doesn’t start at the right point click to 2m40s!)