This post is a follow up to a post from a few weeks ago which looked at the difficulties canoeists face in getting their rights to navigate our rivers recognised. As much as anything it’s a plug for an excellent new research document looking at the Upper Wye produced by the dedicated folk at River Access For All, with much support from the Waters of Wales campaign.
The River Wye is recognised as holding public navigation rights below Hay on Wye. In 2002 the Environment Agency won a bizarre tussle to control the river as the navigation authority, after a group of business folk tried to resurrect a long slumbering company which owned the right to control the river’s traffic.
Above Hay however, the paddler’s right to navigate is much more contested. It’s another case similar to the River Trent at Kelham – a huge amount of clear evidence that there are public rights, but no way of having this officially recognised.
Officialdom has always looked the other way regarding the Upper Wye. Even the 2002 Wye Navigation Order attempts to wring its hands on the issue, stating that all of its provisions do not affect the existence or lack of existence of rights above Hay. A legislative boot into the long grass. The EA continues this noble tradition by using a variety of terms to describe the Upper Wye, currently stating (after pressure to more accurately reflect the true picture from British Canoeing and others*) “there is no confirmed legal right of navigation upstream of Hay Bridge“.
The effect of this distancing from the issue by statutory bodies is to cement a status quo where canoeing is seen to be ‘not legal’. The knock on effect of this is to empower landowners and anglers to hassle canoeists on the river by stating ‘you have no rights here’. One landowner has recently decided to install charges for anyone wishing to navigate along ‘his’ river (I won’t legitimise that nonsense with a link.)
So, have a read of this excellent paper from RAFA. As per my last post regarding the River Trent, I’d be interested in any views on this – can anyone really reasonably contend there isn’t, on the balance of probabilities, a right for the public to navigate this river. I’d be even more interested to hear if anyone has any actual counter-evidence to this document. Evidence that goes beyond simply, WE LOUDLY DISAGREE, at any rate…
* The EA’s old (but still on their website) guide to canoeing the Wye talks of the Upper Wye being ‘non-navigation’ and of there being “no established public right of navigation“.
As a slight aside, and to show how daft debates on public access can get, I once had a weeks long debate with the EA regarding the definition of a ‘picnic’ and how one may affect the public’s right to access the banks (below Hay). Never was the phrase ‘one sandwich short of…’ so apt! The wording on their website still doesn’t reflect (yet) the outcome of the picnicgate discussions!