Share and share alike

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!)



First off, before we start, we all have to agree to not notice it’s already nearly March. OK? OK…

In 2016 I set myself a New Year’s Resolution – to do 1000 active miles throughout the year (but, cheating a touch, I included indoor miles in the gym…). I managed to keep up the activity all the way through the year and met my goal, to my own surprise, let alone other people’s (my wife was fairly suspicious I’d been replaced with some kind of replicant – a suspicion only given up when she realised I was still serving no purpose, useful or malign).

I lost some weight. I definitely got much fitter (which had been the goal). But the real bonus was the experiences I had in the great outdoors while clocking up some extra miles. There are are some photos below of some of the sights I would have completely missed out on if I hadn’t shaken myself into the habit of finding extra opportunities to get out and about for a walk, kayak, cycle ride or (and this was the shock) a run.

So, cut to the chase, I’ve set myself the same target for 2017 – but now all the miles have to be outdoors! So, 1000 miles, in any activity, all outdoors. To help me along, I’ve set up 12 challenges to clock up some of these miles – roughly one per month (we’re still all ignoring it’s nearly March right?). If anyone would like to join me on any of these please let me know – though beware, I am a slow coach, especially on a bike!

  1. A competitive canoe/kayak event
  2. Dawn to Dusk walk (December, on the equinox?)
  3. 10km run – anywhere, anyhow!
  4. An overnight canoe/camping trip
  5. Coast to Coast cycle route (in 2-3days)
  6. Do basic climbing course
  7. 100m bike ride (in one day)
  8. Three Lakes Challenge (not in 24 hours mind!)
  9. Striding Edge & Swirrel Edge – something to challenge my fear of heights!
  10. Moorgreen Duathlon – it’s less than a mile away, seems rude not to?
  11. Get onto moving water in a kayak – another challenging the fear one!
  12. 50 hills in a year (based on the UK Hill Bagging site)

Brexit means…[insert plan here]

We may have already accepted that many of the Leave side’s, erm, lets say, ‘aspirations’ regarding post-Brexit Britain were, charitably, bluster. However, this doesn’t seem to be stopping a whole plethora of organisations from getting early letters-to-Santa into the post regarding the future of the country. In no field is this more clear than in the realm of farming subsidies – even before the referendum this was recognised as an emotive subject on all sides of the debate, with no-one happen with the current wasteful system.

The National Trust kicked off the calls for change post-Brexit in August. I covered this in a previous blog post, asking them not to forget about the role for improved countryside access. Since then there have a range of alternative ideas for reforming subsidies. These ideas, to no-one’s surprise, treat farming as the ultimate guinea-pig, a convenient test-bed for often highly ideological economic, social and political pet theories. I’m not sure, as an example, many of the farmers who voted for Brexit would be hugely impressed with Ryan Bourne of the IEA’s (a fundamentalist Free Market think-tank) proposal to simply cut all subsidies and throw farming to full global competitive forces (or, in simple terms, destroy UK farming).

In addition to Bourne’s Free Market views there have been  proposals to protect smaller farms from CPRE; the predictable counter-arguments from the NFU and Country Landowner’s Association (CLA) and a new collaboration (of RSPB, WWF, Wildlife Trusts and National Trust) building on National Trust’s initial ideas with a new plan for a Green Brexit*. The partners have produced a glossy leaflet, outlining a new five point plan titled ‘A New Policy For Our Countryside‘.

Of course, my own blog on this issue was also an attempt to throw my own prime passion, countryside access, into the mix. And thankfully, as always, The Open Spaces Society have been making just that argument to government too. Their call is for the subsidy system to benefit access to the countryside, through more effective maintenance of current routes, and increased dedication of both new footpaths and Access Land. All of which is great (as usual OSS are leading from the front on this), but doesn’t really go far enough for those of us looking at a severe lack of access for our boats and bike as well as our boots.

Brexit means… working together


As already mentioned, most of the calls for change represent very narrow views, aligned closely (soley) to the organistion involved’s own work and interests. I listed some ideas for access in the last blog and I have a tonne more, But this post isn’t about simply throwing more ideas in the mix, but about encouraging organisations and campaigners to work together for change. And not just with others who are tightly aligned (as per the Green Brexit Coalition), but with others too.

If we want government to listen to any of us, we need to speak with more than just one voice. In 2013 our forests were threatened with a massive sell-off. In response the government recieved a loud, resounding chorus of criticism with just one message – over our dead bodies. I’ve no doubt that the government’s change of heart was driven, at least in part, by the huge diversity of voices telling them the sell-off was unacceptable.

Outdoor recreation, environmentalism and heritage often conflict with each other. This is senseless, and only serves to weaken each message. I’d love to see a Venn Diagram of people interested in the environment and involved in outdoor recreation** – I’ll bet you’ll see something looking more like an eclipse than two separate circles! So why do we not all work together more? Of course there are issues where interest may differ – but these are all surmountable through a cooperative approach and, even if not, still more binds us together.

So my message to all those who love our countryside – whether on foot during a challenge walk, with a passion for creating new habitats, or for protecting our rural heritage (or, as many of us will be, all three) to work together. It’s great that RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and National Trust are working together – but bring Ramblers, OSS and others with you! Together we’ll build a case government can’t ignore!

Brexit means… engaging

Leading on from this call for a coalition for the countryside is another point – both obvious and more tricky. We must also bring farmers with us too. Here I do think there is in many ways a disconnect between the different communities involved in protecting our countryside. I certainly don’t feel I know enough about farming. But we must seek to engage and understand the farming community if we are to develop a future for the countryside which genuinely does increase wildlife protection, rural heritage and access to the great outdoors. Imagine how strong our case will be if it represents not only a united from from heritage, conservation and access campaigners – but also has farmers championing our cause too!

* Good news for anyone who had that in their Brexit bingo. I got stuck with Sloppy-Brexit.

** This research document doesn’t have any Venn Diagrams, but does show that outdoor recreation and environmentalism come from very similar roots, and are very inter-twined – so why do we then go on to self-identify ourselves as one or the other?