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Brexit & Subsidies - A Call for Access Action

Since the EU Referendum the issue of public subsidies to support our countryside has been under much discussion. In May 2018, DEFRA invited feedback on future Agriculture Policy through their ‘Health and Harmony: the future of food, farming and the environment in a green BREXIT’ consultation.

Through this consultation and work with other leading access organisations, British Canoeing sets out its proposals for positive change.

It has been 70 years since we have had an opportunity to redefine the contract between the people of the UK, farmers and landowners. We are facing a rare opportunity to help shape how our land is managed; It is critical we get this right as it will have a profound effect on our generation and those to come. This is an important opportunity to present a strong, clear case for public access being a public good; for health, enjoyment, exploration and learning.

British Canoeing believes post-Brexit subsidies should recognise the need for public money to bring improved public benefits.

– British Canoeing

Canoeists should be able to enjoy their right to paddle along rivers safely, without obstruction o challenge. Our core proposals are to find ways to use agricultural policy and funding to help deliver sustainable access to and along waterways. 

Specifically we call for the following:

  • As with other rights of way, landowners should be responsible for providing for and maintaining safe passage, with appropriate ‘portage points’ around dangerous or unpassable in river obstructions, such as weirs. Public subsidy and grants should be used to support this activity.
  • Creating new subsidies to incentivise farmers and other land managers to provide new or improved access points onto to rivers, lakes or other waters.
  • Public subsidy and grants targeted to encourage landowners to welcome responsible water users and to provide facilities that cater for their needs (such as parking, toilets, food and accommodation). This in turn may encourage new revenue streams for landowners, helping support traditional farming, conservation and the wider rural community.

British Canoeing strongly endorses responsible, respectful behaviour by all paddlers. In pursuing greater open access, we too have a vested interest in ensuring that paddlers accessing to the water are respecting the land, causing minimal impact on the environment and abiding by the countryside code.

Canoeing on England’s waterways will not stop, so it is not only in the interest of the canoeist but also the riparian owner to make provision for safe, clear access points to and along waterways.

Supporting rural economies

In some areas EU subsidies provide a lifeline to farmers. There are a variety of policy proposals from organisations representing our farmed environment, ranging from calls to increase and re‐target subsidies to calls for environmental protections to be reduced.

We believe the protections for our environment and sustainable access should be strengthened, not cut. However, British Canoeing must work with those who represent the farming community to understand their concerns. We must also ensure the rural policy system of Government subsidies post‐Brexit ensures such protections are a benefit to farmers and not simply a drain on their resources.

British Canoeing will seek to develop links with landowners and the farming community, to work towards policies which strengthen all stakeholders in our rural economy. It is all of our interests to seek clarity on access to and along water. 

We therefore also recommend:

  • Increased partnership working between recreational and sporting bodies which use the natural environment.
  • Bringing improved engagement between different interests in the countryside together. Too often parties involved in conservation, recreation, farming and land-management find themselves in conflict with each other - rather than recognising the great potential for improved cooperation leading to benefits for all.
  • Matching our desire for improved access (especially the recognition of access rights) with a pragmatic approach to our responsibilities. Working with farmers, conservationists and other water users is essential to help us all build a strong, vibrant, sustainable approach to countryside management for all to enjoy.

Our actions

On this basis, we therefore recommend:

● A new strategy for the future of outdoor recreation; bringing together stakeholders who may traditionally have been in conflict, to realise the potential residing within our countryside.

● Increased partnership working between recreational and sporting bodies which use the natural environment.

● Matching our desire for fair, shared, sustainable, open access with a pragmatic approach to our responsibilities. Working with farmers, conservationists and other water users is essential to help us all build a strong, vibrant, sustainable approach to countryside management for all to enjoy

● Specifically on water access, a commitment from DEFRA to seek a new, national approach to address the lack of clarity regarding access to and along water. Locally negotiated access arrangements simply have not worked. Some landowners are simply not inclined to recognise and accept a right for canoeists to navigate on rivers, unless there is a legal obligation or it is clear in law.

In summary

British Canoeing believes that it is essential public access to the outdoors is defined as a public good. This must include access to and along water environments, not just the land.

We support finding ways that incentivise landowners to welcome canoeists; by targeting future subsidies into providing for safe access points and allowing paddlers passage down river, without challenge or obstruction.