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A Chance in a Lifetime - Support the Welsh Government Consultation

The Welsh Government has recently published a consultation document on “Taking Forward Wales’ Sustainable Management of Natural Resources” (attached below) which contains proposals that would dramatically improve canoeing access to inland waterways in Wales, by:

  • extending public access on our inland waterways while requiring responsible public behaviour;
  • enhancing mechanisms for managing access on, to and from our inland waterways;
  • extending public access to our coast; and
  • a series of other measures to change the way that recreational access is administered in Wales.

Canoe Wales and British Canoeing have prepared a discussion paper outlining our approach to this consultation and our initial feedback, proposed responses and concerns. Now we would like to hear the views of the canoeing community in Wales and England. We also want to hear from other bodies who have an interest in improving access for outdoor recreation.

It is vital that there is a strong response to this consultation from all canoeists (and clubs, centres, and businesses) who are either based in Wales or who contribute to the Welsh economy through their visits to paddle Wales’ rivers, lakes and coasts to paddle, so we encourage you to take part in this important consultation.

Our discussion paper shows our view of the impact of the proposals, our hopes and concerns about them, and our proposed submission to the consultation. We would value any input and feedback we can get from paddlers - particularly those either based in Wales or who access Welsh rivers, there is a link below to an online survey you can also complete to share your views with us.

You can get involved in one of the following ways:

Once we have collated inputs and finalised our response, we will also encourage as many of you as possible to submit your own responses to the Welsh Government and will provide some ‘proforma’ material to help you do this.

We encourage all paddlers, clubs centres and others to respond to this vital consultation. Please contact us at environment-officer@canoe.wales or access@britishcanoeing.org.uk for more ideas about how you can respond to this consultation.

Why do we need change?

Paddlers in England and Wales have long found themselves challenged when accessing rivers and lakes. Since the early 2000s an increasing body of evidence has grown, supported by a leading QC with experience in countryside access issues, showing that there is a Public Right of Navigation on all rivers (subject to there being sufficient water). British Canoeing supports this right.

However, many others on our rivers dispute this, believing navigation on the majority of our rivers is a private right, with permission being needed for paddling (find out more about the history of these access disputes). Only 4% of our rivers hold a Right of Navigation that is not disputed.

We believe fundamental change is required to either confirm the existing Right of Navigation, or to legislate for new, updated public rights. Until all water users are seen by all to hold the same rights and, importantly, responsibilities, we believe access disputes will remain on our rivers.

This situation is almost unique in Europe (and across much of the world), where the public holds a recognised and undisputed right to access water for recreation. Over a decade ago the Scottish Government enacted the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. This was revolutionary legislation that achieved great results for paddlers, confirming in modern legislation a right for the public to access rivers, lakes and canals for recreational, unpowered boating. The feedback from Scotland - from both canoeists and other stakeholders - is that this legislation has worked well, helping canoeists access water with far fewer hassles, and helping all users share the water more effectively.

The Welsh Government consultation is the first to give solid proposals which, we believe, represent a once in a lifetime chance to rectify the access issues on Welsh waters. It doesn’t go quite as far as the Scottish land reform model - which we still believe would work well in Wales and England. It does however offer the chance for public access along rivers and lakes to be enshrined in new legislation.

Canoe Wales & British Canoeing will continue working closely together to respond to these proposals, and to continue campaigning for positive, inclusive and equitable improvements to access on and along waters in Wales and England.

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