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Access at Barcombe Mills, Sussex Ouse

Barcombe Mills is a popular paddling destination for canoeists in the South East of England. Over the past few years British Canoeing has been working with the Environment Agency, who are land owners of much of the site. The agency had concerns (see previous news story here) regarding one of the portage points on the site, as it sits within close range of some dangerous sluices and weirs. Instead two other, already established, portage points were recommended to paddlers.

Navigation Rights on the River Ouse at Barcombe Mills

The river is tidal below Barcombe Mills, and holds what was a well-recognised Right of Navigation upstream too. Unfortunately over recent months some stakeholders at the site have challenged the right of canoeists to use the site both for bank access and navigation along the upstream section of the river. Sadly this has led to some paddlers using the site to be challenged.

British Canoeing has strongly contested these claims, and has worked closely with the Environment Agency through our volunteers (our Local Waterways Adviser, Clive Edwards, and Regional Waterways Adviser, Noel Humphrey), our Regional Development Team and our central Access & Environment team. The Environment Agency has recently confirmed to us that, according to their legal advice paddlers are entitled to use the banks, at the designated launch points, to access the river and/or for portage through the site; and the site holds a Public Right of Navigation through the following means:

  • The river would be naturally tidal much further upstream than the site if it wasn’t held back by the weirs; 
  • The existence of active (and un-rescinded) Acts of Parliament specifically granting a PRN upstream of the site; and 
  • Historic usage of the river for navigation

British Canoeing would in addition state that we consider the river to hold a PRN in accordance with the general PRN on all rivers in England.

Information for paddlers accessing Barcombe Mills

In accordance with the Environment Agency’s advice, canoeists should feel confident in accessing Barcombe Mills, and the River Ouse. We strongly recommend the following actions, to ensure that any access considers the need for awareness of the dangerous structures on site, and respects the activities of all other user groups:

  • Only use the two designated access points detailed in the site map on this page;
  • Park safely and with consideration for others who may need to park or access the site;
  • Be aware that weirs and sluices downstream of the upper portage point could be very dangerous to paddlers;
  • Be aware and respectful of people using the site for activities such as angling, wild swimming, walking and picnicking;
  • Avoid the large pool below the weirs on the tidal section when people are fishing in them.
Bmills New Map

What should I do if challenged?

It is in the interests of all water users to act in ways that respect and accommodate other activities – the river is there for all to enjoy. This should not however mean any restrictions being imposed on any user group. If you are challenged while paddling on the River Ouse through Barcombe Mills please be aware of the advice in our Trespass Briefing note. Pass on the information above, which shows that canoeing is a legitimate activity on the river, but always try to remain calm and positive. We do not advise giving any personal details. Ensure you report any challenge to us via our online reporting tool and British Canoeing will be in touch with you.

British Canoeing would like to thank the Environment Agency for working with all parties to find solutions that enable all water users to enjoy the site. We would also like to thank Noel and Clive, our Access & Environment volunteers, the Regional Development Team and others who have work tirelessly to help inform British Canoeing’s response to this issue. Without our volunteers and their dedicated help we would not have been able to achieve a positive resolution to this issue.