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Access and Environment Blog: Correspondence with DEFRA

In July, British Canoeing Chair, John Coyne OBE wrote to the Secretary of State for DEFRA, Rt Honourable Michael Gove, outlining the intention of British Canoeing to launch its new Access and Environment Charter this Autumn.

Andy Kettlewell Freestyle Kayak Water Wild Rapids

Within his letter, the Chair stated clearly our position and our vision for ‘fair, shared, sustainable open access on English waterways’.

One of our key ambitions and a key enabler is to improve access on and along water, promoting responsible access and environmental awareness. We wish to actively promote open access on and along rivers and waterways and are currently working on an Access Charter to encapsulate our ambition and to provide its clear rationale”.

The Chair outlined how paddlers can protect and enhance the environment, if we had greater uncontested access to water:

“The canoeing community are very environmentally aware. For most the enjoyment of the environment and wildlife is the primary reason for taking to the water, and as such they are keen to protect it. There is an opportunity for DEFRA to harness this community to tackle plastic in our rivers, the spread of non-native species and the general protection of our waterways and adjacent land”.

This week, British Canoeing received a response from Lord Gardiner of Kimble as Minister responsible for this policy area. Lord Gardiner acknowledged the “…taking to our waters can have a positive effect on people's physical and mental well being”. Lord Gardiner also reaffirmed that it is “…not Government policy to legislate in this area”.

While the response was disappointing, it was not unexpected. Government policy has been that while the situation is unclear, access disagreements must be resolved through negotiating local arrangements or via the courts.

The new British Canoeing Access and Environment Charter will make very clear that the process of negotiating access arrangements is fundamentally flawed prior to legislation or confirmation of existing rights. The only way forward is through Government confirming existing rights or bringing about new modern legislation. To that end the scale of the challenge remains unchanged. If canoeists, open water swimmers and all those who wish to enjoy fair, shared open access wish to see a shift in Government policy, then we must act together.

The Charter will be launched in November, the case for change will be made very clear. The paddling community must come together through its actions on the water as well as off the water to campaign for fair, shared, sustainable open access.

In October, the paddling community has a great opportunity to show what we can do as a collective, by joining the Surfers Against Sewage Beach and River Clean. Every effort made to care for and enhance our waterways is helping not only to protect the environment, but make the case for canoeists being a critical part of their future.

British Canoeing members who wish to run a clean up during the week can register their interest online. Clubs who commit to hosting an annual river clean will be provided with a river clean up pack with equipment and guidance, supported by the Canoe Foundation.