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Autumn Access and Environment Update: View from the Riverbank

Places to Paddle Manager, Ben Seal, reflects on the key work the team has been doing this Autumn.

View From The River

Autumn is an especially stunning time to be on the water. The flat watery light through the brown and yellow, falling leaves make for a really magical atmosphere. Paddling on the Derwent near my home is always special in October, but unusually this time my boat was weighed down and overflowing with junk collected along the banks and from overhanging branches.

Specifically, 4 traffic cones, 2 tyres, a child’s playground slide, a mower, builders sacks, odd bits of iron work and 4 giant sacks of plastic and glass.

The Surfers Against Sewage River & Beach Clean 2018 has been a huge success. Over 470 events nationally, more than 70 on rivers. We await the final tally of tonnes collected, however it has already gone down as the biggest of its kind in Europe.

For the first time British Canoeing joined forces with the clean up charity, encouraging clubs across the land to pitch in. Major coordinated efforts like this are really important to raise the profile of what paddlers can and are doing throughout the year; efforts that often go by unnoticed but are no less vital to the health of the river environment.

In our new campaign video to be launched soon, British Canoeing President Ivan Lawler refers to paddlers as the ‘bin men of the river’. It is true that paddlers can reach places many others cannot, but in reality no one user of rivers has exclusivity over that title. It is only through a collective effort by paddlers, anglers, rowers and swimmers alike that will keep our waterways free from the rubbish that is strangling our natural environment.

Every bottle that is collected on a river is one less in the ocean…and probably a few million micro particles less in our food chain. Remember that next time you are out on your local river.

In between retrieving junk from our rivers, the team has had a very active month, steadily building up momentum in the run up to the November Charter & Campaign launch. There have been a series of meetings with MP’s in Westminster and representation at a handful of key Government consultations, all part of the process of ensuring the paddling voice is now heard in all the right places.

Pleasingly we have had overwhelming support from a number of clubs and Regional Development Teams, in writing to their local MP’s to encouraging them to be at our launch event. It is vital going forward that MP’s are aware of how a lack of uncontested access affects local paddlers all over England. Let's hope this effort bears fruit.

As we step into November, we begin the countdown to the release of the Charter. Having worked on this for so long, it will be exciting to finally have the document and the videos in the public domain.

But the reality is that the last 12 months has simply got us to the start line. What we launch later this month is a fresh approach toward how we frame the case for greater uncontested access and a clean, healthy river environment. It will take time for those messages to permeate through our community and become the principles that we can all campaign on.

Put quite simply, an improvement to the status quo will not happen unless the paddling community share a common vision and carry a shared message. What is ultimately sought is not unreasonable, so it is essential that we combine our efforts nationally, regionally and locally, to champion the case for fair, shared, sustainable open access on our waterways.