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Blog: Clear Access Clear Waters Campaign by Ivan Lawler

Written by British Canoeing President, Ivan Lawler

Just occasionally there comes an opportunity for a person to step up and make a genuine difference. 

When I took on the President’s role the opportunity for me to make a genuine difference to the single most important issue facing our membership presented itself. I was inspired by a 3-hr education from a seasoned campaigner to get involved with the access campaign. Beyond chatting to the right people, and finding a way in to the organisation for the person who inspired me, I have done very little, but thanks to those who have since put in the work, we are now at a turning point that many of the sceptics thought we would never reach. BC has publicly stated its commitment to campaigning for legislation to allow, not just us, but all water users, to have “fair, shared, sustainable open access” to English waters all backed with a code of conduct that would ensure responsible behaviour.

We are now faced with a narrow window of opportunity to put some momentum behind this campaign for change. Essentially now is the time for us all to step up, to recognise the turning point we are at and the opportunity for change it presents. You personally may not be restricted in your paddling activity but support for those who are will make a massive difference to our sport, the difference that many have been trying to make for over 50 years!

For generations, the opportunity and privilege (it is a privilege) to enjoy our rivers has been claimed exclusively by some, based on spurious reasoning. Now, in 21st Century Britain, inequalities have mostly been called out and overturned by a weight of pressure from those who have been disadvantaged and from a public who see the injustice. It is our turn now to highlight and expose the access debate to that same scrutiny.  

It is simply wrong that some sections of society can claim exclusive rights of use over natural resources ahead of others.  Make your voice heard, not just for canoeists but for all water users, for the sake of physical and mental health, and for putting equality ahead of privilege.

What should you do to play your part??

Paddle responsibly. Share the space. Excersise respect to the environment and all other users. Let’s set the standard. Be wise in your decision making and consider the impact of your actions at all times. With open access comes RESPONSIBILITY. Canoeists must continue to show they can shoulder that burden.. [I think this is the critical message]

Contact your MP, write to them and tell them about the real challenges access presents where you live, ask them to make representation to Defra Ministers to address the lack of clarity in law. Invite them to your club so you can talk through in person. Ask what they can do to help you.

Care for your local river, undertake a river clean up, work with local conservation bodies such as the Wildlife Trust to protect sensitive habitats. Publicise your efforts and make sure it is recognised!

[“canoeists are the bin men of the rivers, they collect bucket loads of rubbish from our waterways’]

Spread the word, share the ClearAccessClearWaters campaign widely, raise awareness of the issues surrounding access

Take action locally. Engage with local forums or waterway management groups. 

Engage with local angling clubs, find out how best we can share the river, promote a message that we can all share the space with respect.

Report incidents to British Canoeing so that we can continue to present the case to Government