Today marks one year since the launch of Clear Access, Clear Waters. Places to Paddle Manager Ben Seal reflects on the progress which has been made and what our plans are for the next year.
On this day, 12 months ago, British Canoeing presented a clear message to Parliament. This was your message that you asked us to champion. Many people had said that action by British Canoeing was long overdue, so we took this moment, on the 28th November 2018, to make a clear case for fair, shared, sustainable open access to all our waters.
On a damp and rainy November day in Westminster, a room of over 70 people, including MP’s, Peers and partner organisations warmly received our landmark Clear Access, Clear Waters Charter. In the days that followed, our message resonated around the paddling community, the videos reached tens of thousands of people and were shared more than anything else British Canoeing had ever posted online.
As I wrote in my Christmas blog last year, the 28th of November 2018 was “simply the starting gun”.
So where has the marathon to secure fair, shared access on water led us to one year on?
Championing the case for fair, shared, sustainable, open access for all
In amongst all the unprecedented Brexit noise, British Canoeing has managed to meet with Environment Ministers, Shadow Ministers, Junior Ministers, plus MPs from all Parties, as well as Peers to explain the importance of fair, shared access being addressed now.
It has been a mission to change perceptions and deliver a clear, consistent message. Through this we have built up a network of supportive parliamentarians. We have gained momentum and set ourselves on the right track.
We have met with Defra to talk both access and invasive non-native species. We even gave evidence on an expert panel at an audit committee enquiry!
More than 25 written questions have been answered by the Secretary of State for Defra and DCMS, each one was submitted by a supportive MP.
And to round off the year, we proudly found our aspiration included within two manifestos ahead of the forthcoming General election.
Liberal Democrat Pledge:
Significantly increase the amount of accessible green space, including protecting up to a million acres, completing the coastal path, exploring a ‘right to roam’ for waterways and creating a new designation of National Nature Parks.
Restore access to the countryside by re-opening lost public rights of way and creating new ones. We will grant to people in England and Wales the same right to roam over all landscapes as people in Scotland currently enjoy. We will protect and enhance access to inland waterways.
We were also pleased to see the Conservatives pledge to make our landscapes ‘…open to all’
We welcome the Glover Review and will create new National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as well as making our most loved landscapes greener, happier, healthier and open to all. We will make the coast to coast path across the most beautiful areas of the North a National Trail.
Critically you have helped us reach well over 100 MPs, through letters and through face to face meetings. This is #StrongerTogether in action!
Preserving, protecting and enhancing the health of our rivers
One of the most inspiring developments in the past 12 months is just how much paddlers care about the environment and our blue environment.
We know there have people members who have spent years doing their bit to take out the vast amounts of rubbish and waste deposited in our waterways but this charter and our successful partnership with Surfers Against Sewage, has mobilised even more paddlers to get out onto the water and share their stories with the wider paddling world. It is nothing short of inspiring to read about the efforts and lengths you have gone to take literally boat loads of rubbish from our rivers.
We launched our own Paddle Clean Up Kit in the summer, which has already proved a popular resource online.
Non-native species cost the government Billions of pounds each year to manage and British Canoeing is doing its bit to share the Check, Clean, Dry messaging. A hugely popular initiative at each of the Nottingham Regattas this year has seen paddlers washing their boats prior to competing, to help stop the spread of aquatic invaders.
We’ve worked with key partners such as the Canals and River Trust and Rivers Trust on a regional and national scale to tackle Invasive Non Native Species which can clog up waterways and cause serious damage to our native wildlife.
Inspiring more people to be active outdoors – reconnecting them with the environment
We have made some fantastic progress in this area with even more trails and maps. Our absolute highlight has to be PaddlePoints, a website full of paddler generated information on places to park, paddle and play.
This is quite simply a game changer.
So where next?
With a General Election just days away, the political relationship building begins again. We have built momentum and profile, so in the New Year we must be on the front foot to re-establish itself with the new Government and with the new intake of MPs.
We plan to launch a new ‘Paddlers Code’, developed to help guide our community in best practice on and off the water.
We will be supporting more Check Clean Dry events and leading efforts to tackle non-native species locally.
We will be inspiring and celebrating more of your river clean initiatives so we can really promote what we do as a sport.
With your help we will grow and add to the content on PaddlePoints and we will add more rivers for you to discover.
But 2020 is really about you.
First thing in January we will launch our new Clear Access, Clear Waters website.
In our 2018 survey, you told us that you wanted a petition and you wanted to write to your MP. Well once this website is live, we will make it possible in just a few clicks. WE NEED YOUR HELP, to get as many names on our petition, so when we take it to the House of Commons, we take it on behalf of the 2.1 million people who paddle each year.
If there is one New Year resolution you make in 2020, make it that you will actively lend you support to Clear Access, Clear Waters and sign up to our petition.