Ben Seal, paddler, club trustee and Places to Paddle Manager at British Canoeing shares his view from the riverbank.
I am not sure about you, but I have lost track of how long we have been in lock down, one week having merged into the last. Many of us have entered into a strange new rhythm of work and living, eagerly eyeing the news cycle for any, small glimmer of a reprieve from the current situation.
With riverside paths and parks crowded with people, it seems it feels wrong that our rivers and canals lie empty. Only those who choose to run or walking or cycle along the banks have been able to enjoy our great ‘blue corridors’.
While we all know and respect why we are here, it is understandable that our community is deeply frustrated and eager to be back our paddling.
Here at British Canoeing, working from our respective dining room tables, bedrooms, spare rooms, kitchens, living rooms (and in my case camping table in the loft), colleagues are busy speaking with the key decision makers like the Navigation Authorities, presenting the case for a swift and safe return to activity. We know there is a strong case for activities like ours. We will make that case and we will be ready to adapt to future changes in Government guidelines when they come.
Whatever that return looks like, there is no doubt likely that it will be limited and under strict social distancing guidelines. We will have to be patient. We will all have to discover a new norm to our paddling routine and respect that a return may be gradual.
As a deeply frustrated paddler myself, as a club trustee and as Places to Paddle Manager at British Canoeing, I know that behind the scenes, ‘BC’ is doing everything it can for the good of its community. We know how vital access to water is for the physical and mental well-being of our community and so we will continue to do our best, whatever that entails.
At home, living just a few hundred metres from my local club, one of my sons, Tommy (4) and I have been caretaking our club site while it is closed. We have been keeping a close eye on things, especially the rabbits who are slowly reclaiming the grass out front of our building! Since the club members left, a woodpecker has moved in, as has a whole family of blue tits. The resident buzzard glares at me from his perch on the site floodlights every time I put the key in the gate.
Our club backs onto a nature reserve, where the wild garlic, bluebells and apple blossom have all in bloom. It looks and smells fantastic. I have been struck by the birds, which are really noticeable in the peace. Their songs seem to be filling the void left by the usual white noise of planes, trains and traffic jams. Over the last few days lots of goslings have appeared on the opposite river bank and are tentatively finding their way out onto the water. The water itself is clearer than I have ever seen it. Yesterday, Tommy, William and I watched a large trout (I don’t really know what it was….) just sat calmly below the toll bridge, something I have never seen before.
While humanity wages war against this deadly global virus, our wildlife is enjoying a prolonged and much needed break from human disturbance. I read recently that birds nest on the waterline, like coots, are likely to thrive this spring while there is no wash from passing boats. Everything from small mammals to large birds of prey are having an opportunity to reclaim their countryside.
It is maybe something of a silver lining, amidst so much grim panic and fear?
What is clear that when we do return, we must do so in the mind that our waterways belong to nature and nature has had free reign for almost two months. Our rivers will almost certainly have changed since you last saw them. The colours, the smells and the sounds. So as push for a return to paddling sometime soon, lets do it with our eyes wide open to the plants and creatures that have been allowed to flourish in relative peace these last few weeks.
Hang in there folks! Stay safe and see you all on the water very soon!