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Re-view from the riverbank 2021

2021 will probably go down as a strange old year. We started the year in lockdown, gradually emerged out of the restrictions through spring and summer….and then drifted back into a life in the grips of a national crisis as Omicron wrestled back control over our lives in recent weeks. 

Charter Front Cover

One thing Covid has not managed to stop is people’s continued enthusiasm to be out on the water. 2021 was another incredible year of growth for British Canoeing as we topped 90,000 members - the biggest growth coming from people who are new to paddlesport. 

With growth comes both opportunity and challenge. While some manufacturers have been struggling to match demand for kit, many popular ‘honey pot’ locations have been overwhelmed with people taking to the water. It is undoubtedly positive that many more people are accessing blue environments for enjoyment and for health, but of course this can inevitably create more pressure on nature.

2021 has been a big year for British Canoeing and its work on the environment. In 2018 through our Clear Access, Clear Waters Charter, we made a pledge to “...act to protect and improve the health of our rivers, and will work to protect, preserve and enhance the natural environment”. Though our work on the Environment Act, our lobbying on water quality, our paddle cleanup promotion and also our invasive non-native species work, we have done more to meet this pledge than in any other year.

In Autumn, the Environment Act passed into law. It was partly down to the relentless work of the End Sewage Pollution Coalition, which we are part of, that greater protections were written in to protect our rivers from sewage pollution. This was however the culmination of months of work, which started at the turn of the year, with British Canoeing giving oral evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee alongside Swim England.

Plastic and litter continue to plague our waterways, as do invasive species such as Floating Pennywort. Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of volunteers, paddlers, clubs and groups all over the country, we are fighting back! It has once again been wonderful to see just how committed the paddling community is to helping keep our rivers free from plastic. This and the challenge to tackle non-natives is a monumental undertaking, but we are certainly doing our bit!

In 2018, we said “British Canoeing will champion the case for fair, shared, sustainable open access on and along inland waters to be confirmed in law”. We remain absolutely committed to this pledge. This year we have worked hard to represent the interests of paddlers at the highest levels. Early in the year we made a submission to the Home Office on proposals to criminalise trespass. We have continued to push Ministers hard on the inclusion of access within the new Environmental Land Management Scheme. We worked hard to influence Lord Agnew’s ‘Access to the Outdoors Commission’. We challenged the Department of Transport on their plans to include SUP’s and sea kayaks within proposals to regulate  around our coast. We have formed a close bond with our access partners, the BMC, Ramblers, OSS, Swim England and others to jointly lobby on shared issues. 

The lack of clarity around access to our inland waters is unfortunately something that we cannot solve overnight. But we are making headway. Our profile and presence on access and environment policy has never been higher. We are putting ourself in the best possible position to affect change, when the opportunity arises. Critically all our work to date has enabled us to credibly and consistently represent your voice at the highest levels.

We know however that what matters most to you is change on the ground. Improvements to facilities are so massively important to enable people to safely access the water. That is why it has been fantastic to see the The Canoe Foundation relaunched and offering grants across the UK to improve access to water and the environment. 2022 is set to be an exciting year ahead for the Foundation - so look out for the funding window opening early in the year.

Who knows what 2022 will look like. One thing we can be confident about is that we have lots planned to keep moving forward on the issues we know matter to you. Next year we hope to launch a ‘Paddlers Code’, something that came across very strongly in our strategy consultation. We are putting plans in place to organise a countrywide paddle cleanup in the summer and we plan to roll out even more opportunities for volunteers to get involved in invasive species clean up days. In 2022, we want to encourage more clubs to sign up to become Clear Access, Clear Waters Champion Clubs. We also want to find ways of working more closely with volunteers on the ground to tackle local issues.

In the 2021 member satisfaction survey, we learned that the Clear Access, Clear Waters Campaign was in the top 3 benefits that members felt they valued the most. We know that access to water and protecting the environment really, really matters to you. So as we step into the new year, we do so with even more optimism and excitement about how we keep up the momentum we have gained.

Merry Christmas. See you on the water in 2022!