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View from the River Bank - The Voice

Places to Paddle Manager Ben Seal fills us in on the work the team have been doing over the past few months and how we're continuing to use our collective voice to help shape government policy.

Charter Front Cover

Like many plants and animals at this time of year, it feels like we are all in some weird state of hibernation, with the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic still severely restricting the way we live, socialise and play. These are challenging times both physically and mentally and serve to demonstrate how restricting our freedom to enjoy the outdoors, to work and care for others can have a deeply detrimental effect on our wellbeing as a nation.

Despite these deeply troubled times, the Places to Paddle Team at British Canoeing has continued to push forward with the Clear Access, Clear Waters Campaign. Far from clipping our efforts to secure fair, shared access to our waters, the Covid-19 crisis has emboldened us with even greater resolve to make our voice heard on a range of issues that affect the places we paddle and swim.

In just two years, we have become increasingly more active on topics such as invasive non native species, plastic pollution and most recently water quality. The start of 2021 has given us an opportunity to make representation on your behalf, to three important Government inquiries; to have our voice heard at the highest levels.

Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) - Water Quality

Paddlers, swimmers and anglers alike recognise that water quality has implications across the whole ecological system, from plant life to fish stocks to the health of the population. In England, surface, coastal and ground waters in England suffer from significant pollution problems. Our rivers and our heath is under attack from the discharge of raw sewage, micro plastics and harmful chemicals that end up in the rivers we paddle. The EAC is looking into the effect all this is having on people and on nature. In our submission to the committee we said:

  • Recreational waterway users are extremely concerned that our waterways are being used as open sewers. Our health and wellbeing is being put at great risk by the potential transmission of viruses carried in raw untreated sewage that has been discharged into our rivers

  • Statutory Targets for the reduction in the duration and frequency of discharges made from Combined Sewage Overflows (CSO’s) in all waters all year round with an end to untreated sewage discharge in all Bathing waters by 2030

  • Further measures to mitigate the impact of plastic pollution should be introduced and include the reduction of products known to contribute to the polluting content of sewage 

Environment, Farming & Rural Affairs - Engagement on ELMS

The new ‘Environmental Land Management Scheme’ will eventually replace EU subsidies to farmers. It has the potential to greatly improve how we all access and enjoy the countryside. Public money will be targeted at ‘public good’ - which could mean improving access to our waterways. The recent EFRA consultation sought feedback on how well stakeholders have been engaged with to date. British Canoeing responded jointly with British Mountaineering, the Ramblers and the Open Spaces Society:

  • Environmental Land Management (ELM) has a key role to play in levelling up access provision for the population as a whole.  There needs to be much more engagement with Defra to realise the potential that ELM has to change how we access the countryside for enjoyment and recreation

  • The payments for ELM need to be generous to encourage farmers and land managers to opt to provide public access.  The scheme must be flexible and easy to use, with professional advice readily available to encourage take-up of the public-access payments

  • Payments under ELM should be conditional upon the recipient fulfilling the existing legal requirements relating to public access so that the existing public rights-of-way network is kept clear and open for the public to use and enjoy.  

Lords Committee on Sport - A National Plan for Sport

At the end of 2020, a new Committee in the House of Lords was set up to look at a wide range of issues including how we can increase physical activity, including among young people; how we can increase participation in sport among underrepresented groups including women and girls, disabled people, people from ethnic minority communities and low income groups, and whether current funding structures are effective in getting money to where it has most impact.

British Canoeing’s response addressed a broad range of topics, but specifically related to access, we made the case that:

  • To get the level of investment that is required to significantly ‘shift the dial’, sport and physical activity must attract funding from across Government departments, not just DCMS

  •  Places and proximity are absolutely critical. Access to active environments on our doorstep are the foundation stone for an active nation. Local, safe, accessible places to participate will provide the greatest return on investment

  • There needs to be a much greater understanding and commitment to support the growth in ‘informal participation’. With the challenges presented by lockdown, participating locally, with family and in friendship groups has boomed during 2020.

In January we have been using our voice individually and collectively to ensure that the places we paddle are protected and enhanced in future. 

Growing our profile, being a strong voice on your behalf is crucial in building our case for legislative change on access to water in England and Wales.

British Canoeing is also making itself heard on a range of other Government consultations and inquiries:

Landscape (Glover) Review - Government Report due 2021.

In 2019, British Canoeing submitted evidence to the Landscape Review, highlighting the inconsistency of access to water for recreational users in our National Parks and AONB’s. The final report, published in September 2019 reflected our call for greater access to water (p81 & p98), so we look forward to seeing the Government response and planned actions sometime during 2021.

Environment Bill (Delayed until next session of Parliament - late 2021)

British Canoeing continues to work alongside The Ramblers, British Mountaineering, Outdoor Spaces Society, Cycling UK and many more to make the case for the inclusion of targets within the Environment Bill, around public access and engagement with the countryside. The Government has now delayed the Bill until later in 2021.


British Canoeing and its partners continue to keep a close eye on proposals to criminalise trespass. A petition that secured a debate in the House of Commons in January was delayed, so we await publication of further details of the Bill itself. Access bodies like ourselves are concerned about the unintended consequences of wording in the Bill, which could potentially criminalise users of the countryside, including paddlers.