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Join the Movement for Clear Access, Clear Waters

Regardless of your paddling persuasion, the one thing that binds us all is the need for access to water. Be it flat, steep, white, indoor, coast, rural, mountain or urban – if our access on water is limited, then so are our options for enjoying the sport which we all love.

Access on English Waterways has long been a topic that frustrates, mystifies and depresses paddlers in equal measure. To be more specific it is a lack of uncontested access that we face. With only 4% of water recognised as ‘uncontested’, there many rivers in England where paddlers are threatened and led to believe that they are committing ‘trespass’ when they paddle. This debate has raged for decades and has polarised river users.

It is not a simple question of anglers vs canoeists as many like to believe. That simplistic view undermines the bigger picture. This is a question of the freedom of the public to enjoy open access to outdoor spaces, equally and fairly – as many do already on mountain, moor, and heath.

Moving the debate around access on the water to the point of a resolution is not easy. In November 2018, British Canoeing launched its ‘Clear Access, Clear Waters’ Charter in Westminster, alongside MPs, Peers, Industry Partners, and Key Volunteers. It is a fresh approach to an old problem, seizing upon an opportune time to influence Government and build a movement within the paddling community.

And that movement is vital. A shift in the status quo cannot be achieved by British Canoeing staff alone. The efforts of volunteers and champions are crucial to support the day to day work – however, it is the action taken by the whole paddling community that will make the difference. Thirty-seven thousand members of British Canoeing; some 300,000 ‘regular paddlers; 1.9million paddlers each year – with these numbers being proactive we can and will move this issue forwards – but only if people are prepared to take action.

Now is an opportune time to address this matter. Our environment is facing more significant threats than ever before, declining biodiversity and plastic pollution are daily headline news. The Government has an ambitious 25-year plan for the environment – but again, none of it can be achieved without a movement of people. We paddlers can and should be on the front line in trying to preserve and protect our blue spaces. Vast amounts are already done by paddlers – but with access to many English rivers highly contested, our ability to make a difference is significantly reduced.

It is, of course, a question of balance. All parties deserve fair, shared access on water, so we can all be engaged in the enjoyment and protection of our waterways. All water users must agree to a code of conduct. Respect needs to be displayed on all sides, towards each other’s equal right to be on the water.

Protection of sensitive habitats and spawning grounds is essential; paddlers, anglers, rowers, swimmers can all have zero impact if when taught how to do things right. But primarily it comes down to people making responsible decisions of when and where to paddle.

So it is time to join the movement of paddlers, demanding the freedom to paddle on our country’s waters – and demanding protection of the environment which makes our sport so very special.

This Spring, we are encouraging paddlers to take part in river cleans to show what impact we can collectively have. We are also asking paddlers to write to their MPs to explain why we need fair, shared, sustainable open access on water. British Canoeing is working extremely hard to lobby the key Ministers, officials and parties who can bring change. But change will not come if we do not make some noise!

That is why we need everyone to join the campaign for Clear Access, Clear Waters.