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Clear Access, Clear Waters

British Canoeing has published its Access and Environment Charter - Clear Access, Clear Waters – campaigning for cleaner healthier rivers and greater recognition of the right to access these amazing ‘blue’ spaces.

‘Clear Access, Clear Waters’ is the result of collaboration and discussions between British Canoeing, Members of Parliament as well as key stakeholders such as Department of Culture, Media, Culture and Sport, Defra, Wildlife and Countryside Link, Inland Waterways Association, National Trust, Natural England and other NGOs. British Canoeing is calling on the Government and Political Parties to consider landmark action not only to give greater public access to our waterways but also to commit to protecting and enhancing the precious natural environment which we should all have an equal right to enjoy.

Preserve & enhance our natural environment…that’s not much to ask for is it?

At a time when our environment is facing greater threats than ever before, through declining biodiversity and plastic pollution, British Canoeing wants to make a clear case that canoeists can and do play an active part in protecting and enhancing our rivers, lakes, canals and coast. The potential for this to be achieved cannot be realised if the public are shut out and excluded from accessing 96% of waterways in England. This is the current status quo, where a climate of conflict on the riverbank creates uncertainty and confusion over the right to paddle on England’s inland waterways.

British Canoeing passionately believes that the only way to address the challenges our water environment faces, and begin to reverse the decline in river health, is to engage as many people as possible, creating a movement in culture to shift peoples’ behaviour.

If the public can have an equal right, confirmed in law to be in, on or around the water, they will see first-hand the damage they are causing to the veins and arteries of our land. They will also be exposed to the amazing wonders of our natural world, all of which is right here on our doorstep. Only then might people be more inclined to stand up and make a difference.

We cannot hope to address these major environmental issues on our rivers if people are shut off.

In October, a team of kayakers cleaned a short section of the beautiful River Derwent in Derbyshire, removing nine giant sacks of plastic and rubbish, along with road cones, signs, tyres, builders’ sacks, dozens of sanitary products and assorted rusty metal work. This was on a section of river where the right of access for canoeists is highly contested and conflict a regular occurrence. Just imagine the scale of what could be done on all our rivers in England if there was a clear and equal right of access, respected by all parties?

Get more people active outdoors…that’s not much to ask for is it?

Nationally, around 1.9 million people go canoeing each year. The health and wellbeing benefits of being in, on or around water are well known and well proven. Inactivity is causing all sorts of problems for young people like diabetes, obesity and other health issues - many of which can be solved by exercise and being outdoors. Fundamentally, access to the blue environment has the potential to create a deep and lasting connection with nature, encouraging even more pro-environmental behaviours in society.

With the advent of Brexit, new Agriculture and Environment Bills and the Defra 25 Year Environment Plan, there is fresh opportunity to seize the moment and take a positive step forward. Political and legislative change as we leave Europe provides a tangible opportunity for the Government to make steps toward enabling fair, shared, sustainable open access to the outdoors empowering this and future generations to be actively engaged in protecting our blue environment.

Fair, shared, sustainable open access on water… that’s not much to ask for is it?

It is of course a question of balance; ensuring all water users agree to a code of conduct, respecting each other’s equal right to be there, whilst observing long term protection of the environment as the paramount priority. Protection of sensitive habitats and spawning grounds is absolutely essential; paddlers, anglers, rowers, swimmers can all have zero impact, if they are taught how to do things right.

There is absolutely no reason why you cannot use a waterway and leave no trace whatsoever.

Fair, shared, sustainable open access on water…it’s time to make it happen.

Ben Seal, Places to Paddle Manager, British Canoeing

Follow @bc_benseal & @BritishCanoeing

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.