Rivers Access News
This section will provide you with news and views concerning what is happening on or around our waterways. If you have news or views to add please e mail info@riversaccess.org

Angling Trust News Article

Benyon rejects canoeist campaign to paddle over anglers’ rights

Canoe England (CE) are extremely concerned and disappointed by the news article posted on the Angling Trust (AT) website - ‘Benyon rejects canoeist campaign to paddle over anglers’ rights’.

CE feel that this news article is both inaccurate and defamatory to the paddling community and its governing body. CE would like to explain its position by responding to the comments made in the AT article below:

 ‘Angling bodies have been getting increasingly concerned at the conduct of the British Canoe Union (BCU) and Canoe England (CE) who are encouraging canoeists to defy the law and trample over anglers rights’.

They have been promoting a 'Right to Paddle' campaign for several years and simply refuse to acknowledge the existence of limitations on navigation in civil law. Both organisation promote canoeing guides and events which encourage canoeing on rivers where no lawful right of navigation exists.

Organised trespasses are becoming all the more commonplace and are promoted through the 'independent' website 'Song of the Paddle'
http://www.songofthepaddle.co.uk/ which promotes what they call 'open canoeing'.

The Angling Trust recently sought clarification on the canoeists’ demands from Fisheries and Natural Environment Minister Richard Benyon. The minister strongly rebutted the notion of an automatic 'right to paddle' up every stream, brook and river in the country regardless of the impact on either the environment or other river users.

Richard Benyon made it clear in an interview for the Angling Trust members’ magazine The Angle that there will be no legal right to paddle without the riparian owners’ permission. The previous Labour government was clear on this and the policy of voluntary access agreements only has now been re-affirmed by the Coalition government.

Text from Fisheries and Natural Environment Minister Richard Benyon's interview on canoeists

1. Will you rule out a statutory 'right to paddle' for canoeists?

I want to be really clear about this. While we want more people to get out and enjoy activities in the countryside they must be complimentary. There are plenty of places to canoe where it is appropriate and others where it is not. There will be no change to our policy of supporting voluntary access agreements as the only way forward. Anglers and fishery owners spend a lot of time and money caring for our rivers and streams and their rights deserve to be respected


Angling Trust National Campaigns Coordinator Martin Salter said:
"The Angling Trust has been challenging the claims being made by militant canoeists that they should have a right paddle up every river, stream or brook in Britain irrespective of ownership or the impact this has on wildlife or other people's enjoyment. The rights of navigation are clear in law and there are thousands of miles of navigable rivers and waterways to which canoeists have legal access. We also have well worked voluntary access agreements in place which allow canoeing on some rivers such as the Dart and the upper Wye at times of high water when fishing will not be affected.

Because the BCU is refusing to recognise the law of the land it is pulling out of these voluntary access agreements claiming they are now unnecessary. The rejection of a 'right to paddle' by Richard Benyon is most welcome and we call upon the organisations that represent canoeists to recognise the law of the land and that it is not going to be changed in their favour any time soon.

Continued authorised trespasses by the BCU could put funding for their sport in jeopardy which would be a shame as there is plenty of water out there for everyone to share provided that people agree to operate within the law and do not think that they can trample over the rights of anglers and others."


CE Response

The BCU represents some 2 million paddlers around the UK with the majority of these Members being affiliated to Canoe England. Like the Angling Trust, our Members represent a number of different disciplines who require different types of water to paddle to satisfy their needs. For example, white water is required for slalom, flat water for touring and sprinting and a coastal environment for sea kayaking.

One of Canoe England overall aims is to increase participation in these different environments and at the same time increase places for people to paddle. The increase in participation is supported by Sport England as the aim is to encourage all ages to participate for a number of beneficial reasons such as socio economic benefits, and health and wellbeing.

In carrying out our aims we wish to ensure our members act responsibly through formal training/coaching. Canoe England does not encourage paddlers to ‘defy the law and trample over anglers rights’. In the majority of cases anglers and canoeist are quite capable of sharing the waterways in an amicable and sustainable manner. Canoe England is not promoting an automatic 'right to paddle' up every stream, brook and river in the country regardless of the impact on either the environment or other river users. Canoeists are generally very committed to conserving the natural environment with little or no cases of damage being caused to the aquatic environment. Their commitment can also be demonstrated by the vast numbers of river cleans carried out by individuals and canoe clubs throughout the country on an annual basis. Both the environmental protection of the natural environment and the shared use of the waterways are highlighted in our environmental leaflet –You, Your Canoe and The Environment.

Canoe England has and will continue to promote canoeing as an environmentally benign activity. CE has demonstrated that they are committed to ensure the natural environment is protected through working with environmental organisations and the promotion of responsible and sustainable paddling.


Examples of ways that CE and it’s members are actively involved in building our green credentials into the future include:


  • Working with the South Cumbria Rivers Trust developing an Environmental awareness as an element in coaching syllabuses
  • Volunteers engaged in Water Framework Directive, wildlife surveys, habitat improvement  and river care  projects
  • Taking bio-security measures to prevent the spread of non native aquatic species
  • Acting as watchdogs of the river environment alongside the anglers.


This work is supported by good practice publications and web site material which are widely available to paddlers and environmental organisations –You, Your Canoe and the environment, and Canoeing on the Sea.  CE also has a Sustainability Policy developed on the principles of Local Agenda 21 which includes elements of inclusivity to meet social, economic and environmental requirements

CE would like say that they disagree with the AT and Mr Salter’s comments that the legal position for inland waters is clear. The AT shares with some a view that common law supports a position that where rights are not explicit, navigation may constitute a trespass. Canoe England does not subscribe to this assumption. We believe the Magna Carta and the strength of recent historical research on historical use are grounds for a presumption in favour of access and public rights to physically usable inland waters. It is noted the Angling Trust has not produced an informed challenge to the research by the Rev’d Dr Caffyn’s.   Whilst not a lawyer he has received degrees at both Masters and Doctorial level for his research. We would have expected the Angling Trust to argue and justify the certainty that the law is settled.


Public access to inland waters remains a long standing issue that has not been addressed by a succession of government administrations. It has caused some interests to consider canoeing can be unlawful. 

The Countryside & Rights of Way Act (2000) omitted to address this issue. However, government was given to commission the study "Water based sport & recreation: the facts (2001)”. Significantly the study identified the uncertainties about the legal position of public rights of navigation, plus potential solutions.

CE would like to draw attention to Mr Salter’s statement that Voluntary Access Agreements (VAAs) or Access Arrangements (AAs) worked well which allow canoeing on some rivers such as the Dart and the upper Wye at times of high water when fishing will not be affected. The truth is that the BCU has endeavoured to develop VAAs for nearly 50 years with little success. These arrangements exist on a few rivers and typically provide highly restricted and inadequate access. However, the government research for canoe access on the Rivers Mersey and Waveney has produced principles and a benchmark for VAAs; forming the basis of government policy for access to inland waters to be achieved by the voluntary route.  CE believes that this should be applied as the national standard for VAAs. The research has demonstrated that it is possible to achieve;


  • All year round access supported by an Access Code outlining responsibilities of all water users.
  • Environmental protection as appropriate eg setting mutually agreed minimum river levels.
  • Respect flora, fauna, and other users
  • Identified sites for launching and landing
  • Publicity and information dissemination of VAA


CE takes a pragmatic view of Access Arrangements. Our revised Position Statement for the Shared Use of Rivers has provisions for entering into AA’s and fulfils the criteria of government  for AA policy. Namely, they should be developed on a joint local management basis that helps to protect the natural environment and respect the rights of other user interests. It also understands and caters for the need of some individuals, or small organisations to have AAs to ensure they have a greater certainty of access at a particular time and place. Our Position Statement also evidences how Government policy for AA’s has failed i.e. Rivers Teme and Wear.   

For AAs to work they are dependent on other water users and the riparian owners commitment for secure access managed on a self regulatory management basis. It is unrealistic to expect an organisation such as CE to have powers to enforce canoeists to abide by AA’s.  Many canoeists are independent of CE and we encourage all to follow the guidelines of such arrangements.

The Future

CE has worked well with the Angling Development Board with the promotion of kayak fishing. We would wish to continue to work in partnership with the Angling Trust for the purpose of the sustainable use of our waterways for the benefit of people of all abilities and interests.