Canoeists supported by Canoe England call on the government to develop the recreational use of rivers by boaters, swimmers and paddlers.
In 1947 a Special Committee reported to the Minister for Town and Country Planning that ‘As a contribution to healthy recreation and the full enjoyment of the countryside we strongly recommend the provision of public access to inland water in all suitable cases’. Now of the 42,700 miles of river available for recreation only 1,400 miles have formally established public rights of access.
Regrettably many people still assume that the Law books written between 1830 and 1990 are correct in stating that most non-tidal rivers are private. During that time it was assumed that the law relating to rivers was the same as for roads. In 1990 the House of Lords stated that this assumption is wrong.
Statute Law provides that there is a public right of navigation on all usable rivers. This is summarised in an Act of 1472: "Whereas, by the laudable Statute of Magna Carta,… Statute was made for the great Wealth of all this Land, in avoiding the Straitness[obstruction]of all Rivers, so that Ships and Boats might have in them their large and free Passage..."
This is the law which the courts have always applied. They have confirmed the right for boats to use rivers which are physically usable such as the Thames, Trent, Severn, Wensum, the Great Ouse between the dams, and in Scotland on the Spey and the Leven. Only on those rivers which were held not to be usable by boats, the Yorkshire Derwent and Mole, has it been held that the river was private. (In the case Rawson v Peters1972 the existence of a public right of navigation was not discussed.)
Canoeists supported by Canoe England call on the government to develop the recreational use of rivers by boaters, swimmers and paddlers by :-
(a) stating clearly that it accepts the law as set out in the statutes and applied by the courts;
(b) stating under what conditions a river should not be used by boats for environmental reasons, eg. depth required above spawning beds;
(c) establishing suitable access points to rivers:
a. Public - from highways and footpaths which cross or are adjacent to rivers;
b. Private - by licence from the riparian owners;
c. Regulated - by a Local Planning Authority Agreement or Order or by dedication;
(d) establishing appropriate portage routes round obstructions;
(e) producing a Code of Conduct for all users of non-tidal rivers.
There has been much talk about the Olympic Legacy for increased physical recreation. Canoe England believes that a clear lead is needed from the Government to provide certainty regarding the use of rivers by the public which is at present restricted by a misunderstanding of the law.
Fuller details are available from Canoe England at 18 Market Place, Bingham, Nottingham NG13 8AP and are also set out in Boats on our rivers again by Rev’d Douglas Caffyn available from Canoe England and caffynonrivers.