Memorandum by the British Canoe Union
THE POTENTIAL FOR INLAND WATERWAYS
The British Canoe Union (BCU) welcomes the opportunity
to submit this memorandum to the Environment, Transport and Regional
Affairs Committee. The BCU is the UK governing body, recognised
by the Sports Councils, for the sport and recreation of canoeing,
and represents 24,000 individual members and 600 affiliated clubs.
The BCU also wishes to give oral evidence.
The consultation document "Waterways for
Tomorrow" has resulted from the white paper "A New Deal
for Transport: Better for Everyone", July 1998 and the IWAAC
study "Britain's Inland WaterwaysAn Undervalued Asset",
March 1996. Both of these documents are concerned exclusively
with navigations. Consequently "Waterways for Tomorrow"
misses the opportunity to promote the development of waters, which
are not already public navigations.
The BCU notes that, in paragraph 2 on page 6,
the Government wants to maximise the opportunities the waterways
offer for leisure and recreation. The BCU wishes to stress how
important it is that the work of the committee should embrace
all those inland waterways, which are physically capable of being
navigated by small unpowered craft such as canoes and kayaks.
This work should not be restricted to just the larger waterways
suitable for powered craft.
This memorandum has been prepared in two parts:
1. Comments on your press notice dated 20
2. Developing the sport and recreation of
1. COMMENTS ON
20 JULY 1999
The Role of Inland Waters
The BCU believes that waterways, when restored
and improved, provide a tranquil, off road asset where the public
can enjoy a safer, open air environment, afloat or on the banks.
The development of the canal system in central Birmingham is a
good example of how the waterways can be brought to life for the
enjoyment of the public and the attraction of tourists. In addition
to social benefits, such developments can bring business and employment
Inland waterways are of particular importance
in urban areas, where they can provide local leisure opportunities,
avoiding the time and expense of always having to travel further
Canoeists enjoy the natural environment and
wildlife where they canoe. Waterways of all types can provide
opportunities for enhancing the environment and wildlife, especially
in urban areas. The BCU encourages its members to conserve and
enjoy the natural surroundings where they canoe.
Prioritising of Objectives
Under the current law of England and Wales public
rights of navigation, when reasonably exercised, take precedence
over other rights. The BCU does not seek a change in the law on
Where public rights of navigation do not exist
and where such waterways are physically navigable, especially
by small unpowered craft, the BCU seeks equal rights so as to
be able to share and enjoy the waterways environment with other
interests. Opening up such smaller rivers for unpowered craft
will increase the length of waterways and surrounding areas, which
can enjoy new social and economic benefits.
The BCU considers that the objectives under
the Role for Inland Waterways and under Commercial Freight should
be complementary. In general, there should not be a principal
use. The only proviso is that the waterways role in respect of
water transfer, drainage and telecommunications should be subject
to appropriate environmental assessment.
Policies and Mechanisms
The BCU has good contacts with British Waterways,
the Environment Agency, the Broads Authority and various other
authorities, but not to the extent that the BCU can express an
authoritative opinion on the adequacy of funding arrangements.
The BCU welcomes the increased funding provided for British Waterways
and considers that there is a more realistic chance of policy
goals being achieved. However, these policies do not cover all
of the interests of canoeists in inland waters, especially their
interest in rivers, which are not navigations.
The BCU, as a governing body of sport, does
not have an in depth knowledge of the structures of the various
navigation authorities. The BCU welcomed the formation of the
Association of Navigation Authorities (AINA); the BCU sees this
as an effective mechanism for fostering co-operation between navigation
authorities and achieving appropriate integrated policies. The
problem from the BCU point of view is that AINA is not concerned
with rivers, which are not navigations.
2. DEVELOPING THE
The scope of "Waterways for Tomorrow"
must be extended
Canoeists enjoy the smaller waterways, which
are not navigable by powered craft. Canoeists prefer the tranquillity,
the cleaner air and the undisturbed wildlife to be found on these
smaller waterways. The canoe is a traditional craft used throughout
the world for exploring wilderness areas and observing wildlife
without disturbing it; the canoe causes no erosion, noise or pollution
and leaves no trace of its passing.
Many canoeists seek the challenge of rough upland
rivers and moving water at weirs or on the smaller lowland rivers;
this is both for enjoyment and for developing advanced canoeing
skills. These waters are important to aspiring competitors in
the disciplines of slalom, wild water racing and freestyle and
for the holding of events in these disciplines. British paddler,
Paul Ratcliffe, has just won the Silver Medal in the Sydney 2000
Olympics in the mens single kayak slalom event.
All these smaller waters, together with backwaters
on navigations, need to be included in the scope of "Waterways
for Tomorrow". Provision also needs to be made for access
from the public highway to these waters and for portage routes
around natural and man made obstructions.
The obligatory close season for canals has been
removed. There is a recommendation in the report of the Salmon
and Freshwater Fisheries Review that the close season should also
be removed from coarse fishing rivers. Many competitive events
have been arranged on canals and other navigations in the close
season to avoid conflict with anglers. Many access agreements
on smaller rivers only provide access in the close season. The
effect of these actual or possible decisions on the development
of canoeing needs to be addressed in "Waterways for Tomorrow".
It is an added benefit when canoeable waters
are local to where canoeists live. This enables more frequent
canoeing sessions, since the time and expense of travelling further
afield is avoided. Often the local waters are not navigations.
Policies for canoeing on rivers which are not
The present legal framework renders it impractical
to prove rights of navigation, where they are disputed. The approach
favoured by Governments has been for canoeists to negotiate voluntary
agreements with those who have the legal navigation rights, usually
as part of the rights of riparian ownership.
The BCU has been following this policy since
the sixties, but with little success. Out of nearly 11,000 miles
of canoeable rivers in England and Wales, which are not navigations,
agreements cover less than 400 miles; many of these agreements
only apply in the close season for angling.
The present Government has refused to include
access to the countryside on water in their Countryside and Rights
of Way Bill 2000, and has restated the belief that voluntary agreements
are the way ahead. The DETR is at present looking into ways in
which such agreements can be achieved. For its part the BCU is
committed to trying its hardest once again to achieve success
by this route. It is not helpful that no support for this policy
is given in "Waterways for Tomorrow", due largely to
the smaller rivers not featuring in the document at all.
Canoeing on navigations
Sprint and Marathon Racing and training for
these disciplines take place on rivers, which are usually navigations,
or on lakes; these waters are important to aspiring competitors.
River navigations and canals are popular with those touring and
recreational conoeists, who prefer placid water.
The BCU has negotiated block licensing agreements
with navigation authorities on nearly all the main river navigations
and canals in England and Wales. The BCU makes appropriate annual
payments for these licences, which are personal rather than boat
licences; these enable BCU members to paddle, without individually
buying licences, on each participating waterway. This provides
a service to members, financed within their subscriptions, and
has significant administrative benefits to navigation authorities.
The BCU is very concerned that, due to the Acts governing the
management of the Thames, the Environment Agency cannot enter
into a suitable agreement with the BCU without amending those
Acts. The Environment Agency would otherwise enter into an agreement
as they have already done for the Medway in Kent and for their
Anglian rivers. The BCU seeks action as a matter of priority,
considering that the initial discussions took place 15 years ago
with the Thames Water Authority.
The BCU believes that a distinction should be
drawn in management terms between rivers and canals. At different
times of year levels and volumes of rivers vary dramatically;
however, the canal regimes are relatively constant except perhaps
when there is widespread flooding.
Profile of canoeing on inland waterways
Over one million people take part in canoeing
There are over 100,000 privately owned canoes.
Over 3,000 children are involved in the BCU
There are over 9,000 BCU qualified coaches.
Over 7,000 different competitors take part in
nearly 400 BCU ranking competitions each year spread over eight
competitive canoeing disciplines.
Over 20,000 BCU members take part in recreational
canoeing, including inland and sea touring and low level informal
competitions. It is estimated that this represents less than a
quarter of total recreational participation in the UK.
In 1999 British canoeists won 55 international
Canoeists have won Olympic Silver Medals at
Barcelona in 1992 and Sydney in 2000. (When this memorandum was
prepared the sprint racing events at Sydney had not taken place.)
Access and Development Manager
25 September 2000