PRN and Great Rivers
I have heard it suggested that public rights of navigation in the medieval period were confined to the "Great Rivers" - specifically The Thames, The Trent, The (Great) Ouse and The Severn. Where weirs were removed on other rivers under the 1472 Act for Wears and Fishgarthes or the many other similar Acts, it is suggested that this was nothing to do with navigation - it was to preserve fish stocks. Can you disprove this?
There is a great deal of evidence to show this proposition is incorrect. Here is enough to disprove the theory.
The Lisle Letters is a revealing historical record in the form of correspondence to and from the Lisle family. On page 140 there is reference to an order for destruction of a weir at Umberleigh on the River Taw in 1535 and the fact that the king himself spent time in Hampshire making sure that similar orders were complied with there.
None of the supposed "Great Rivers" is in Hampshire.
On page xii in the Foreword, the historian Hugh Trevor Roper confirmed this was part of a general purge of removal of weirs on navigable rivers.
A letter illustrates further steps taken to protect navigation other than in the proposed "Great" rivers.
"852. [Sir] Peter Philpot to Cromwell.
Your commandment for the weirs of Kyrcheche (fn. 7) shall be accomplished as soon as possible. Mills, weirs, and fishgarths are being plucked down, and by Whitsuntide next every man that hath any ground adjoining to the river shall cut the trees away, "and the shelpis to score," so that a boat may have free passage.
Kyrcheche is Christchurch in Dorset and Shelpis are shallow areas in rivers that needed scouring.
These extracts from THE NAVIGATION OF THE RIVER LEE (1190 - 1790) published by Edmonton Hundred Historical Society, confirms the use of the river for navigation (referencing Hunt, "History of Ware" p.17. and V.C.H. Herts. Vol III pp.380-91 and p.383. as the sources)
The Lady of Ware and her bailiffs were accused of neglecting the weirs, even of altering
them in such a way that boats were unable to pass, to the great annoyance of the people of Hertford...
This was by no means the end of the matter and wrangling continued. The lord of the manor of Ware in 1275 was again accused of intercepting the shipping as he had erected a weir between Ware and Hertford."
Fisheries and mills were not the only impediments to a free navigation, The Prior of the
hospital had made "a new bridge over la Hegh Legh with 12 piles under it...
In spite of these recurrent problems the Lee formed one of the main routes into London
and there is abundant evidence of trade on the river in the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries, chiefly corn and malt."
The Angling Trust
The Angling Trust has referred to the court case where a canoeist dropped a claim asserting a public right of navigation on all rivers "apparently accepting his case was without any merit." If this case was without merit why are similar claims for the existence of a public right of navigation still being made?
Details of the case, the case for the claimant, the case for the defence and the notice of withdrawal are all shown on this website.
The claim was withdrawn not because of any lack of evidence to support the claim of a public right of navigation but because no member of the public has the right to bring an action in the courts defending a public right. The right to bring such an action is reserved to the Attorney General.
The Angling Trust/Fish Legal statement is here.
Canoeists protect the environment
Angling Clubs do terrific work in protecting the environment of our rivers and canoeists don't. Rivers are only in safe hands if angling clubs are allowed to control how rivers are used.
It's quite wrong to suggest that angling clubs have any monopoly of virtue.
This blog, shows less than responsible stewardship of the environment by anglers while
this shows canoeists and others working constructively to protect the environment.
This draft report by the EA details the remedial action required to reverse the environmental damage to the River Itchen, almost all of it relating to the unintended consequences of managing the river for fishing. Few canoeists will not have spent time retrieving discarded fishing line from trees etc.
Stereotyping of fishing as responsible and good for the environment and canoeing as irresponsible and damaging for the environment is simply unhelpful prejudice used by some in an attempt to defend an unjustified claim to exclusivity.
The right thing to do is to acknowledge the true value of good work done by all parties and the harm, sometimes unintentional, done by others. Better education and unbiased advice from those able to provide it should enable all river users to work together to protect the things of value to all of us.