More Of The Same From The Angling Trust
The Angling Trust statement of 20th November, "Canoe Trespass Must be Tackled Say Angling and Countryside Groups" once again recites the same old unsubstantiated claims that we have all seen before.
River Access For All welcomes the response from Canoe England and Canoe Wales which makes it clear that, whilst they welcome constructive dialogue with those representing the other user groups that share our rivers, they do not believe that the objectives of the UK and Welsh Governments to widen and extend public access can be reconciled with the current stance of the Angling Trust which is based on the erroneous assumption that angling interests have a superior legal or moral claim to exclusive use of our rivers at times and places of their choosing.
The Angling Trust talks of trespass by canoeists and others on English and Welsh rivers.
There are legal sanctions against trespass but they don't apply where there is a public right of navigation.
These sanctions are not used by the Angling Trust or its legal arm Fish Legal. Could that be because such action would subject the Angling Trusts claims and the evidence supporting the existence of public rights of navigation to the scrutiny of the courts?
The Angling Trust has taken Government calls for local issues to be resolved by local agreement as a licence for them to exercise an effective veto over any non-fishing recreational use of rivers. They would have us believe that they and others have made strenuous efforts to enable substantial increases in canoeing opportunities through offers of Voluntary Access Agreements in line with government policy but let's just examine the facts.
In Appendix J of their dossier, referring to the River Rother, they attempt to show their reasonableness and the way it is frustrated by the intransigence of Canoe England. The River Rother is a statutory navigation by virtue of an Act of Parliament of 1791. The navigation was closed to trade in 1888 and the proprietors were relieved of the obligation to maintain it in 1936 but this did not remove the statutory public right of navigation.
The Angling Trust and the other "countryside interests" have suggested a permissive agreement for one day each month." The simple fact is that canoeists do not need "permission" from anglers to exercise a right of navigation confirmed by statute.
The Angling Trust complains that
the BCU were adamant that they would not monitor compliance with any arrangement or cooperate with a proposed permissive access scheme whereby participants would be registered and badged.
Again, the simple fact is that Parliament has given neither the Angling Trust nor Canoe England the right to control the public in such a way.
Canoe England and the Angling Trust are in a position to discuss evidence based issues affecting the environment, and reasonable measures relating to sharing our rivers in a sustainable way.
They can then recommend local codes of practice to canoeists and anglers, many of whom are not members either of Canoe England or the Angling Trust.
Unfortunately, talks are unlikely to progress to these achievable objectives while the Angling Trust and other angling groups focus almost exclusively on their campaign to assert the rights of anglers as being superior to those of all other users.
As a further example of how it is the attitudes of angling groups rather than Canoe England or Canoe Wales that have prevented Voluntary Access Agreements from working, consider the situation on the River Itchen in Hampshire.
The barrister, Arthur Telling, in his report "The Public Right of Navigation" concluded
To sum up:
(i) there is an undoubted common law right of navigation over the tideway to Woodmill;
(ii) on the balance of probabilities, there is a common law right of navigation from Woodmill to Winchester over the original course of the river;
(iii) there is a common law right of navigation from Winchester to near Alresford either from time immemorial or by virtue of implied dedication;
(iv) there is a statutory right of navigation over the canal.
This conclusion, reached in 1985, predates the considerable additional research into historic navigation rights by Rev.d Dr Caffyn and others.
In February 2010, members of a sub group of the Hampshire Countryside Access Forum (a statutory body set up by the County Council under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000) approached The Test and Itchen Association (an angling group) to propose discussions between them and Canoe England.
In June 2010 the response from the TIA confirmed that after discussion at both sub-committee and main Board meetings it was unwilling to even enter such discussions with Canoe England.
The BCU/Canoe England/Canoe Wales have attempted to extend access to rivers via such agreements for 50 years without significant progress.
Over recent years there is a much better understanding of historic navigation rights which, never having been extinguished by legislation or statutory authority, continue to exist.
All river users would benefit from greater co-operation with, and understanding of, the others that share our rivers.
This will only happen when the emphasis shifts from "permissive agreements" to discussions on how everyone can exercise their rights responsibly and with appropriate consideration for the needs of others.