There are estimated to be 42,700 miles of river in the U.K. but only 1,400 have a clear and undisputed right of public access.
These tend to be the larger, regulated rivers with active navigation authorities which are often shared with motorised craft. It's a bit like being told that if you want to enjoy the countryside you can use the A roads.
And that's where the problem starts...
We believe there is, and has always been, a public right of navigation on all rivers for all unpowered craft physically capable of navigating them. See the details in the "What's the evidence for a PRN" section.
This lack of clarity over the law means that, whilst those who wish rivers to be their exclusive preserve threaten legal action against those they label offenders, they don't follow through, perhaps for fear of exposing the weakness of their case. In the absence of such a solution, some turn to harassment, verbal abuse and, on occasion, vandalism or violence as the weapons of choice.
For details of some of the incidents concerned go to the Access Map.
Click here to read more.
All too often what should be pleasant experiences on our rivers are marred by unpleasantness and conflict.
We also give others, if they can, the opportunity to explain the errors in our key assertions. Rights of navigation (which appear to be undisputed) can only be removed by statute or exercise of statutory authority.
So if you know of such a statute or exercise of statutory authority, please tell us here
In common law there is a public right of navigation on all non-tidal rivers which are naturally physically navigable by small boats and on those rivers which have been made physically navigable at public expense.
Public Right of Navigation may only be extinguished by legislation or exercise of statutory powers or by destruction of the subject matter of PRN e.g. through silting up of the watercourse.
Ten years ago the House of Lords Select Committee on Sport and Leisure gave much attention to the use of our rivers as a much needed resource for recreation and especially for navigation. Certain problems were identified: the need to open more water for navigation, the conflicts between navigators and anglers, and above all the uncertainties of the legal position about public rights of navigation. These problems remain largely unresolved.
The legal question of rights of way over water must be settled. A number of different legal interpretations of this right of way have been referred to in evidence and it is time for these to be resolved.
... to work actively towards and ultimately achieve a situation where canoeists can paddle all waters suitable for canoeing without challenge, but with reasonable consideration for other water users, and with due regard for the law and conservation of the environment.
Access to land and water should be allowed provided that there is no significant danger to public health and safety, risk of pollution or damage, or harmful impact on wildlife. If access is not possible, public notices should normally be displayed explaining why.
DEFRA should introduce a statutory right of access in England and Wales for unpowered craft to inland water for recreational purposes. This system of rights and responsibilities should be based on the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
by natural law, these things are common property of all: air, running water, the sea, and with it the shores of the sea.
Those rivers must be regarded as public navigable rivers in law which are navigable in fact.
I truely treate that men may note and see, What blessings Navigable Rivers bee, And how that thousands are debarr'd those blessings, By few mens avaritious hard oppressings.
If a river bee not passable by boats or vessels of burthen, yet if it bee commonly passed by small boats or troughs, it is as to that purpose a common river as a foote way may be a common way as well as a Cartway. The question whither a river bee a common or high streame or river is a question of fact and tryable by jury: and if any have commonly passed there in those small boats, is an evidence of a common streame or river.
Wherever there is a channel for water, there is a road for the canoe.