A small group of ten paddlers that included nine adults and one 11-year old travelled from Bristol, Hampshire, Surrey, and West Sussex to Berkshire’s River Kennet this weekendas the first location to highlight how the right to navigate along inland rivers in England and Wales is amongst the most restrictive anywhere in the world. [/FONT]
In Scotland members of the public have enjoyed the freedom of responsibly exercised access to and along their natural river heritage since the 2003 Land Reform (Scotland) Act. In England and Wales the public only has a clear statutory (or licensed) right of navigation on 1,400 miles (2,200 km) out of the 41,000 miles (66,000 km) of main rivers over 3m wide. This represents a restriction on more than 96% of rivers.
Eight canoes and kayaks were paddled for just under four miles from Padworth Bridge to Sheffield Lock on Sunday 12th June 2011, along a route that utilised canalised sections of the Kennet Navigation, as well as the River Kennet where it runs through the private Englefield Estate, home to Waterways Minister Richard Benyon MP. The canalised Kennet Navigation is currently managed by British Waterways, whilst the right to paddle the older river remnants is disputed.
Consideration of environmental concerns by the canoeists ranged from avoidance of indigenous coarse-water fish species’ gravel spawning sites, through to the potential transmission of fungal infection from the American Signal Crayfish that are endemic on the River Kennet.
[FONT=Arial]The route of the paddle was chosen because of the proximity of a number of public footpaths to the waterway permitting legal ingress and egress. Although it is believed that there is no requirement to obtain landowners’ permission to paddle other than in circumstances where access to a river over private land is sought, the Englefield Estate Office was contacted for advice on potential river works or obstructions and advised of the group’s planned route prior to the day, but raised no objection, setting a positive precedent for further trips to more contentious rivers around the country in coming months.
The paddle was reported in news bulletins on BBC Radio Berkshire throughout the day.