THE policy adopted by NAFAC and other angling and fisheries organisations is that canoe access should be by way of negotiated access agreements. This is also the preferred way forward by the Government following the recent research by the Countryside Agency. However the declared strategy of the British Canoe Union is to press for a change in legislation to allow a right of navigation by non-mechanical means on all inland waterways.


In a gesture of goodwill, and to try to include as wide a range of interests as possible, canoeing representatives were invited to be involved in the drawing up of the South Cumbria Fisheries Action Plan (FAP). Further to this a Canoe Access Sub-Group was established under the chairmanship of John Cleaver, himself an angler and a canoeist.


Although not all local riparian and angling interests were in total agreement, discussions regarding additional access took place and were going well. It was hoped to set up some new agreements, and extend the existing one on the River Crake, to enable canoeing and angling to co-exist as amicably as possible, and to demonstrate that access agreements are worth having.


However all the good work came to a sudden halt recently when the BCU admitted that canoeing in South Cumbria is out of control and that they have no ability to inhibit the illegal canoeing that frequently takes place. Furthermore it seems that the BCU is not now interested in setting up new voluntary agreements as there is no chance of them being adhered to by the majority of canoeists. These agreements also conflict with their declared strategy of open and free access. Indeed in the latest issue of “Canoe Focus”, the BCU magazine, unsatisfactory access agreements are referred to as “trojan horses” that inhibit progress towards full open access. As a result of all this the FAP committee have shelved the Sub-Group activities.


Fred French MBE, FIFM, North West Regional representative for NAFAC, and a keen supporter of the Fisheries Action Plan, expressing his disappointment with the BCU’s attitude said, ‘I’m amazed with the BCU stance. Throughout the many national debates regarding canoeing on rivers it has been made clear by Government that access should be through voluntary agreements rather than a free for all. We have done all we can to encompass canoeing interests but it’s obviously all been in vain.’


NAFAC’s Executive Chairman, Terry Mansbridge, commented, ‘The admission by the BCU that they cannot control the actions of canoeists confirms one of the main concerns that angling representatives have been expressing for a long time.’ He added, “ Angling access is based on a responsible structured system of agreements and self-policing that has stood the test of time. Surely that is better than the ‘free for all’ policy advocated by the BCU”